Thursday, 29 March 2012
why Spam Complaints Hurt Email Provider
A common scenario that I’m sure you all have once experienced:
It’s January 1st and I am dedicated to dropping a few pounds and getting in shape for my New Year’s resolution. I take the first step by searching for “how to lose weight.” I stumble through a few sites and find one that looks interesting. I download their free report and decide to opt-in for the company’s weekly newsletter and email tips.
Fast-forward to March 1st. The annual New Year’s resolution “honeymoon phase” has passed and the excitement of getting in shape has lost its luster. I’ve received a handful of email newsletters and tips from the weight loss company I signed up with. However, I’m really not interested in getting any more emails from them so I open their most recent email and click ‘Report Spam’ and move on with my life (well, at least until next year).
I think everyone understands this aspect of a spam complaint. A recipient, for a variety of reasons, decides the emails they receive are no longer wanted so they report them as spam in an effort to opt-out. Most recipients (and senders) don’t really know what goes on behind-the-scenes when they click the ‘Report Spam’ button.
It’s difficult to guess the order or specifics of the behind-the-scene logistics as most email providers have their own methods for handling this and guard their processes well. However, we can get into the basics of this process to better understand the mechanics of a spam complaint.
SPAM IS REPORTED TO THE RECIPIENT’S ISP.
Once a recipient reports an email as spam, this information is documented by the recipient’s email provider (ESP/ISP). They do this so they can track statistics for the individual recipient, their own internal analysis, and also to provide this complaint data back to the email sending provider (ESP, in this case, Infusionsoft) which sent the offending message(s). The recipient’s provider will add filtering logic to the recipient’s email account so that any future messages from the sender are likely sent to the spam folder (being ‘whitelisted’ in an individual’s email contacts list may or may not have an effect on this, depending on the particular Email Service Provider).
MULTIPLE SPAM COMPLAINTS LOWERS AN EMAIL SENDER’S REPUTATION
From there, the receiving provider adds this complaint to their sender reputation database. This data used by the provider to “score” the overall reputation and quality of emails sent by sender’s ESP. They do this by comparing the volume of email delivered to them and the number of complaints the sender generated as a whole. This is where the term “complaint rate” comes from. Each ISP has different thresholds for what they consider to be a well-behaved or a shady sender. On average, the industry has adhered to a complaint rate of less than 0.1% (1 out of 1,000) as a general rule of thumb for determining whether you are a source of spam.
A question I often hear about is, “how does the recipient email provider associate this reputation with any specific sender?” They do this by also logging the IP address, the email host’s sender domain (Infusionsoft.com), the domain of the individual sender’s From address (acmewidgets.com) and even the URLs used in the email message itself (acmewidgets.infusionsoft.com). Advanced logic is used to determine the risk on the given sender so the next time mail is sent from that IP/Domain/From or any combination thereof, the ISP can determine whether to accept the message for inbox delivery, accept the message but place it in the spam folder, or block the message from delivery altogether (blacklist).
Like how Google changes their search algorithm frequently, so do ISPs. No matter how you slice it, you need to play by their rules. That means if you want to send them email, you must be trustworthy and reputable. That’s where email best practices come into play.
SPAM COMPLAINTS ARE TRANSMITTED TO TRUSTED EMAIL SENDERS
The final step to the “life of a spam complaint” is to be directed through what’s called a Feedback Loop (FBL). A FBL is a mechanism operated by the ISP, to send spam complaint information back to the sender (Infusionsoft). Most providers include in the FBL report information about who the individual sender was, the recipient who complained, as well as other identifiable information. The expectation for the responsible email sender (Infusionsoft) is that we take action on the complaint.
Ideally, most legitimate high-volume email senders permanently and automatically opt-out the recipient who complained so they no longer receive email messages (Infusionsoft definitely does this) in order to protect consumer/recipient rights and privacy. From there, the expectation is that abusive senders are removed from the ESP’s service so they no longer cause abuse and/or they quickly adjust their sending habits. We do both in order to protect our sender reputation and consequently protect our email deliverability.
Does every spam complaint mean it’s the end of the world? No, spam complaints happen, regardless. ESPs and ISPs have mutually understood that some people get fed up with an email relationship and simply cut it off via the Report Spam button. It’s easier that way. One out of a thousand messages affords this ‘human’ error. Want to get fewer spam complaints? Be responsible. Always obtain permission, Respect the email relationship and give people a peaceful way to leave your list. Do those three things and you won’t be hearing from me.
I hope that this sheds some light on the mechanics and logic behind something seemingly as trivial as a spam complaint. Every spam complaint is indicative that a recipient bitterly does not want to receive email. Adhering to email marketing best practices minimizes spam complaints so you can keep hitting the inbox (and stay out of sight from our anti-abuse team) every time you send to your list.