Question: How can I find out my ISP complaint rates?

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Answer: Unfortunately, it’s not easy, but it’s well worth the extra effort. Most of the major ISPs do not provide this information to marketers in any consistent or actionable way. The exceptions are AOL and United Online (Netzero, Juno), which have set up a free feedback loop service.

Why care about gathering this info? ISPs offer the "This is spam" button to help consumers quickly relieve their inbox of spam. One click and the offending e-mail is removed and the sender is blocked.

However, many ISPs also use these clicks as a "complaint factor" and block senders based on response. So the complaints of a few of your subscribers can prevent you from making it to the in-box of all your subscribers.

What to do with the complaint information you do get? First, immediately remove these names from your list. And make sure you do the same for the folks who complain directly to you—regardless of their response vehicle. Check your "reply to:" addresses on the e-mails, as well as your customer service and formal feedback mechanisms.

What is an acceptable complaint rate? AOL takes action for levels as low as one tenth of 1% (one complaint per thousand). However, none of the ISPs, including AOL, has a published threshold. And the truth is, it depends. Generally, complaint rate is factored against other factors to try and separate good mailers from bad. As a general rule, you want to aim for less than 0.1%. Marketers really start to see problems at the 0.9% mark, but when other factors, like high unknown users rates, are also a problem, then the threshold for complaints may not be as generous.

George Bilbrey is VP-general manager, Delivery Assurance Systems for ReturnPath (, an e-mail performance management company.

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