Complaints! All the basics you need to know to avoid them

Laws and regulations
Jun 13
4 min read
I don’t think you know how much complaint rate can affect your delivery. If I told you 80-90% of delivery related problems are caused by complaints, would you believe me? Let me start by explaining how we get this data and how Feedback Loops (FBLs) work exactly.
Complaints - avoid them - Unhappy face on a box

A bit of history

Once upon a time (way back in 2003), the clever people at AOL starting using a little Spam button at the top of their interface that people could click on if they received an email they didn’t like. AOL soon realized they could not only use this little button to help people setup their own personal filters, but it was a great way for them to start keeping score on which emails generated the most complaints. Who better to listen to than your own customers!

This complaint data could also be sent back to the sender so they could in turn remove this person from the list and avoid them from complaining again. It also allows ESPs (Email Service Providers), like us the ability to keep a score card of how many complaints we receive for a given client or mailing. People who generate a lot of complaints can cause a lot of problems, especially if they are part of a shared pool used by many customers.

If you are generating a complaint rate over 0.25% (1 in 400) at any given ISP, this is a sign that people are not happy receiving your email and/or there is a problem with how you are populating your lists.

A list of top FBLs that are currently in use:

  • AOL
  • BlueTie
  • Comcast
  • Cox
  • Earthlink
  • FastMail
  • ItaliaOnLine
  • La Poste
  • Microsoft
  • Rackspace
  • Synacor
  • Telenor
  • Terra Brasil
  • Time Warner Cable
  • Tucows (OpenSRS)
  • United Online
  • XS4ALL
  • Yahoo
  • Yandex
  • Zoho

Unfortunately, many ISPs do not provide feedback loops to senders primarily because of the administrative hassles associated with them, but they are one of the best ways for email marketers to keep track of their sender reputation and help keep their lists clean.

If you are not getting the open rates you have been accustomed to seeing, or you are finding more and more of your emails ending up in the Junk folder: it’s time to act on it! It will just get worst!

If a given list source has a bad return, perhaps you are wise to stop using them! Generating your own leads and building a relationship with your customers is the best way to avoid generating a lot of complaints.

Some things you should be doing to avoid complaints

  • DO NOT purchase/rent lists (this is number 1 on my list for a reason)
  • Send email to those who want it: Don’t sign people up automatically.
  • After you receive a subscription request, send a confirmation email to that address which requires some affirmative action before adding that person to your mailing list. Since only the true owner of that email address can respond, you will know that only the true owner has intended to subscribe. This will also remove any invalid addresses and help lower your hardbounce rate. Without this process, you cannot be sure that the recipient requested your email.
  • Have people sign up voluntarily and keep those check boxes empty so they have to check it themselves. If the box to signup is checked by default, your list is actually ‘opt-out’ not ‘opt-in’. Not good.
  • Honor the scope and frequency of your sign up process and don’t send them content or bombard them with emails they didn’t sign up for.
  • Explain why they are receiving your email and make it as easy to unsubscribe as it was to sign up.
  • Use a consistent “From” name and email address
  • Make your subject line as clear as possible; people should know who you are, what your email is about and why they are receiving it without even having to open it.

Some of these are easy to do and some aren’t. Some of them will require a little time and money to put into operation, but all of them will help you avoid complaints, improve your company’s reputation, increase your deliverability and boost that ROI! It will also give you an edge over your competitors and you won’t look back once you start seeing the results. Like most things, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Top reasons people mark email as Spam

(Marketing Sherpa)

  • Reason number 1: I didn’t sign up to receive email from the sender.
  • Reason number 2: Email received was not of interest.

If these aren’t signs to strengthen your signup process I don’t know what is.

  • Send emails that want to be received
  • Give people a choice

You will eliminate the majority of user complaints with these 2 steps alone!

This data also shows how important it is for email marketers to stay on their toes and think about how they can make their campaigns more relevant. It shows how important it is to build a solid relationship with your customers from day one and follow best list building practices. In the end, this is better for everyone. Your reputation as a sender will go up and your customers will respond by sending more business your way.

Bye for now,


If you have any questions, I can be reached at: or feel free to use our Help Desk.

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