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Why Subscribers Hit the Spam Button

Kelly Sutter

Why do subscribers hit the spam button?Anytime you send an email to your subscribers you also receive email responses back. WordFly logs all these responses, and in the Reporting section, it’s easy to see how many opens and clicks your campaign received.

There are other responses as well. You may have noticed ‘abuse complaints’ right next to opt-outs. These responses are collected when subscribers click the ‘spam’ button in the email they received from you. It’s hard to believe someone wouldn’t want your email—after all, it’s a great email, right? But it’s important to take notice of your spam complaints to improve your overall email marketing program.


Why should you take notice of abuse complaints?

Most ISPs have thresholds for spam complaints. Yahoo, AOL and Gmail have very low thresholds for these responses. The threshold is never posted publicly which means there is no way to know what that is for each ISP. In general, you can expect to see lower inbox delivery with just a handful of abuse complaints from your subscribers. And it doesn’t just affect your delivery to one ISP. Higher abuse complaints add up and contribute to your overall email ‘sender score’ which is a metric that all ISPs use to filter or block your emails.

Some reasons that cause subscribers to complain:


Is the subject line misleading? Does email content meet subscriber expectations for your emails? Is your From/Reply to address recognizable? If any of these are a step from your normal sending you may see an uptick in abuse complaints.

Mailing to subscribers who have clicked unsubscribe

It’s tempting to add addresses back to lists thinking the subscriber will want the email but it ends up being more of a violation of the subscriber’s expectations when they know they have clicked unsubscribe. Instead of unsubscribing again they will click the spam button.

Mailing to subscribers who never requested your emails

Purchasing or borrowing email lists is an easy way to get subscribers unhappy. Subscribers who receive emails they never requested will almost always click the spam button.

Frequency (this can go both ways, too much or too little)

Email subscribers too much during the day and you’ll likely receive a spam complaint from an inbox overload. However, email subscriber too little and your subscribers may forget who you are, resulting in the same action (an abuse complaint) that may be received from receiving too many emails.

And, sometimes, it’s just a bad click that sent back the complaint

Let’s face it. We’re all in a hurry, clicking through emails or more often thumbing through them on our phones. It’s each to delete or click the wrong button in a hurry. This is rare though and it shouldn’t be your first conclusion for an abuse complaint.


What you can do

As with most issues, knowing the cause of the problem can help lead to the solution. But how does an email marketer find out what caused a complaint? Emailing the subscriber to ask why would likely cause more resentment and would actually be in violation of ISP guidelines around complaints. What can be done?

1. Remove the addresses that complained.

WordFly actually does this for you through ISP feedback loops.

2. Take inventory and analyze what could have caused higher complaints.

  • Are you respecting subscriber content and frequency preferences?
    If you don’t know what subscribers want, set up your subscribe page and unsubscribe pages with preferences.
  • Are you sending email to subscribers that that have given you permission to send?
    Email marketing is all about permission because it’s about someone’s personal email address. It’s as personal as a home address which means it’s not given out lightly. Take the time to properly collect permission on your subscribe page and you’ll have better results with that subscriber and across ISPs.
  • Do you clearly set expectations around your mailing program when the subscriber opts-in?
    When subscribers sign up for your email program make sure to include some detail about what will be received and how often. Use WordFly’s archive URL to show an example of what is going to be sent out.

Much of this comes down to customer service practices. Abuse complaints are an indication of something that’s not quite right with the email marketing channel. Use it as a way of positively enhancing how you treat your email subscribers.