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Avoid Accidental Spam Complaints

You've worked hard to build a permission-based list of prospects and customers who should be familiar with your business, so receiving a spam complaint can feel like a betrayal by your best friend. That "betrayal," however, may have been spurred by common mistakes that make even the friendliest e-mails look like spam, which can trigger "accidental" spam complaints.

Here are the five most common consumer spam-complaint triggers and how you can avoid accidentally setting them off.

1. Preventing mistaken identity.
One of the easiest things you can do to prevent a case of mistaken identity is to make sure your "From" line is familiar to your audience. Using recognizable words to confirm your identity increase your open rates. For example, include your business' name or your domain name in your "From" line. Make sure the body of your e-mail is as familiar as your "From" line by including your business’ logo and colors as visual reminders of your identity. On a technical note, be sure to turn authentication "on" in your E-mail Service Provider's (ESP’s) account. Authentication is a new technology that helps Internet Service Providers (ISPs) identify legitimate mail. If your mail isn’t recognized, it could be filtered or tagged with a warning message.

2. Minimize irrelevant content.
E-mail is the most effective and cost efficient person-to-person communications medium available, and it's easy to use. Ease of use can become over-use if your content isn't always relevant to your audience.

In order for you to succeed with e-mail marketing, you need to cut through the clutter and provide only the most relevant content to your audience. There are a number of ways to do this; one of which is to use click data to target future messages. If you use an ESP, take advantage of the available tracking reports to help you create different interest lists for each type of personal interest within your audience. When someone clicks on a link, you can assume he or she is interested in the topic related to the link and you can add him or her to a targeted list. This gives you the ability to tailor your messages based on your audience’s interests.

You don't have to wait for someone to click on a link to find out what he or she is interested in. Empower your audience with the ability to choose the type of content they want to receive. For example, offer your customers a variety of topics that they'd like to receive information on when they sign up for your e-mail list. You'll be surprised how tastes and preferences vary from customer to customer. Another method is to send e-mail surveys and polls to gauge your audience's needs, likes and dislikes. Don't assume that you know what your audience wants to receive—just ask them.

3. Stick to your promise.
Integrity is the key to customer loyalty. It's vitally important that your subscribers receive e-mail communications from you in the manner you promised. Make sure that you only send the information your audience asks to receive based on the preferences indicated when they signed up. In other words, unless they asked for it, don't send it. It's also a good idea to provide a "view sample" link in your e-mail sign-up form that allows people to instantly see the layout and look of your typical email. That way, they'll be able to see what they are signing up for and they won't be surprised if they didn't read all the text describing the nature of your e-mail communications.

4. Limit excessive promotion.
Sending too many promotional e-mails can be as bad as not sending enough. Coordinate the frequency of your promotional emails with your average sales cycle and business model to avoid promotion when your customers aren't likely to be considering a purchase. Not only does this help optimize your inventory turnover, it also helps to align your marketing and operations goals.

Another tactic that you can implement is to place promotions on your Web site and use informative e-mail content to drive clicks to your Web site promotions. Hook your customers by using only the first two or three sentences of an informative article in your e-mail, and post the rest of the article to your site. Then put the promotion right next to the article. If they're interested, they will click-through for more information and they'll see the related promotion. If they aren't interested, you didn't bother them by asking them to buy something they aren't interest in. It is imperative to understand your audience’s promotional preferences. If you don't know, ask!

5. Provide unsubscribe links.
The CAN SPAM Act of 2003, revised in 2008, requires that you make your unsubscribe process clearly available in every e-mail message, but that's not the only reason to provide an unsubscribe process. If it isn't easy for someone to unsubscribe from your list, they might choose the spam button instead. The best practice is to provide a link that immediately results in unsubscribing from the list permanently. If your audience has trouble finding the unsubscribe link at the bottom of your e-mails, use a permission reminder at the top of your e-mail that includes the link.

Make sure you also give your audience reasons to trust your unsubscribe link. Use your sign-up process and a "welcome" e-mail to reinforce the ability to safely unsubscribe from your list by clicking the unsubscribe link in any of your e-mails, and make sure that link is always in the same position within your e-mails to reinforce trust and familiarity. If it feels counter-productive to make unsubscribing so easy, remember that without a clear way to tell you they don't want to receive your e-mails, the next logical step is to report the message as spam.

In summary, while it may not be possible to take the sting out of receiving a spam complaint, it is possible to minimize the amount of complaints you receive by sticking to proven permission-based tactics and delivering content you know your audience will appreciate. If you still get an occasional complaint, remember that the complainant probably still likes you if he or she signed up to receive your e-mails in the first place—they just want you to communicate in a different way.

John Arnold's uncommonly-effective marketing strategies are featured in his popular Web marketing books, syndicated columns, blog articles, and marketing seminars. John is the author of E-Mail Marketing for Dummies and co-author of the comprehensive desk reference Web Marketing All-In-One for Dummies. He is an engaging marketing conference speaker, media contributor, and small business marketing consultant. John has since become a trusted source for practical low-cost marketing strategies. He continues to advise small business owners as the Director of Constant Contact University.