How to Process Spam Complaints

If you aren't familiar with what an email feedback loop is, or why you would want to set one up, please read Email Feedback Loops first, then come back here.

Most email feedback loops work by sending you a notification each time a recipient marks an email that your registered IP address or DKIM key sent as spam. These notifications are referred to as spam complaints.

Spam complaints are usually, though not always sent in Abuse Reporting Format (ARF) with the original message and its headers attached. Depending on the ISP's policies, some details, such as the subscriber's email address may be redacted from the complaint.

How you process these complaints depends largely on what your relationship is to the sender.

Regardless of whether or not you're the sender of the email, you'll probably want to use spam complaints to monitor for issues. For example:

  • If you're a hosting provider, and you suddenly start receiving lots of spam complaints for mail sent by one of your customers' IP addresses, that's a sign that there may be a problem. For example, the server may have been broken into, or the customer could be sending email that's triggering the complaints.
  • If you're an email marketer who is trying something different, and it results in an increase in your spam complaint rate, then it's probably time to re-evaluate your decision.

If you were the sender of the email being complained about, then I recommend treating spam complaints the same way as you would unsubscribe requests. Stop sending to the complaining subscriber promptly.

Both low tech and high tech approaches can be taken for deactivating subscribers. For example, you could:

  • Manually review complaints on a regular basis, and click their unsubscribe links.
  • Use a spam complaint processor to automatically deactivate complaining subscribers, and generate statistics.