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The Impact of Spam Complaint Rates on Email Deliverability (And How To Fix It)

Your business emails would never get marked as spam, right? That’s the hope of every company, but reality can often be harsh. You might be marked for high spam complaint rates without even realizing it, unaware of how badly they damage your company’s email sender reputation and hinder your email marketing campaigns.

But fret not!

In this blog post, we help you understand why businesses get high spam complaint rates, the impact of these complaints on email deliverability, and what you can do about it starting today.

What Is a Spam Complaint, Anyway?

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Before we get into that, let’s unpack what a spam complaint is. It’s a rather straightforward concept, as a spam complaint is a report from an email subscriber on your list citing your message for spam.

You’ve probably sent a few such complaints yourself if you’ve ever seen strange emails in your inbox. Customers have many motivations for their complaints, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

Understanding why customers make these complaints is half the battle, and addressing their concerns is the other. It’s normal for a few forgetful customers to report your messages for spam, but when most of your audience does it, it’s a problem.

How do you know you’re veering into dangerous territory? Measure your spam complaint rates. Calculate the rate by dividing the number of spam reports by the number of emails sent.

For instance, did your latest campaign include 1,000 emails? If 200 were marked as spam, 200/1,000 is 0.2 percent.

However, if 500 of 1,000 emails are reported for spam, that’s a much direr situation, as now your spam complaint rate is 0.5 percent.

Klaviyo recommends a spam complaint rate of under 0.05 percent.

Probable Causes of High Spam Complaint Rates

If your spam complaint rate is higher than anticipated, it’s time to figure out why. Here are some common reasons customers rush to report emails as spam.

You’re spamming them

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Sometimes spam complaints happen because, well…you’re spamming your audience.

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as spammers, as we’re legitimate businesses. While it’s true that spammers are often nefarious, spamming is as much about your email etiquette as it is about who you are.

You will have high spam complaint rates if:

  • You send attachments in emails no one asked for
  • Your unsubscribe process is so convoluted or difficult that no one does it
  • You use clickbait in your subject lines
  • You will mislead your audience in your subject lines just to get an email open
  • You have a rented or purchased email list
  • You use words spam filters detect, including “amazing,” “urgent,” “once in a lifetime,” and “apply online”
  • You lack transparency in your email marketing
  • You don’t prune your contact list, so you send emails to inactive subscribers too
  • You send out bulk emails
  • You don’t personalize your emails
  • You send emails way too frequently

They don’t recognize your email address

There are plenty of reasons an audience member on your email list might not recognize the sender address. Perhaps you’re using a new email address or website host. Maybe you tinkered with your email settings and changed your sender name.

Regardless, your customers will do what anyone would when they get a message and don’t know who it’s from. They’ll report it for spam without opening it.

They don’t remember signing up for your emails

The contacts on your email list might not recall how they ended up there. That can happen when you email your audience so infrequently that they otherwise forget about your existence.

Picking up the pace of your email sending can ameliorate this issue, as can sending immediate welcome emails after a user joins your email list, even if they do so in the middle of the night. Email automation will help tremendously here.

Read also: How To Remove Your Email From The Spam List: A Guide

They actually didn’t sign up for your emails

Perhaps it’s not that your audience is forgetful. Maybe some of them genuinely didn’t sign up for your email list. This will often be the case if you rented or purchased your list. These people didn’t consent to being a part of your email list.

Once you begin firing off your messages, you will either notice a skyrocketing unsubscribe rate or a higher-than-average spam complaint rate, perhaps even both!

Your emails have too many links

Your audience might have reached the point where they’ve opened your emails, but that’s as far as they’ve gotten. They see 10 or 20 links in a 300-word email and immediately report it as spam.

Can you blame them? There’s no need to jam that many links into any email, even if it’s several hundred words long (which it shouldn’t be; it’s an email, not a blog post).

