Something that authentication can’t help
The email said, “Our last mailing had 30 complaints at AOL. Will signing with DKIM and SPF help with our reputation there?”
In some ways, that is a fair question. We do talk about reputation a lot and how authentication ties into that. But, really, this is something that authentication can’t help because, for all of the talk of how authentication ties into reputation, authentication and reputation are not the same thing.
The answer to the question posed is “No, it won’t help.” AOL may, or may not, look at DKIM (or SPF) as part of its reputation mix, but the issue posed in the email has nothing to do with that reputation mix. Mail was sent, it went through, and then was complained about.
The far better question is “how do we get people to stop complaining to AOL about our mail?” The answers to that are “expectation” and “engagement.”
Expectation is a two part thing. Your recipients should be expecting to receive mail from you. That’s part of permission-based mailing. If they are not expecting mail from you, you can count on them to complain about your mail. But expectation also deals with content. If people are expecting to receive transactional mail (like receipts) from you, but you add them to your general mail file and start sending offers then you’re sending mail that they don’t expect. You can expect complaints.
You also need to work on engagement. Not only should be people be expecting your mail, they should be engaged by it. That means making it relevant to them. If you own a pet food company, make sure that you aren’t sending cat food ads to dog or fish owners. Give them clear, measurable calls to action (a simple “click here” doesn’t count). Invite your users to give you feedback. Remember that email is supposed to be a two-way communications medium, not a one-way broadcast medium.
If you want to lower your complaint rates, expectation and engagement are the ways to do it.