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Feedback Loops: What They Are and What They Tell You About Your Email Program

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by: Jeff Dellapina (@IBMforMarketing)
03 March 2014

Our deliverability team frequently gets questions regarding feedback loops. So, I thought I’d use this post to explain what feedback loops are, what they tell you about your customers, and how you might adjust your email marketing practices based on them.

A feedback loop, or FBL, is a form of communication between an inbox provider (usually an ISP) and a sender of email (typically an email service provider) regarding abuse complaints. Most of the time, the feedback loop is tied to the IP addresses sending the email. For the feedback loop at Yahoo to function, for example, the “From” domain used in the mailing must have a valid DKIM DNS record in place.

Here’s how it works: When a recipient receives an email and clicks on the “this is spam” button, an ISP sends an email to the sender informing it that an abuse complaint has been lodged. At this point, the recipient address should be moved to the sender’s suppression list, deleted from its database and never be sent to again.

Your goal as a marketer is to reduce abuse complaints. Notice that I didn’t say eliminate them because getting abuse complaints also tells you that your emails are getting to the inbox. If you’re not getting any abuse complaints, that means you’re either the best email sender ever, or your mailings are getting bulked. Receiving one or two complaints for every 1,000 messages is a good point on the “abuse-rate scale.”

The number of abuse complaints you’re receiving and the context in which they’re generated can reveal critical information about your list quality, content, frequency and age:

List Quality: If you have two lists receiving the same content the same number of times a week, and one list generates more abuse complaints, then you’d want to look closely at the source and age of the problem list.

Content: Similarly, let’s say you send the same list two different mailings, and one generates more complaints than the other. In this situation, you’d want to look at modifying the content in the complaint-generating message or starting fresh. Simply put, relevancy is very important in abuse control. If you send non-relevant mailings to the same list multiple times, you can expect to receive abuse complaints along with higher opt-outs.

Frequency: Generating high abuse rates after deciding to change your mailing frequency is a sign to return to your previous mailing pattern. The reason? Frequency is about expectations and honoring your agreements. If customers sign up for your emails and you agreed to send two mailings a week, and then later you start sending four emails a week, that can be a problem. Equally bad: sending significantly less than expected.

Age: New visitors to your website rarely generate abuse complaints. If the above conditions are the same and you find yourself generating more spam complaints, then those are probably from older inactive addresses. These high abuse rates likely indicate that some of the mail you’re sending to that ISP is going to the bulked folder.  The result might be that old inactive subscribers stop receiving your mailings, then one day suddenly do get your mailing and decide to click the spam button.

Feedback loops may sound daunting, but look at them as an opportunity to enhance your email program. They allow you to see how your customers are “feeling” and give you the opportunity to interpret those feelings and make changes to your send practices so you’re better engaging your contacts.

Related Blogs:

1) “3 Quick Tips for Changing Your ‘From’ or ‘Sending’ Domain

2) “How Gmail’s Image-Handling Changes Will Impact Marketers

3) “7 Tips for Designing Email to Avoid Deliverability Issues




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