Moan, Moan, Moan – All You Ever Do Is Complain! Part 4

Posted by Guy Hanson 

In the previous 3 installments of this blog series, we have considered the points of pain across the email life cycle that causes subscribers to register spam complaints. We’ve looked at how shortcomings with the sign-up process, lack of recognition, and reduced relevance can all contribute to increased complaint activity. In part 4, our focus is on what happens when subscribers want to leave your email program, and why they might post a junk vote to achieve this.

Part 4: Breaking Up

Some subscribers will leave your email program – that’s a fact of life. Rather than making the process as difficult as possible, let them go with good grace. Recognise that people will normally take the route of least resistance – if it’s easier to complain than to opt-out then that’s what will happen. With this in mind:

  1. I can’t find your opt-out link: This is an obvious driver of complaint activity. Many susbscribers resort to the spam button as a substitute for unsubscribing. They will be even more likely to do so if the opt-out link is not present, or hard to find.


  • Ensure all emails have an opt-out link.
  • Position the opt-out link prominently in the email pre-header area.
  • Don’t attempt to “disguise” the opt-out link by using a small font or similar colouring.
  1. Your opt-out process is sooooo hard to use: A single-click opt-out is the Industry best practice. Anything else introduces unnecessary friction into the process, and makes using the spam button more attractive.


  • Don’t require a log-in to opt-out – many subscribers have forgotten these details.
  • Don’t make the process part of subscriber preferences – have a separate link for this.
  • Don’t impose conditions – rather, if you are attempting to change your subscribers’ minds, start from a premise that they’ve already opted out.
  1. You didn’t honour my opt-out request: This is another major reason for complaints. Once subscribers believe they are no longer part of your email program, they will complain if they continue to receive emails.


  • Process opt-out requests immediately – most email programs can do this.
  • Monitor “noreply” emails – many subscribers don’t know this channel is unattended.
  • Ensure that requests through other channels (e.g. requests by email, call centres) are applied.
  • Sign-up to all major feedback loops (FBLs) and process these notifications promptly.
  1. It’s like trying to kill the multi-headed beast! When subscribers receive emails from multiple brands, under the umbrella of a single parent entity, it’s a major source of frustration when each program requires a separate opt-out.


  • Provide a global opt-out that covers all programs.
  • Be transparent about which brands subscribers will continue to receive emails from.
  • Include these settings as part of your preference centre options.
  1. List unsubscribe: Another email best practice is for senders to include a list-unsubscribe record in their email headers. Inbox providers use this record for their generic unsubscribe processes. Other important players such as Lashback and SORBS also use it. If list-unsubscribe is not present, or not configured correctly, subscribers will believe they have opted-out, and will complain when they continue receiving emails.


  • Implement a list-unsubscribe record in all email headers.
  • Ensure both the “URL” and “mail to” parameters are populated.
  • If the “mail to” parameter is used, make sure this address is monitored and actionable.

Of course, in an ideal world you don’t want your subscribers complaining in the first place. Every complaint has a financial implication – on a balance sheet your email list would be an asset, and the churn caused by complaints is depreciation. Even relatively small complaint rates mean significant opportunity costs for your business (see my previous blog post on this topic). So the real trick is to have measures in place that stop your subscribers from complaining at all. In the final installment of this series, we’ll look at some ideas to help you achieve this email utopia!

If you enjoyed this series on complaints, download our new eBook: The Marketer’s Guide to Subscriber Complaints.  This eBook contains this series with best practice examples you can steal from, as well as additional content on how subscribers complain and how protect your email program with feedback loops.

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About Guy Hanson

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive email programs. With a knowledge base spanning the best part of two decades, he is globally recognized as an email expert and thought leader. Most recently at Return Path, Guy led a global consulting team, and worked with a broad range of world-famous clients across 5 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue. Now blazing a new trail as an independent consultant, Guy is continuing to explore his passion for email and data – and sharing his knowledge – through appearances at flagship events, providing training, and regular fresh new thought leadership Outside of work, Guy has had long-term involvement with both the DMA and IAB email councils, been a regular contributor to the industry press, and is a 3-time finalist as data storyteller of the year!

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