Read also: Avoiding the Spam Folder: An Intro to Email Deliverability

How Spam Complaint Rates Impact Email Deliverability

What kind of impact can sending spam emails have on your email deliverability rate? Let’s investigate.

Your emails don’t reach the inbox

When customers report your emails for spam, all future correspondence goes into the spam filter. You could stop sending spammy emails, but it won’t matter at that point. Into the spam filters your new messages will go.

People check their spam filters, but rarely, usually only to see if another email was accidentally marked as spam. They will ignore the other emails languishing in the spam filter, including yours.

Your email subscribers unsubscribe

Many email hosts give users two options for dealing with spam emails: mark them as spam or mark them as spam and unsubscribe.

The latter kills two birds with one stone, preventing the user from receiving emails from that address again and marking any future correspondence that gets through as spam.

Spammy practices will shrink your email list considerably.

Read also: Top Tools & Strategies To Improve Email Deliverability Rates

Your engagement rates tank

It goes without saying that if a user doesn’t receive your email (or receives it but doesn’t see it because it’s in the spam filter), they can’t open it. They probably won’t want to and won’t wish to click the potentially spammy links therein.

You’ll notice very poor open and click-through rates when you check your campaign metrics, indicating no one is engaging with your content.

You lose your sender reputation

The email sender reputation of any person or business is established by an internet service provider (ISP). It’s a culmination of your email list behavior and activities.

Some factors that influence your sender reputation are how active the recipients are who receive your messages, whether you mass-email your audience, and your overall engagement rate.

If you have a poor sender reputation, an ISP can block your messages to their customers, limiting your reach. Sending spam emails is a great way to destroy your sender reputation, forcing you to rebuild it gradually.

Read also: How To Avoid Spam Filters For Better Email Deliverability

11 Tips for Better Spam Complaint Rates

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According to cybersecurity company DataProt, over 56 percent of emails sent in 2022 were spam. Companies waste over $20.5 billion annually on spam emails, which can be too costly for small businesses and startups.

You can’t afford to ignore high spam complaint rates. The following best practices will reduce spam reports and improve your email deliverability.

1. Personalize your emails

Improving inbox placement begins with personalization.

Personalized emails please your ISP, as it shows you’re not sending the same message to 1,000 other subscribers. Your audience also loves personalized content, as it feels like it was written just for them, increasing their likelihood of engaging with your content.

personalize messages for marketing automation
EngageBay options for personalization

Personalized emails have at least a 25 percent greater chance of being opened, with SaaS marketing resource Kalungi estimating the rate is high as 29 percent. The click-through rates are equally elevated at 41 percent, Kalungi notes.

Read also: All The Email Spam Words You Should Avoid: A 2024 List

2. Reevaluate your subject lines

A clickbait subject line might attract clicks, but at what cost? You’ll lose subscribers as soon as they realize what you did.

Many businesses rely on clickbait as a crutch because they think their email subject lines aren’t compelling enough to inspire opens. That means you have to work on the quality of your subject lines. Go for honesty.

Ditch the spam words and misleading claims. Instead, understand how to speak to people’s emotions, from happiness to FOMO. Perhaps throw in an emoji or two, but only when appropriate.

These tactics work to increase open rates and don’t involve an ounce of deception.

Read also: Emailing with Ease: How to Comply with Email Laws and Win Customers

3. Prune your email list

Inactive subscribers will damage your sender reputation, as ISPs assume these subscribers could be spam traps.

You must go through your email list regularly. How regularly? At least every three months, or after a successful email marketing campaign with a subscriber boon.

Don’t necessarily remove inactive subscribers. Initiate a reactivation campaign.

If you can reach them through your emails, great! However, if they’re not opening or clicking through the new wave of content you send, it’s time to remove them from your list.

They can always resubscribe another time if they’re interested.

Read also: Unlocking the Secrets of Email Sender Reputation

4. Send fewer emails

With billions of emails sent daily, how many do you contribute to? Striking the right email send balance is tricky. If you email your audience too seldom, they’ll forget about you, which could increase your risk of ending up in the spam filter.

