If you're a legitimate marketer and you regularly send email newsletters, it's likely that you'll eventually get an abuse report. We find that even clean lists that are 100% double opt-in will get one or two abuse reports per 50,000 recipients. Regardless, abuse reports are serious and can get a sending server blocked by major ISPs.

Below, you'll learn more about common reasons for abuse reports, how we handle them, and what you can do to protect your sending reputation.

In this article:

How Abuse Reports Work

When an email is marked as spam or junk mail, an abuse report is automatically sent to their ISP and a warning is then generated and 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 aren't absolutely sure that the complaint was a mistake, we will likely have to shut down your account.

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 usually generates an abuse report.

While abuse reports against legitimate marketers are sometimes a mistake, there are some common mistakes even legitimate marketers make that can get them reported for abuse.

  • Stale Lists
    The marketer collected emails legitimately through an opt-in form on their site, but took too long to contact the list. People receive full-blown email newsletters and they don't remember opting in 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. Now, they want to start emailing them but instead of asking people to join their email marketing list, they just start sending.
  • Trade Show or Third Party Lists
    The marketer is exhibiting at a trade show or sponsored event and the organization has provided the marketer with a list of attendee email addresses. Instead of emailing those people an invitation to join their list, along with a little explanation about how they got their emails, the marketer just assumes they have permission and starts sending.

  • Fish Bowls and Business Cards
    People drop their business cards into a you've set out to win a prize of some sort. To marketers, this is a common sense list collection technique but most people don't intend to give you permission to email them by entering to win a prize.
  • 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 have permission to send to the subscribers on your list.

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, don't send promotions without permission first. Setup a separate list for customers to join to receive promotions. Tell them what you're doing, what the benefits of subscribing will be, and then ask them to sign up.
  • Don't Use Purchased Lists
    They're a waste of money, and they're just plain wrong. Even if you acquired them legally, they're against our terms of use.
  • Don't Hide Your Opt-Out Link
    Make it very prominent. People who no longer wish to receive your emails are either going to click your unsubscribe link, or mark your email as spam, so protect your sending reputation and give them the option to unsubscribe. We recommend placing the unsubscribe link at the top of your emails, so they're easy to find.
  • Make Sure Your Email Looks Reputable
    If you're not a designer, hire one. Your email needs to look like it came from your company, not some scammer who is phishing for information. If your email looks unprofessional, people who want to unsubscribe might choose not trust your links and choose to report your email as spam rather than unsubscribe.
  • Set Expectations
    If people sign up for monthly newsletters, but you also send them weekly promotions, they're going to report you for spamming. Set expectations by sending what you told them you would. Set up different lists if you want to send different types of content and understand that there's a difference between soft-sell newsletters and hard-sell promotions.

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 - The automated system that lets you know when your emails are generating spam reports.
  • SpamCop Abuse Reports - If you get on the SpamCop blackhole list, email servers all over the world block your emails. One of the leading anti-spam organizations around. One of the few organizations that will listen to reason.
  • Abuse.net - Sort of a "411" for abuse complaints. If you send email that someone thinks is spam, this is where they (of their ISP) look for contact information. If you're not listed here, you look kinda fishy.
  • ESPC - Email Senders and Providers Coalition - Organization for ESPs, ISPs, and email marketers in general. Best practices and legal issues are discussed here. We're a member. If you send (or receive) lots of email, you should consider joining.
  • NANAE - Where email server admins and anti-spammers meet and talk online. You'll understand all the headaches they go through, and why you don't want to be forced into explaining yourself to these people.

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