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Anti-spam firm Brightmail has found that about 50% of all emails are unsolicited junk mail. Spam complaints are on the rise, and (according to a report from Nucleus Research) it is costing employers millions and millions of dollars.

Because of the increase in spam, many legitimate companies and organizations unwarrantedly get slapped with the “spammer” label. An organization or company may offer its Web site's visitors registration to an email list or newsletter. Inadvertently, visitors forget that they registered for the service and report the email as spam.

Here are a number ways email list managers can avoid spam complaints:

1. Never (ever!) purchase, trade or borrow an email list. This is the cardinal rule of email listing. Almost all of the organizations and groups that sell lists for purchase DO NOT have permission from those on the lists. Even if these organizations have represented to you that sending to their lists is not spam, do not be fooled. Sending emails to those who have not registered specifically for your mailings, or who are not your members, is almost always regarded as spam. This can not only cause problems with your list management service provider but also damage your reputation by labeling you as a spammer. It might even get you blacklisted by spam watchdog groups. Reputable list management companies have strict policies against the use of purchased or traded lists and will terminate your account if you violate those policies.

2. Always send a welcome email to members when they have signed up, but be careful. The longer you wait between the date and time they opted-in (registered) and the date and time you first contact them by email, the higher your chances of getting spam complaints. In your welcome note, include a description of what they will receive and how frequently they will receive it. If you are moving your list from another service, notify your subscribers that you have switched providers; and if you have made any formatting changes, tell them that as well. This will help keep some of your subscribers from confusing your new format with spam or thinking that you have sold their email addresses to someone else.

3. Keep records of those who have signed up. If you get a spam complaint from someone who has forgotten that he or she subscribed to your list, that person can request his or her sign-up information from you. Keeping subscription records, including the Web site address from which each person has signed up, each person's membership information and the date each person has registered for the mailing, will enable you to justify yourself so that your account is not canceled for violating anti-spam policies.

4. Remind people that they have subscribed to your mailing. Include a reminder at the top of your message each time you send a mailing. A short note, such as “Thank you for subscribing to the newsletter. Here is our latest issue,” can make a big difference in keeping your subscribers aware that you are not sending them something they did not request. If you collect the first names of your subscribers, personalizing the message also helps to reduce complaints and increase readership.

5. Always be sure to include an alternate means of contact to your subscribers. Put your phone number or postal mailing address at the bottom of your message, or at the very minimum include a link to this information on your Web site. Some ISPs are regarding emails without a non-Internet means of contact as spam, which could result in the blocking of your emails.

6. Try to send mailings to your subscribers on a regular basis. This makes it less likely for them to forget that they have subscribed to your mailings. Sticking to a mailing schedule will condition your subscribers to expect them. The frequency of your mailings depends on their content and intent. Sending something monthly or even weekly is usually acceptable. Infrequent mailings often result in people filing spam complaints because they do not remember signing up for your list.

7. If you have not sent a mailing for a while, initially send a message to no more than 1,000 randomly selected subscribers. Include a note indicating that you are restarting your newsletter and when you last published it. Wait a day or two to see if you get any spam complaints. Then, do it again, but to no more than 5,000 addresses. Then, finally, do it again for the rest of your list. This process lets you know what kind of potential complaints you might get from your list so you can address the problems immediately and directly.

8. Adhere to your privacy policy. Your signup page should contain a link to your privacy policy. Make sure that you follow your privacy policy to the letter, which typically means that you do not use the list to send email that a recipient did not specifically request. For example, if someone signed up for one newsletter, but you send a different one to that person, you could be violating your privacy policy. This may cause spam-complaint problems and get you into legal trouble.

These eight simple suggestions will not only reduce spam complaints against your company or organization but also increase the chances that others will read your messages.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raj Khera is a partner in MailerMailer (www.mailermailer.com).