However, if you email them too frequently, you could still get marked as spam or lose subscribers. So, what is the right number to aspire to?

It varies, but there’s no need to email your audience daily. Once to five times per week is a good balance. This cadence is just enough to remind your audience you exist but not so much that they’ll get annoyed with your emails.

5. Activate global unsubscribes

A global unsubscribe frees an audience member of all future correspondence from every related email list they might have subscribed to.

You might wonder why you should give your audience that kind of power, so allow us to tell you. The easier it is for users to unsubscribe, the less time they’ll spend on your email list.

You want a high subscriber count, but if your audience doesn’t know how to unsubscribe or you make it difficult to depart your email list, you’ll get reported for spam instead.

It’s better to have a reasonable number of email subscribers and a low spam complaint rate than tens of thousands of subscribers but a high rate.

6. Segment your audience

A well-segmented audience is a must before you launch your next email marketing campaign. Segmentation introduces a greater rate of personalization if you separate your audience groups by criteria like buyer behavior, pain points, and interests.

Segmentation also ensures your leads and customers receive the right marketing messages as they journey through the sales funnel.

For example, a lead doesn’t need to receive emails about add-ons to your main product when they haven’t even purchased the main product yet.

As beneficial as audience segmentation is, it’s not a one-and-done. Your audience’s needs, interests, purchasing behavior, and pain points will change over time. You must stay current on what they need. Only this way can you provide them with tailored, useful content and top-notch product recommendations.

Read also: The Impact of Email Blacklists, Greylists, and Whitelists

7. Send emails from the same domain

Don’t hop from one domain to the next. Keep your emails centralized to one domain, and always send your messages from it. This reliability will give your audience a baseline of which email address to expect messages from.

Spam emails can masquerade as the real deal from email addresses that closely mimic yours, so stick to one domain once you choose it.

8. Use double opt-ins

Double opt-ins require a subscriber to consent to join your email list twice. First, they confirm when they fill out your opt-in form, then they’re transferred to a landing page or receive a confirmation email, where they must consent again.

Double opt-ins ensure that only the truly interested subscribers get on your email list. It’s too much trouble for someone on the fence to use a double opt-in, so you’ll weed them out before they can get on your list and complain about spam.

9. Send a welcome message immediately

You might need to curtail email sending, but one message you can’t skip is the welcome email. This should go out right after a user subscribes to your email list.

It confirms they joined the list and gets the ball rolling to build a professional relationship.

Read also: ISP and Email Deliverability: How To Hit The Inbox Always

10. Remind your audience how they joined your email list

Account for those forgetful audience members who might not be sure how they got on your email list by noting how and when they joined. You don’t need to provide information down to the exact date and time, but a brief note that states something like, “You joined our email list in September 2023” helps.

Include that note in all future emails to that subscriber. It’s a small way of personalization and helps them recall that they’re on your email list of their own volition.

11. Don’t buy or rent email lists

This last tip bears repeating: you should never rent, borrow, or purchase an email list.

We can understand the temptation to buy if you’re a small business that has tried and failed to build an email list using email marketing tactics. However, resorting to purchasing an email list is not the way to build a lasting audience. You have contacts in number only. They’re not engaged, they’re not interested, and they’re unlikely to buy.

Your subscriber count will fall like dominos. People will wonder who this strange company is emailing them. Your spam complaints will also go through the roof.

Rather than spend the money on buying an email list, invest in email marketing. Paid campaigns will help your email list grow, although it will take time and patience.

Read also: IP Warming and Email Deliverability: Here’s What To Know

Bottom Line

Getting reported for spam is injurious to your business. You tarnish your sender reputation, reduce your open and click-through rates, and destroy goodwill between your business and customers.

Understanding your spam complaint rate and striving to reduce it will ensure more of your emails reach their intended place – your customer’s inboxes!

For email marketing that actually works, try EngageBay. It’s free with limited features and comes with integrated CRM tools.

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