Corina Leslie

ZeroBounce PR Manager

How to Deal with Email Spam Complaints and Unengaged Subscribers

Email spam complaints and inactive subscribers are both detrimental to your campaigns’ performance. What’s the best way to deal with them? Stay with me for a step-by-step guide to handle subscribers who don’t click on your emails and who mark you as spam.

What are email spam complaints?

Email spam is a burning issue. According to Statista, in 2019, 28.5% of the emails sent in the world were spam. Did you know that number used to be more than three times higher?

No wonder why Internet service providers (ISPs) are constantly upgrading their spam filters – they need to protect users from malicious messages. Apart from that, email service providers (ESPs) have made it easier than ever for people to complain about malevolent senders. The “mark as spam” button is a fast way to tell your ESP that a certain sender isn’t welcome in your mailbox.

But what happens when people mistake an honest email marketer for a spammer? With the click of a button, anyone can complain about your email and affect your email marketing performance.

Email spam complaints are nothing to ignore – and neither are unengaged subscribers.

What are unengaged subscribers?

Some people will read all the emails you send. These are your hardcore fans: they love your brand and what you have to offer and show their appreciation.

Others will open and read some of your emails, while certain subscribers get on your list only to ignore all your messages. Maybe they signed up to receive a discount or content offer. Or perhaps they found your emails interesting for a while, but then changed careers or discovered more relevant sources.

Regardless of the category they fall into, people who haven’t opened your messages in more than six months are a risk to your email marketing.

Let’s see why email spam complaints and inactive subscribers can cause your deliverability and conversions to decrease. Then, we’ll get into some of the best tactics to handle them.

Ready?

How email spam complaints and inactive subscribers affect your email marketing

Remember we were talking earlier about ISPs always striving to offer users a better email experience? To do that, they use important metrics to evaluate every sender and determine where each email should go.

When people engage with you consistently, they’re giving ISPs relevant feedback on where you belong. Your emails getting attention is an indicator you’re sending enjoyable, useful content, so you should be in the inbox.

Spam complaints, on the other hand, are a red flag: something’s not right with your emails since people express discontent. As a result, you’re more likely to land in spam – and that means in your active subscribers’ junk folders, as well. Since you have a bad reputation, they may not see you in their inboxes anymore.

The same goes for inactive subscribers. By ignoring your content, they express lack of interest – and if you’re irrelevant, why should you be in the inbox? People who don’t engage with you cause deliverability issues and prevent you from hitting your goals.

As you can see, having a solid sender reputation is paramount to your email marketing. It all starts with what ISPs think of you as a sender.

We deliver your emails to the Inbox

How to deal with email complainers

By now you can probably guess it’s not a good idea to keep poor-quality contacts in your database. For your email campaigns to succeed, you want a list of people who care about your messages and offers.

So, first things first: remove complainers without regret.

“We recommend our customers to weed out subscribers who may flag them as spam. The industry standard for spam complaints is 0.1%, so one complaint for every 1,000 emails. Anything above that is risky to your sender reputation and deliverability,” explains ZeroBounce CEO Liviu Tanase.

But how would you go about removing abuse emails, which is that the industry calls them? Until someone marks you as spam, you’d have no idea about their intention.

“Good email verification services spot users who have a habit of flagging emails as spam. Once the system detects them, you can isolate them and decide whether you’d like to stop emailing them, which is what we advise,” Liviu says.

How to deal with spam complaints

Alternatively, you could get an email validation API on your website. On your signup and account registration forms, set up the API to verify every new subscriber instantly. This piece of software will tell the valid contacts from the invalid ones apart so you can add only genuine subscribers to your list.

How do you get an API for your site? It’s easy: just ask your email verification company and they should provide you with the key. What’s more, the API will reject other risky emails – such as misspelled, role-based, or temporary ones – which don’t add any value to your list.

Email address checker

How to handle unengaged subscribers

You invest so much in growing your email database. It’s an ongoing effort, and every new connection means a lot. However, sometimes, you just have to count your losses. Whether it’s abuse emails or subscribers who never open what you send – you have to let go of dead leads.

First, though, you may want to win back your inactive subscribers. Here’s a short checklist you could use before you hit “Send” on a re-engagement email:

  1. Isolate your inactive subscribers and gather them in a new list.
  2. Validate that list to make sure all those email addresses are still in use.
  3. Go even further with your segmentation and use all the data you have to create personalized campaigns. Can you group people based on location and gender? What about their shopping preferences? Such criteria will help you come up with highly relevant content.
  4. Start creating your campaign – or campaigns if the data you’ve gathered allows for multi-level personalization.
  5. Be generous: now is the time to offer something irresistible, so someone who’s ignored you in the past few months can’t help but click.

Of course, you could also send out an email simply asking those subscribers whether they want to stay on your list.

Check out this example from Animoto:

Reactivation email

Nonetheless, including an offer in your re-engagement email is likely to increase your responses.

Last post

Should you delete inactive subscribers?

Because it takes so much time and effort to grow an email list, most marketers will advise you to run a re-engagement campaign before you let go of inactive subscribers. “After all, if those people once expressed interest in your emails, there has to be a way to win them back,” says Helpjuice Digital Marketing Consultant Josh Brown.

He's right: a campaign aiming to reactivate some of your dormant subscribers can pay off. “On the other hand, some of my peers would recommend you to prune those contacts out without bothering to re-engage them. If none of your emails has managed to get them to click in six months, chances are you can count them out,” Brown adds.

In the end, it’s your call. Assess your resources and, if you can come up with an enticing campaign, go ahead and run it. Otherwise, focus on subscribers who open your emails. They are the ones who support your goals and deserve your attention.

One thing is indisputable, though: it’s best to remove people who don’t express any interest in your emails. Not only do they skew your metrics and affect your reputation as a sender. Also, they can bounce or become spam traps.

Yahoo deletes inactive accounts

It’s true: the company announced it’s started to deactivate and eventually delete dormant accounts. So, pay special attention to your Yahoo email addresses. There could be inactive accounts in your database that may bounce and tarnish your sender reputation.

Inactive accounts can be spam traps

To prevent spam, ISPs and email blacklist providers will recycle dormant email addresses and turn them into spam traps. The longer you keep an inactive account on your list, the higher the chances for it to be recycled into a spam trap. Sending emails to spam traps has dramatic effects on your deliverability.

It's up to you to keep a healthy email list

Here’s the thing: every sender will get a few spam complaints and will have some dormant emails on their list. The key is to stay proactive about them – and about any other low-quality addresses you may gather.

Your email list declines in quality every day and it’s up to you to keep it healthy. Verify it regularly and also, make all of your emails valuable. Using a fresh list and sending outstanding content will keep your open rates high and boost your conversions.

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Corina Leslie

ZeroBounce PR Manager

Corina Leslie is the PR Manager for email validation company ZeroBounce. Most often, you’ll find her on their blog, where she shares her tips and interviews experts on digital marketing and PR.

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