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An Overlooked Email Deliverability Metric

Thomas Senne
Senior Director of Global Deliverability

Deliverability, on occasion, is just like real life. "Read the fine print," "the Devil is in the details," and "DO sweat the small stuff" are sayings that are certainly applicable to the world of deliverability. It’s very true that sometimes we are so enamored with the big picture (How often are we sending? How many emails are going out?), we forget about seemingly small details that can make a difference. Don’t forget that sometimes it is small metrics and small details that can cause you big problems.

Let’s talk about complaints. It’s true that complaint rate isn’t exactly an overlooked area for deliverability minded folks, but you may be surprised at how small the number of complaints that cause trouble really is.

First, a quick review of what a complaint is. A complaint is registered when a recipient clicks the “Report Spam,” “This is Spam,” or some flavor of button or check box that implies this is a message they didn’t ask for. Most likely the user did subscribe (let’s hope you have an explicit opt-in), but either can’t recall, or feels like they didn’t sign-up for this type of message.

There are between 15 and 20 global ISPs who offer feedback loops (FBL). What happens when the user clicks the spam button? The ISP sends the message back to the sender and it is processed as an unsubscribe by the email or marketing automation software. An ISP assigns significant importance to their customers who go through the trouble of reporting a message as spam.

Here’s the shocking and often overlooked fact about complaint rates: you can expect to see issues with deliverability when your complaint rate reaches 0.2%. That’s calculated by dividing the number of messages sent to a single ISP by the number of complaint at that ISP. That’s only two messages out of a thousand! It doesn’t take many of these complaints to bring down a great campaign.

Here are some quick tips to avoid these complaint issues:

  • Only mail to customers who explicitly opt-in to receive your email
  • Don’t write spammy subject lines
  • Make your unsubscribe link easy to find and understand
  • Don’t try to trick your recipients into opening or clicking your email
  • Don’t purchase a mailing list to increase your marketing universe

The most common excuse for people who hit the “Report Spam” button is that there is a lack of trust in the sender. Spam is in the eye of the receiver. If they don’t remember signing up for your email, feel like they get way too much email, or don’t recognize the partner message you just sent out; it is easier to report spam rather than hunting around for your unsubscribe button or link.

Remember 2 out of 1,000 is a pretty shockingly low number. Start planning right now for a better experience to avoid a huge impact on your deliverability.


Grab the Modern Marketing Guide to Deliverability and other guides to ensure you achieve maximum deliverability of your email.

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