New This Week – eM+C’s Deliverability Dilemmas Solved, Double Opt-In but Still Getting Complaints

This is the first installment of our newest column, eM+C’s Deliverability Dilemmas Solved.

Every month, All About eMail will present an email deliverability question marketers may face, and George Bilbrey, VP/GM of Delivery Assurance Solutions at Return Path, will answer the question. If you have a deliverability question you’d like answered here, please send it to

Q: Our email program is double opt-in, but we have high complaints and as a result our email is being blocked. How can this be, and what can we do about it?

A: Permission can be a tricky concept for some marketers. Getting caught up in legalistic or technical definitions like, “Well, gee, they didn’t uncheck the box!” can land you in hot water when subscribers view your email as less welcome than you imagine it to be.

While double opt-in programs often have lower complaint rates because of the extra step customers take to affirm their desire to receive email, it’s not a panacea. So here are a few warning signs and recommendations:

1. While subscribers may be opting in to receive email from your company, there may be a disconnect because of the type of email you send. If you send email with different content or at a higher frequency than your customers expect, they will vote you as “spam.”

2. Subscribers may not recognize your message as one they opted in for. Make sure your branding is clear and matches what is on your sign-up pages and, again, make sure the content and frequency match what you promise at the point of permission.

3. Permission, no matter how it is obtained, is not forever. Subscribers can grow tired of even the best content. Also, if your products or services are suited to a specific time period (e.g., new baby gear, pool supplies, anything tied to a holiday), then it may be very natural for your messages to decline in value for recipients.

4. Remember that spam is in the eye of the beholder. If at any point in the relationship subscribers decide your email is no longer interesting or valuable to them, they will complain.

The best way to figure out your particular problem is to do a complaint source analysis. Figure out where the complaints are coming from. If they are new subscribers, then the problem is probably at the point of permission. Despite your double opt-in process, people are getting confused and not expecting your email. If the complaints are coming from subscribers who have been on a file for some amount of time, then it is probably subscriber fatigue.

Consider new segmentation and content strategies that will better address recipients’ needs. Also, look at data sources. Do subscribers that come in through specific lead-generation sources complain more often than others? Eliminating those programs or changing the way they are set up could solve the problem.

George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He’s an expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group and the Online Trust Alliance. Reach George at

Publish date: October 9, 2009 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT