What NOT To Do If You’re Getting A Lot of Spam Complaints

A recent MediaPost article explores the notion of placing unsubscribe links at the top, rather than or in addition to the bottom of email marketing messages, in order to mitigate spam complaints.

My take: Placing an unsubscribe link at the top of an email marketing message in order to reduce a high level of spam complaints is like trying to put a band-aid over a gunshot wound. There are much deeper issues that need to be addressed, and placement of the unsub link in your email template is probably very low on that list.

If you’re a good email marketer, your recipient anticipates and wants to read your email, view your content and learn more about you. Be confident in what you’re sending or think twice before clicking send at all. Because putting an unsub at the top of your messages is like an infomercial spokesman starting her pitch with “Before I begin, I’d like to warn you that you’re probably not going like the product I’m about to show you and might want to change the channel.”

At the end of the day, the goal is for your recipients to neither report spam nor unsubscribe; both are failures. Regardless of which they’re clicking, your recipients don’t want to hear from you anymore. They’re breaking off contact; your relationship is over, and it’s all your fault.

Focus squarely on delivering value to your subscribers and do whatever it takes to keep them happily on your list. In the end not only will you see fewer spam complaints and unsubscribes, but also increased response from happy, active customers.

– Jordan Cohen, Goodmail Systems

3 thoughts on “What NOT To Do If You’re Getting A Lot of Spam Complaints

  1. I agree with you on this Jake, I wrote a post about this around a year ago and I proposed placing the unsubscribe link at the top to prevent the pointless spam complaints.

    When I had nothing to do with email marketing, I didn’t care how the emails stopped being sent to me, just as long as they did. I too was one of these people that clicked the spam button on legitimate email. So the purpose of the unsub link at the top most definitely has its place.

    I also don’t agree that unsubscribes are considered a failure. Every product has a life cycle with a consumer and maybe the recipients interest is only temporary. You’re not going to carry on receiving baby clothing information when your child is six are you?

    At the same time though, the message you’re conveying Jordan is valid and the sender should always be making sure that content is fresh, interesting and relevant.

  2. Not sure I really agree with you here Jordan.

    Certainly, I can understand your angle when saying it won’t mitigate spam complaints if you’re already experiencing high amounts of complaints, or if your emails actually are spam.

    However, one must consider that some subscribers don’t think like we do. We know that if we click on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of an email, it will get us unsubscribed. However, thanks to spammers, that faith isn’t so true when on the subscriber’s end.

    As a result, the Spam button is often used to ensure they won’t get emails from that sender again, plus it saves loads of time scrolling through an email.

    Putting that link at the top means no scrolling, plus installs perhaps a little bit of trust since spammers haven’t caught on to it just yet.

    Furthermore, the notion that if you’re getting any complaints or unsubscribes means you’re not doing it right is a little absurd. There is always the possibility that someone will hit the spam button, someone will always unsubscribe even if you targeted, segmented and included the most relevant content ever ever ever in the whole wide World.

  3. Jordan,

    As the author of the Media Post column referenced, I absolutely agree with you in principle. A high spam-complaint rate is a failure on the part of the sender – likely a result of questionable list building practices, over mailing, sending unexpected emails, etc.

    A company with a high unsubscribe rate and/or high spam complaint rate needs to get its house in order – and not look for simple Band-Aid approaches that enable them to continue sending their less-than-stellar emails.

    But we live in an imperfect world – and many marketers are not heeding this advice. For these "careless" marketers – reducing spam complaints is key to enabling them to continue to get their emails delivered. As such, an unsubscribe link at the top of their email may in fact achieve this goal.

    In fairness to a lot of in-the-trenches marketers, they may be forced by management to double or triple their email volume in these turbulent economic times – in hopes of increasing revenues. You and I both know that this type of approach MAY work in the short-term but is typically a failure over the longer haul. But that it can also lead to off-the-charts increases in spam complaints causing deliverability issues – and thus making it easier for disgruntled subscribers to opt-out instead of hitting the spam button makes sense.

    Is this the right approach or answer? Absolutely not – but we live in the real world.

    Secondly, I’m not sure I agree with your infomercial analogy – first infomercials are not at all comparable to permission-based emails. But secondly, making it easy for someone to unsubscribe is an absolute and undeniable best practice and legal requirement. Locating the unsubscribe link at the top of an email may not be the right approach for the majority of marketers, but it is the ultimate in usability and ease for the subscriber.

    I’m not suggesting that the valuable top real estate be used for enabling opt outs – but contrary to your point, a marketer with a highly valuable, world-class email program should not be afraid at all at a top-located unsubscribe link. If anything it says, "we respect your right as a consumer, realize your interests change and are happy to enable your opt-out wishes – rather than having you develop a poor image of our brand."

    As I have written and presented on many occasions, in addition to improving your email program, the best approach is to enable subscribers to change aspects of the email relationship (such as address, frequency, format, interests, etc) that have contributed to the emails being unwanted.

    Finally, one of the most powerful aspects of email marketing is the huge amount of control that the subscriber has over the relationship. This foundation, enabled by the unsubscribe and spam complaint process, is what makes email so great and different from almost every other marketing channel.

    Don’t fear the unsubscribe, embrace it.

    Loren McDonald

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