Even legitimate marketers with clean lists will receive an abuse report at some point. You might see two reports per 50,000 subscribers, but it's important to understand abuse reports, and how to protect your reputation, because anyone can be blocked by major ISPs.

Below, you'll learn common reasons for abuse reports and how we handle them.

In this article:

How Abuse Reports Work

When an email is marked as spam or junk mail, an abuse report is created. The report is automatically sent to the recipient's ISP and a warning is sent to the sender's ESP. If you're sending your email through MailChimp, our Abuse Desk staff receives the warning message.

Usually, the warning hides the identity of the person who is complaining and includes a copy of the email you sent along with a brief message stating that their customers are complaining about your emails and that action must be taken to address the issue or our server will be blocked.

How We Handle Abuse Reports

To protect your sending reputation and our own, we carefully monitor abuse reports so that we can immediately pinpoint any problems as they arise. If we detect a problem, we can re-distribute email delivery to different servers and IP addresses while we investigate the account in question.

If you are investigated for an abuse report, you need to show that you've collected your list legitimately and that the complaint against you was made in error. If we can't be sure that the complaint was a mistake, we will likely have to shut down your account until you've taken steps to improve your list.

We recommend that you always use our double opt-in process for list collection and that you take the time to be sure your account is in compliance with our Terms of Use, which prohibit purchased and rented lists or opt-out lists.

Common Reasons For Abuse Reports

Some abuse reports are the result of a subscriber marking mail as spam either by mistake or because they don't realize that marking mail as spam actually generates an abuse report.

Here are some common mistakes even legitimate marketers make that may cause recipients to report abuse.

  • Stale Lists
    The marketer collected emails legitimately through an opt-in form on their site, but didn't contact them soon after. A subscriber could receive a newsletter they don't remember signing up for two years ago.
  • Lists From Online Purchases
    The marketer has a list of email addresses from customers who have purchased products from them in the past. They want to email them but instead of asking purchasers to join their email marketing list, they just add them and send.

  • Trade Show or Third Party Lists
    When a marketer exhibits at a trade show or sponsored event, they receive a list of attendee email addresses. Rather than ask the attendees to join their mailing list, they assume they have permission and send. 

  • Fish Bowls and Business Cards
    People drop their business cards in a bowl to enter a drawing for a prize. This can seem like a common sense list collection technique, but entering a drawing doesn't qualify as giving permission to receive emails.

  • Purchased or Rented Lists
    The marketer purchased or rented members' email addresses from an organization, then added them to their list without getting permission first.

In order to stay compliant with our Terms of Use and avoid abuse reports as much as possible, always get permission to send to the subscribers on your list, using a double opt-in method, whenever possible.

Ways to Prevent Abuse Reports

Below are some specific ways to prevent spam complaints.

  • Use the Double Opt-in Method
    This is standard in for lists created in MailChimp. If you use double opt-in, you have proof that each and every recipient gave you permission to send them emails.
  • Get Permission
    Even if they're your customers, you need to ask permission before you send promotions. Set up a separate mailing list for promotional messages, and ask customers to join it by explaining the benefits of your email content. 
  • Don't Use Purchased Lists
    Purchased lists are against our Terms of Use, for a variety of reasons.
  • Don't Hide Your Opt-Out Link
    Make your unsubscribe link prominent in every campaign. When subscribers can't find an opt-out link, they'll often mark your email as Spam instead. We recommend placing the unsubscribe link at the top of your emails, so they're easy to find.
  • Make Sure Your Email Looks Reputable
    Your email needs to look professional, and like it came from your company. Messy campaigns can trigger distrust, and subscribers could mark it as spam. If you're not a designer, get some tips on how to brand your campaigns, or considering hiring one of our Experts.
  • Set Expectations
    Be honest about what you'll be sending your subscribers. If they sign up for monthly emails, send them monthly emails. To send more frequently or to promote other topics, set up different lists or groups with their own opt-in process.

More Information

We hope you found this useful. If you're interested in how all the different abuse report systems work, and what email service providers like us have to do to stay off blacklists, here are some resources for you:

  • Guidelines for proper list management from MAPS, a major anti-spam blacklist service.
  • AOL's Feedback Loop is an automated system that lets you know when your emails are generating spam reports.
  • SpamCop Abuse Reports tell you if you get on the SpamCop blackhole list, which is when email servers all over the world block your emails. SpamCop is one of the leading anti-spam organizations around.
  • Abuse.net is like a telephone directory for abuse complaints. If you send email that someone thinks is spam, and they don't find your contact information here, it looks kind of fishy.
  • Email Senders and Providers Coalition (ESPC) is an organization for ESPs, ISPs, and email marketers in general. Best practices and legal issues are discussed here. We're a member. Consider joining if you send or receive lots of email.
  • NANAE (news.admin.net-abuse.email) is an online group where email server admins and anti-spammers meet and talk online. 

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