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Recipients of unwanted email messages have found a new way to unsubscribe from lists: Hit the Spam button. Major Internet service providers (ISPs) are now (or in Yahoo's case will soon be) using feedback loops to communicate complaints back to the message sender.

What does this mean to email marketers? It means they need to rethink the way they display their unsubscribe link, especially if they are sending to a questionable list or are starting to receive complaints.

Here is a simplified explanation of how Feedback Loops work:

Email services providers (ESPs) let the various ISPs know that any complaints registered against our users should be sent back to us, so we can communicate this information back to those users.

The benefit to our users is two-fold: The complainer is automatically unsubscribed from your list, so they cannot register another complaint; and you can analyze this data to improve your delivery.

Why Feedback Loops?

ISPs found that complaint rates allowed them to set up filters that stopped unwanted messages. However, these filters were blocking wanted messages as well, because a complaint rate of as low as 1 in 1,000 can trigger a block.

For example, you send to 1,200 AOL addresses, and five recipients click on the Spam button: You could find yourself with a 24-48-hour block of your IP address, even if 200 recipients opened your message because they found the content relevant.

Before feedback loops, only the ISP knew who was hitting the Spam button... so senders kept sending to complainers, complainers kept complaining, and complaint rates kept growing until a permanent block was placed on the IP address.

This was stopping a lot of legitimate mail from getting to recipients who wanted it; fortunately, after enough people complained that they were not receiving requested email messages, the ISPs created feedback loops.

So what is the best way to keep a recipient from hitting the Spam button before they open your message?

  1. Make sure the From address is easily recognizable; it should contain the name of your company or organization.
  2. Make sure the Subject line is relevant and truly matches your content.
  3. Send your messages in regular intervals so the recipient comes to expect them.
  4. Do not over-send. If you send monthly, do not start sending weekly.
  5. And, most important, send only to those who have requested to receive your message. Do not send to addresses that come from a third party, and do not add members who have previously unsubscribed. Remember, it only takes one complaint in 1,000 to get all your messages blocked.

How to keep recipients from hitting the Spam button after opening your message:

  1. Consider adding a sentence to the top of mailing, such as this: "You are receiving this message because you have subscribed to list XYZ."
  2. Make sure the content matches the subject line and is relevant to the recipient.
  3. Make sure the Unsubscribe link is easy to find.

Let's focus on that last line: "Make sure the Unsubscribe link is easy to find."

If I want to leave a list and am faced with scrolling down to the bottom of a 12-paragraph message with 32 pictures of camping equipment... to try and find a light-green "click here to unsubscribe" link on a dark green background, and the alternative is a huge Spam button fixed at the very top of my email browser, I might just start using that handy button.

So What Do You Do?

If you are looking at your email sending reports and do not have any complaints and your delivery rates are good, then you do not need to do anything.

If, on the other hand, you are starting to get complaints and your successful-delivery rate is dropping...

  • You need to, first, as already noted, reevaluate how members are being added to your list.
  • Make sure your unsubscribe link is identifiable and easy to find. This may include shortening your message.
  • And, if you are sending to a new list, or complaints are really starting to rise, you may consider moving your unsubscribe link to the top of your message. If the recipient is looking at the Spam button, but also sees "Please click here to safely remove yourself from all of our mailings" at the very top of your message, that recipient might just use your unsubscribe link.

Complaint averted!

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Louis Chatoff is the deliverability manager for StreamSend Email Marketing Service (

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