Toll Free: 1-888-883-9462
| Privacy Policy
| Site map
  Email Marketing Tips Newsletter: 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What Is A Feedback Loop (FBL) & Why Should You Care?

Welcome to the first of many blog entries about some of the concepts, technologies and techniques used by to try and make sure your email reaches the inbox of your customers and prospective customers.

I've developed courses... I've written articles, how-tos, and book... But this will be the first time I've been a blogger and I'm looking forward to it.

I hope you will enjoy the posts and hopefully learn something that will help you get the most out of your email campaigns. So, let's get started!

What is A Feedback Loop?

In general, a feedback loop (FBL) is a mechanism, process and signal that are looped back to control a system within itself.

In the context of email, an FBL or complaint feedback loop is an inter-organizational form of feedback, by which an Internet service provider (ISP) forwards email complaints originating from their users, back to the senders' organizations. Generally, ISPs expect that these transactions are processed as unsubscribe requests and that the sender researches the nature of the request, to reduce the incidence of such complaints.

The most common method for ISPs to receive users' complaints is by placing a report spam button on their webmail pages or in their email client. Or, the user may send the email to the ISP Postmaster. In rare cases, these feedback loops may not be based on user reports. For example, they may be based on automated virus detection, or similar mechanisms.

Some ISPs remove the email address of its customer before returning the message to the sender, for privacy or legal reasons. This means it is important for senders to utilize some method other than an email address within a message, in order to identify the recipient.

There is considerable effort involved in setting up an FBL with each ISP. In some cases, you must first set up domain authentication or other such security-related process. Fortunately, takes care of all the details for you!

Why Is A Feedback Loop Important?

As of May 2008, there were 12 FBLs in place at several of the world's largest ISPs including AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo. Feedback loops have become an email industry standard.

This is excellent news for email marketers. The data returned as part of the feedback loop system is extremely valuable in a couple of ways:

  • The first is for list hygiene: Members who complain through a feedback loop can be unsubscribed, thereby reducing future complaints. Some may call this list-washing, but it's just common sense. Even if someone previously opted in to receive messages, if the user complains, the first thing you should do is cease mailing to that user.

  • The second use of FBLs is to analyze the complaints. There is a wealth of data in who complains and what they complain about. Regardless of whether you believe the complaints are unfounded, if they complained they were dissatisfied. Smart marketers aim to avoid dissatisfied customers or prospective customers.

Campaigns, subject lines and "from" addresses can also be monitored to ensure that campaign elements are working well. You can identify areas that need improvement. If a particular mailing, list, or list segment produces too many complaints, it bears further investigation. Many complaints are caused by a failure to meet expectations. As an example, there may be a high complaint rate among new subscribers. This can be caused by subscribers not getting what they thought they signed up for or by a long delay between sign-up and the first mailing.

To further complicate matters, most ISPs have complaint rate thresholds above which your messages may be filtered or blocked. Unfortunately, most ISPs don't publish these thresholds, which vary by ISP. Monitoring the FBL data will improve your email practices, while ensuring complaint rates do not exceed Internet Service Provider (ISP) thresholds.

Twenty percent of legitimate email never reaches the inbox and one study found that 77% of these email delivery problems were based on sender reputation. That reputation, in turn, is based on several things, with FBL complaint rates likely being the most important consideration. This means that proper use of FBLs can have a dramatic effect on your inbox performance. is continuously using feedback data to help maintain the best possible sender reputation.

Sender reputation is a topic to be discussed in a future blog.

What Is Questionable About Feedback Loops?

The spam button brings some very imprecise functionality. Automatic unsubscribe is an example. For years, end users have been told not to trust email unsubscribe links, to avoid confirming that the message was received and opened. So, many users hit the spam button as a way of unsubscribing. Users have to trust their ISP to not get into agreements with spammers, in the strict sense of the latter term.

The spam button may also be used in error, as a means of expressing disagreement with the message content, or as a means of expressing antipathy towards the message sender. Using the same button for multiple conditions implies guesswork in interpreting the data.

The bottom line, however, is that the benefits of FBLs far outweigh the cons.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home