In the spotlight: deliverability & the complaint rate.

A complaint is when someone hits the junk/spam button in his or her inbox. It is a very important metric to regularly monitor and can determine email delivery success. ISPs (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! etc) use complaints as criteria when determining if email is spam. If your email generates a high percentage of complaints, ISPs are more likely to send your email to the junk folder. Or worse still, reject it and block you altogether.


Your spam complaint rate should always be less that 0.1%. Spam complaint is calculated by the following:


Spam complaint number / delivered number x 100.

Is your complaint rate well above 0.1%? Then try the following:


Always Use Confirmed Opt In

First on the list because it is the most important. Sending email to people who have not opted in will dramatically increase the chances of them complaining about email you send them.


I will always recommend gaining permission before you email someone, not just to keep complaints low, but also because it is the foundation for effective email marketing. A recipient that gives you permission is much more likely to open and click the email you send them.


Also, in the UK and EU, sending email without permission actually breaks CAN-SPAM. Which is another reason to just not do it.

Gain permission the following ways:

  • Email sign up on your website and other places
  • Opt in via whitepaper, e-book download and/or demo request web form
  • Opt in through path to purchase

Consider Double Opt In

Another good way to keep your complaint rate low is to have a double opt in sign up process. Double opt in involves sending a confirmation email immediately at sign up containing a link that a recipient clicks to confirm they really want to sign up.

This means a recipient has to take action on the first email and is therefore less like to complain about future email; if you treat them the correct way that is.

I recommend always using a double optin process if you send the following email:

  • Daily email or highly promotional - always good to confirm permission when you are sending someone a email on a daily basis that contains lots of promotions
  • Bloggers - you want your email audience engaged because as a blogger you are likely to have fewer subscribers; but you really want those subscribers to be opening and clicking

Set Expectations at sign up: Tell your customers what to expect.

  • Type of messaging: promotion, information
  • How often: daily vs weekly
  • Show an email preview
  • Link to your privacy policy
  • Show what signing up gets them

Be Consistent
If your subscribers know what to expect from you then don't go changing it all the time. Be consistent with how your email looks. Changing basics such as email layout, branding, from address, etc. on a weekly basis will confuse and disorientate, and only serve to generate more complaints.


Be Professional

Make sure your email marketing is always professional. If your email creative does not look professional, recipients could deem it as spam and therefore complain.

How to be professional:

  • Branded From Address
  • Logo and header
  • No spelling or grammar mistakes
  • Email layout is inline and brand consistent
  • Footer with correct information
  • All in a border or aligned correctly
  • No stock images - they look terrible

Watch Your Frequency
Sending more email can do great things for your email program but it can also, when not done correctly, increase complaints.

Don't just blindly send more email. If you up the frequency it has to be relevant. Also remember what expectations you set at sign up. If you are drastically breaking those expectations then use email to reset them.


Move Unsubscribe Preferences Link To Top Of Email

Unfortunately your recipients will hit that junk or spam button to unsubscribe rather than scrolling down and using the actual unsubscribe link.

So you can try two things to manage this:

    1. Move the update preferences link to the top of the email. This way a recipient may think about updating preferences rather than complaining. Try some copy like:

"Change your email settings"

"Update when and what type of email you get from us"

This type of language encourages a change rather than a complaint and/or a complete unsubscribe.

  1. More drastically, you can move the unsubscribe link to the top of the email. If you are experiencing a high complaint rate then I recommend trying this for a month. Yes your unsubscribe rate will increase but that is expected.

What else have you tried?

P.S Check with your ESP if feedback loops are setup. Feedback loops are provided by ISPs and tell the ESP that someone has complained.

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