Spam complaints – What are the impacts?

The fight to eliminate spam has led to the new function to report as spam. If you put yourself in the shoes of a marketer who sends promotional messages, this button has something worrying about it…
Sophie Lamarche
1 February 2013
Omni-Channel Marketing Campaign
5 min
plaintes pourriel et alors

(Updated in 2020)

Spam reporting is a feature available in the mailboxes of all your contacts. Its purpose is to protect recipients from unwanted emails, either by blocking future mailings from the same sender or by filing them directly in the “spam email” folder.

When you look at it that way, it’s quite commendable. Hats off to all those who are fighting spam! However, when you put yourself in the shoes of a marketing professional trying to deliver promotional messages, this button is certainly not your best friend. 

Let’s first note that your contacts, even if they don’t respond directly to your emails, can still communicate with you indirectly, through openings, clicks, deleting the e-mail, marking it as spam, filing a complaint and sending it to the white list. While this is not a dialogue per se, it still says a lot about the relationship that this person has with your brand and your communications. After all, these are signs of significant engagement. So you can’t take them lightly!



Impact on reputation

These actions affect the deliverability of your email. The activity or involvement of the recipient is one of the factors that determine whether your emails will be delivered to the inbox or to the junk folder. Complaints about spam are then a major issue in message delivery. It doesn’t take much to affect a sender’s reputation and compromise future mailings from the same domain. Let’s also say that complaint rates have long been underestimated, but recent research shows that about 20% of deliverability problems are related to this type of complaint.

In fact, positive actions such as opening an email, forwarding an email from the “spam” folder to the inbox, forwarding or replying to an email, or adding the sender to the address book improve your reputation with providers. This tells suppliers that you are sending emails to a list that is perceived as clean, i.e., made up of contacts who have given their consent. This gives the impression that your subscribers really want to receive your emails, which increases the number of messages placed in the inbox compared to spam messages.

On the other side of subscriber engagement, there are spam complaints, which are much more negative and affect your reputation. They are more detrimental to your deliverability than other actions your contacts may take, such as deleting an email or ignoring it by not opening it. 

Spam complaints are a direct signal from recipients to providers that your emails are unwanted. Since providers want to protect their users from this type of message, to limit irritants, they strongly consider spam complaints in their message filtering. 



Track your spam email rate

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and webmails offer a free feedback loop service to email professionals to monitor the rate of complaints. But how is this rate defined?

The complaint rate is calculated as the number of “report spam/spam” complaints among all emails sent. At the benchmark level, a complaint rate around 0.1% is considered acceptable and often observed among good senders, while a rate above 0.5% is too high. Let’s also say that the harder it is to complain, the lower the percentage needs to be to be considered high.

In the case of the complaint buttons offered by webmails such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo, where it is easy to click, a certain number of complaints will still be present because readers can still use this function instead of an unsubscribe link.

spam indicator


Are you intrigued to know what the global SPAM rate looks like? If we look at the spam that is being sent globally, we can see that the statistic is quite impressive. SPAM accounts for more than 50% of all email sent. Do you know which country sends the most? China! With a proportion of more than 20%. 

Interesting to note that the number of SPAM has been steadily declining over the last few years, since in 2012 it was at nearly 70%, which is quite an interesting progression. One wonders if people have become indulgent, too busy to care, or too overwhelmed to put these emails in their spam boxes!  



A few tips to improve this rate

If you notice an abnormal percentage of spam complaints following your mailings, you should ask yourself certain questions to guide your actions:

  • Are you properly identified as the sender?
  • Have you obtained the consent of your contacts to communicate with them?
  • Do the people you send your messages to remember you?
  • Does the content of your messages reflect what people expected to receive?
  • Is the frequency of sending too high?

Any one of these questions, or a combination of them, usually helps to pinpoint the source of complaint problems. After some analysis and a few modifications to your mailings, everything should be fine. 

You can get more tips in this blog article we’ve written to support businesses that would like to follow best delivery practices. 



Moving to consent rather than reporting

Before the consent rules were put in place in connection with Bill C-28, Internet users had become accustomed to using the spam reporting function as a way of unsubscribing. It was, yes yes, easier to “spam” than to unsubscribe at a time when it was not common practice for businesses to do so. 

Therefore, to limit the reporting of email that more negatively affects your reputation for ALL your contacts, we advise you to turn to the consent center. This way, your contacts can have control over what they receive, by indicating exactly what kind of emails they are interested in. At Dialog Insight, we call these choices types of communication, whether it’s a subscription to the newsletter, events, specific promotions, updates, new product alerts, etc. The more specific you are in these choices, the more you increase the chances of interactions mentioned earlier in the article.  

While this also exposes unsubscribing more easily (something that is now legally required in Canada), it is better to treat your reputation with care than having contact lists that are not clean. Decreasing your spam rate once it is high is not easy!



That’s it! We hope you better understand the impact of the junk email button, which should be taken very seriously. Take care of your reputation, it is not easy to build … but very easy to destroy. 

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