Feedback Loops: How to Use Them to Monitor Your Email Program

What are Feedback Loops?

A feedback loop is a service offered by an ISP like Yahoo! Mail that alerts you when users at that ISP report your email as spam. For example, AOL says:

“Once you have created a feedback loop, we will send you a copy of each
complaint generated when an AOL member reports your email as spam”

Not every ISP offers this service, and not every ISP allows individual senders to participate. Those that do also have a set of technical requirements you need to satisfy before gaining access: you’ll usually find details at each ISP’s help pages. (Note: Gmail, which up to now has not offered a feedback loop, is reportedly beta testing one now.)

Why they’re Important

Many of us monitor opens, clicks, sales, and other metrics to help us understand what we’re doing right  – or wrong –  with our emails.  After all, it’s not only the positive responses that provide valuable insight. It would be good to know, for example, how many people are marking your emails as spam. Then you can take remedial action if the number starts to spike. Fortunately, feedback loops provide exactly this data.

If that all sounds like hassle, then there’s some good news. If you use an email marketing service provider (ESP), they may already be signed up to all important feedback loops and can include data on spam complaints in your standard campaign reports.

So what can you do with the information?

Some feedback loops provide enough data for you to identify the email address of those reporting you as spam. If so, you can suppress these addresses from getting future mailings. Your ESP may do this automatically.

A high level of complaints or a sudden spike in the numbers means it’s time to investigate and correct the likely cause. After all, as we’ve explained, spam complaints are a big factor in how ISPs evaluate your emails and too many complaints will lead to your mail getting blocked.

Is it your email acquisition practices?

Look at the various sources you use to acquire email addresses, particularly new sources you might have added just before that jump in complaints.

  • Do people know that they’re signing up?
  • And are you setting the right expectations?
  • Or do subscribers expect one thing and get another?

What about your send frequency?

Are you sending regular emails or are people forgetting they ever signed up to your list? Are you leaving a long gap between the initial sign-up and sending that first mail. Again, people might forget they opted in. Or are you sending so many emails that people are overwhelmed and frustrated?

What about the email that caused a spike?

In a previous post we explained how to keep spam complaints down, so check to see if maybe you’re doing the opposite! In particular:

  • Was the source of your email clear (for example in the from line), or were people marking you as spam because they didn’t recognize the sender?
  • Did the subject line sound a little too spammy?
  • What about the content? Did you disappoint subscribers or send something unsuitable?

As you can tell, the information from feedback loops can alert you to weaknesses in your list building efforts or in individual emails. Which is great, because then you can do something about it!

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