November 2nd, 2011

Feedback Loops: Monitor your bulk email reputation

Many major Internet Service Providers (e.g. AOL, Hotmail, MSN, Comcast, etc.) have FBLs “feedback loops” for reporting SPAM complaints by their users.  I.e. if a user “marks a message as Spam”, information about that message and the fact that it was considered “Spam” by the recipient can be sent back to the originating email server, for example LuxSci.

LuxSci has participated in feedback loops for a long time .  Now we have greatly extended our participation by:

  • Increasing the number of feedback looks that we participate in to include most major ISPs that have FBLs
  • Automating the processing of all feedback so that our systems can detect spikes in complaints against specific users and/or accounts quickly and alert us to possible issues with the quality of the messages that they are sending
  • Making all of this information visible to end users and account administrators in real time.
  • Automatically correlating feedback loop report information with our outbound SMTP logs so that the email address of the person complaining can be identified in many cases.

Real time feedback loops for Customers

For the first time, users and administrators have access to feedback loop Spam complaint reports as they come in and historically. Detailed complain reports show, for every complaint:
  • When the complaint was made
  • What ISP the complaint came from
  • How the “spam” message was sent from LuxSci
  • Who the message was from
  • Who it was to (if that can be determined)
  • What the subject was
  • When the message was sent
  • Tracking information (like the “Message-ID” header, etc.)
Daily and Monthly summary reports and reports grouped by user also allow easily seeing how many complaints have come in historically and what users are producing the most reports.  The detailed report is also available as a CSV (i.e. Excel openable) download containing all historical report information.

What can be done with Feedback Loop Reports?

So, now that this information is exposed to customers, what can/should they do with this information?
  • Forwarded Email: If you find that you are forwarding email to yourself (i.e. at AOL) and then marking it as SPAM there, you will find that you are creating SPAM complaints against yourself.  These would be visible in your reports.  If this is the case, you should either (a) stop forwarding there, (b) filter your email for SPAM before forwarding, or (c) stop using the “mark as SPAM” function of AOL on messages like that.
  • Bulk Email: If you are sending newsletters or other bulk email (i.e. perhaps using the LuxSci High Volume Bulk Mailing service), you can use these reports to (a) remove complaining recipients from your opt-in lists, (b) detect if your messages appear “spam-like” to your opt-in recipients so that you can modify your messages to reduce complaints before they result hurt your sending reputation or deliverability.
  • Specific Recipients: If you are getting complaints from specific recipients who should not be complaining, maybe you should contact them and find out why they are complaining.

Automated Emailed Alerts

To provide feedback loop Spam complaint information to our customers “as fast as possible” so that they can act on it expediently, LuxSci also has an automated “Feedback Loop Digest” email message that can be sent.

These digest email messages can be sent:

  • To report at any frequency that you desire: from hourly to weekly
  • To email the report to up to 10 recipient email address
  • To contain all SPAM complaints since the previous report for
    • A specific user,
    • All users in a specific domain,
    • All users in the account
Multiple digest alerts can be set up at various levels, for example, so:
  • A user can be quickly informed of any complaints against his/her messages (i.e. within an hour of their arrival)
  • An account administrator can get a daily digest of all complaints against any user in the account.
These digest emails also include CSV attachments containing all of the  SPAM complaint details. With a little programming, these can be easily extracted and parsed to perform automated actions such as removal of any recipient from your mailing lists.

SPAM Complaints come with a Grain of Salt

We find that many recipients will use their “Mark as Spam” button as a general “Delete” button for any email they “don’t want” — irrespective of whether the messages are legitimate (i.e. even if they are properly opted in … if they don’t want it they may mark it as Spam).
As a result of these, SPAM complaints from feedback loops are generally of “low quality” … i.e. they do not indicate that SPAM or Unsolicited Commercial Email has actually been sent, just that recipients do not want the messages.  And, the more messages that a sender sends, the more feedback will be received, in general.
For this reason, SPAM Complaints are useful a a means of identifying recipients to remove from your mailing lists…. but not as a direct indication of Spamming.  However, unusual numbers of complaints combined with “Spammy looking” message subjects and mailing lists is a big red flag and LuxSci reviews this information to identify possible AUP violations.
Additionally, while feedback complaints are not an indication of spamming, increasing numbers of complaints can be a prelude to server blacklisting, legitimate complaints (where recipients take more time and report abuse through proper channels), etc.  So, everything should be done to reduce the number of complaints in general — real opted in recipients should be made aware of exactly why they are receiving messages and how to stop them, etc.

Where can I find these new Feedback Loop tools?

The Feedback Loop Reports:
  • User-level Reports are found under “My Reports > SPAM Complaints”.
  • Account-level Reports are found under “Account > Administration > Reports > Spam”
Automated Feedback Loop Emailed Digests:
  • User-level: Configured under “My Email Tools > Outbound Email > SPAM Complaints”
  • Domain-level: Configured in the Domain Administration area  under “Outbound Email Tools > SPAM Complaints”
  • Account-level: Configured under in the Advanced Administration area under “Email and Collaboration > SPAM Complaints”

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