Why Is Your Email Being Reported as Spam? (Part 1)

Spam complaints are a key indicator of the overall health of your email program. Mailbox providers take spam complaints into account to help determine if your mail should go into an inbox or straight to the junk folder. It’s important to keep your spam complaints as low as possible so that you can see the highest possible deliverability rates.

This post is the first in a series exploring the reasons that prospects click “report as spam,” and what you can do to prevent that from happening. Today, we’ll be covering the first reason — “I didn’t sign up for this!” — in a few different forms.

“I didn’t sign up for this. Who are you?”

The two different subcategories of this are purchased lists and typo/troll signups.

Purchased lists not only go against our permission-based marketing policy, they’re also just not worth the money. Consider this: If your prospect is on a purchased list, how many other companies might have that prospect’s information? They’re probably receiving a LOT of unsolicited email to that address, and one more piece of mail just isn’t going to matter. Even if you think you have the best product ever, sending to a purchased list is a huge trigger for spam complaints. Since your email reputation is so important, sending to a purchased list is just bad news. The fix for this? Just don’t do it!

Troll signups, such as a competitor entering abuse@ addresses into your forms, or typo signups, can often lead to high spam complaint problems, or worse, blacklistings! While you can’t always stop your prospects from mistyping their information, you can make sure those typos don’t affect your sending reputation. All you have to do is set up confirmed opt-in in your email or marketing automation tool. Confirmed opt-in is a great way to keep your database clean of false signups, in addition to giving you a fantastic way to keep documented opt-in on all your prospects!

“I didn’t sign up for this, I signed up for another company’s mailings…”

This tends to come up in two forms: mergers/acquisitions, and partner signups.

In the case of mergers and acquisitions, prospects may recall signing up for XYZ company, but they have no idea that XYZ company merged with Example Corporation. Example Corporation then sends those prospects from XYZ company a marketing email and winds up with more spam complaints than they’d ever had on a previous mailing! The key to handling this is to send out emails letting your prospects know of the change. There’s no set number on how many emails you should send, but I’d recommend sending at least two emails from XYZ company’s domain letting prospects know of the change. Once the merger with Example Corporation is complete, it’s a good idea to add some copy at the top of your next few mailings letting prospects know of the change. That way, prospects are fully aware of how you’d received their information and are less likely to complain of spam.

The case of partner signups tends to be a bit of a trickier area when it comes to permission-based marketing. You are tying your sending reputation to the opt-in practices of your partner, so it’s of the utmost importance that you make sure their policies are in line with our (or another tool’s) permission-based marketing policy. It’s extremely important they include some sort of opt-in checkbox on their forms letting prospects know they’re also opting in to receiving information from partners. In addition to this, as a partner, it’s generally a good idea to include something in your initial email to these prospects letting them know they’ve opted into your mailings. That way, these prospects know how you’d obtained their information and are less likely to complain of the email being spam!

“I don’t think I ever signed up?”

This tends to come up particularly when sending to old prospects or when sending to prospects who verbally provided permission.

When sending to older prospects, especially those who haven’t been reached out to in over a year, there’s a significant risk of those emails not only being bad or inactive addresses, there’s also a higher potential for spam complaints. Prospects often don’t remember who you are or how they opted in, and thus are more likely to report spam as a result. If you did want to send email to older prospects, it’s best to first run a permission pass to verify those addresses are good and those prospects are actually interested in receiving marketing emails.

Verbal permission is a bit trickier when it comes to obtaining permission. Prospects often do not recall everything during a phone conversation, especially that they’d provided permission to receive marketing emails. While obtaining verbal opt in is acceptable under our permission-based marketing policy, it doesn’t give you any written record of opt in. As a best practice where verbal permission is concerned, it’s a great idea to send an email after the call thanking the prospect for opting in to receiving marketing email. That way, you have the opt in documented from the call in the event of a spam complaint.

“I only signed up to create an account.”

I saved the best for last — this one is my biggest pet peeve. Just because I’m interested in creating an account, it does not mean I’m opting in to receiving marketing emails. Forcing me to opt in to marketing emails is an easy way to annoy me into reporting spam. Alternately, I’ll just sign up for that service using a fake email address, so I can still use the service, but won’t get marketing emails. That’s positive for me, but doesn’t really help your bounce rate or sending reputation! The best way to handle this is to, first and foremost, not automatically opt in new account holders. Second, make sure you have an opt-in checkbox for new account creation, so prospects can optionally opt in to receiving email. If they don’t check that box, respect their wishes and don’t send them any marketing emails! It’s best to tell you upon account creation that they’re not interested, instead of having them affect your reputation by complaining about spam.

This wraps up today’s post on why people complain of spam, specifically when they have no idea what they’ve signed up for or how they signed up to begin with. Tune in to our next post in the spam complaint series, This isn’t relevant!

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2 thoughts on “Why Is Your Email Being Reported as Spam? (Part 1)

  • Great post, Skyler! There are a lot of ways for legitimate emails to be marked as spam, even when businesses are following all the rules.

    One other thing that can help to reduce spam complaints is setting expectations up front. Somewhere on that lead generation squeeze page or landing page, let subscribers know that they will be getting x number of emails x times per week/month/etc. and what kind of info they can expect in those mailings.

    That way, not only do they know what content they get, but how often they’ll be getting it.

    I’ve also noticed a lot of B2C emails in particular have started giving their subscribers the ability to reduce the number of emails they get vs. unsubscribing altogether. Sometimes even people who subscribe via double opt-in hit that spam button when they see too many emails from the company they signed up with.

    • Awesome points here, Ereika, thanks so much for commenting! You’re totally right, setting expectations up front is ALWAYS a good thing, and it’s actually something I’ll be covering in a later post in this series. If I expect to receive weekly emails and I’m getting daily emails instead….you can bet I’ll be reporting spam! 🙂

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