6 ways to reduce spam complaints

When you look at the report for an email campaign, one of the most disappointing metrics is the amount of spam complaints. Hopefully your emails keep this to below .05%. The chart below from MailChimp’s Email Marketing Benchmarks, released December 2012, gives specific “abuse” rates and other metrics for email marketers in a variety of industries.

Average Email Campaign Stats of MailChimp Customers by Industry

IndustryOpenClickSoft BounceHard BounceAbuseUnsub
Agriculture and Food Services45.4%4.5%0.9%0.8%0.058%0.268%
Architecture and Construction43.8%5.2%1.4%1.1%0.038%0.222%
Arts and Artists43.1%3.4%0.8%0.8%0.047%0.237%
Beauty and Personal Care32.7%3.6%0.6%0.7%0.068%0.295%
Business and Finance32.6%3.1%1.0%0.9%0.041%0.198%
Computers and Electronics32.4%2.7%0.9%0.8%0.041%0.202%
Creative Services/Agency41.9%3.5%1.1%1.1%0.045%0.253%
Daily Deals/E-Coupons19.3%1.9%0.2%0.1%0.019%0.086%
Education and Training36.1%3.4%0.9%0.7%0.036%0.171%
Entertainment and Events25.4%2.1%0.5%0.5%0.040%0.175%
Health and Fitness32.2%3.3%0.5%0.6%0.060%0.263%
Home and Garden38.7%4.8%0.5%0.5%0.051%0.234%
Marketing and Advertising21.7%2.1%0.6%0.5%0.034%0.153%
Media and Publishing30.9%4.4%0.3%0.2%0.018%0.090%
Medical, Dental, and Healthcare30.9%3.1%0.9%0.8%0.056%0.174%
Music and Musicians30.0%2.6%0.5%0.5%0.035%0.181%
Photo and Video48.1%5.5%0.6%0.7%0.046%0.269%
Professional Services39.0%3.2%1.4%1.2%0.047%0.283%
Public Relations35.5%1.9%1.2%0.9%0.025%0.173%
Real Estate37.2%3.1%1.1%1.0%0.070%0.275%
Recruitment and Staffing23.1%4.5%0.5%0.6%0.039%0.179%
Restaurant and Venue37.8%2.2%1.0%1.0%0.059%0.353%
Social Networks and Online Communities25.0%3.5%0.4%0.4%0.032%0.160%
Software and Web App32.6%2.7%1.3%1.2%0.058%0.342%
Travel and Transportation27.7%2.8%0.7%0.6%0.046%0.202%
Vitamin supplements26.5%2.5%0.5%0.5%0.078%0.268%

Consumers see many “legitimate” marketing emails as spam

Marketing emails make up 70% of spam complaints, according to Return Path’s 2012 Q3 Intelligence Report. That looks even worse when you consider that marketing emails account for only about 18% of overall email volume.

Even if your subscribers are well engaged, reducing the number of spam complaints you get by just one hundredth of a percent can make a big difference. Deliverability is becoming more and more of a challenge. Entities like Spamhaus are derailing entire email programs. It is time to get proactive. What worked five years or even two years ago is no longer be good enough.

It may be time to see things from your subscribers’ perspective.

Your subscribers get too many emails

When you consider what your subscribers are going through, the spam accusations make more sense. CNN reported late last year that “the average office worker spends 28% of her workday on email” and gets 147 email messages a day. She deletes half of them.

The stream of emails flows faster and faster. We’ve hit information overload. Most of us hit it a decade ago. When faced with several hundred emails a day, the sane response is to start blocking some of them. The easiest way to do that is to just click “spam”.

Why do people mark legitimate email messages as spam?

A time-pressed subscriber doesn’t want to have to hunt for the hidden unsubscribe link in an email message. They definitely do not want to fill out a survey about why they’re unsubscribing. They are already behind the curve at work, and this email you’ve sent them is taking up valuable space in their inbox. They may even get a wee bit of satisfaction – vengeance, even – by clicking “spam” rather than unsubscribing.

They will click “spam” whether they signed up for your list or not. Maybe it’s because they think the messages aren’t interesting. Maybe they don’t have time for shopping, or they’ve got dozens of emails to read and respond to right now. An email with a 5% discount for something they don’t want is not essential. So it gets cut.

How to reduce spam complaints

1) Make it easy to unsubscribe

This is a simple fix. It can probably be done in half an hour. Put your unsubscribe link at the top and at the bottom of all your email messages. Make it a one-click unsubscribe. Don’t hide it.

2) Use double opt-in

Double opt-in has been proven to reduce spam complaints. It’s also been shown to increase click-through rates and to raise overall sales. This has been proved in several different email industry reports, including this one from MailChimp (https://blog.mailchimp.com/double-opt-in-vs-single-opt-in-stats/). Yet most retailers still use single opt-in.

3) Let subscribers control frequency

Let your subscribers control how often they hear from you. One retailer who does this well is LovelySkin.com. Its subscribers can choose whether they want to hear from the retailer just a little (1-2 emails a month), more often (4-5 emails a month) or if they want it all (6-12 emails a month).

This upgrade to an email marketing program will be more work than switching to double-opt-in, but it could significantly reduce spam complaints and, in turn, improve your messages’ overall deliverability.

4) Segment

There’s lot of talk about segmentation, but according to Experian’s The 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report, “80% of marketers are still emailing the same content to all subscribers.”

Segmentation works best when it is based on past purchases, but it doesn’t have to be that complex. Even asking for basic product category interests at sign-up can help. Asking people whether they prefer text or email is also easy to do. So is asking for gender.

Even if you do not have access to a world-class database and email marketing platform, it is still possible to deliver much more targeted, relevant emails to your readers. They expect it.

5) Fulfill the promise of your sign-up box

So many retailers promise discounts and sales in their email sign-up boxes. Most of us know that the #1 reason people sign up for emails is to get sales and discounts, so that’s what gets offered while we’re wooing visitors.

But when was the last time you offered a great sale that was only available to your email subscribers? When was the last time you gave your email subscribers something they couldn’t get anywhere else? Offers like that are why your subscribers signed up in the first place. Deliver on that promise. And if you can, over-deliver.

6) Practice better list hygiene

If you’ve got a group of subscribers that are inactive, it’s best to let them go. You can try a re-engagement campaign, but even a successful one will get less than 20% of them back.

How should you define “inactive”? Anyone who has not clicked on a link for six to nine months is generally considered inactive. The ones who have not responded in a year or more may not even be worth a re-engagement campaign.