The Importance of Permission

The very first step to building a successful list is to get permission from subscribers who want to receive your emails. Permission is not only common courtesy, but required by anti-spam laws around the world.

Below, you'll learn about the types of consequences you may encounter when permission is in question, and how MailChimp can help you secure and track permission.

What is permission?

Although people talk about permission in a variety of ways, in email marketing it is something very specific. Permission is consent to receive marketing communication that is express and verifiable.

Express means that when you asked for permission, your question wasn't tied in with another agreement, like a purchase or donation. A separate checkbox for "I would like to receive marketing email from XYZ company" is express and clear.

Secondly, because permission should be verifiable, we recommend getting written or otherwise archived permission from each subscriber.

When you use MailChimp's double opt-in signup forms, we handle all of this for you. The process requires a subscriber to click a button and confirm their email address. Behind the scenes, we track the date and time of each action, so that you have verified permission.

Consequences Without Permission

People who haven't given you permission are much more likely to report your emails as spam, which can become a really big problem.

What begins as a single spam report can lead to aggressive spam filtering or blacklisting, which makes it impossible for some subscribers to receive any of your campaigns. It can even limit deliverability for other users and subscribers who use MailChimp or link to content on your domains.

Spam Reports

When someone clicks Report Spam, their inbox sends a message to their Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as Google or Hotmail, that says, "Hey, I think these guys are spamming me." With that complaint in hand, the ISP tracks how many people on their network report your emails as spam.

Unfortunately, 20% of email users report that they mark emails as spam, even when they know an email isn't spam. These subscribers may have signed up in the past, but decided your campaigns aren't relevant to them anymore.

Consider how many people might mark your campaigns as spam if they never signed up for your list at all. 43% of users will report spam if they aren't familiar with the sender's From name or email address.

Spam Filters

ISPs don't even have to get human complaints to blacklist you. Aggressive spam filters can detect "spammy" email content, like a red font, too many exclamation points, or even the phrase "click here," and shut you down without human review.

In a worst-case scenario, a firewall could be programmed to scan any campaign content for URLs that have been reported as spam or blacklisted, and block the email that contains them. That means that if another person or business mentions one of your bad domains in their totally separate email, the ISP could block that user's emails too.

Another thing to understand about the whole process is that ISPs and anti-spam services sometimes share their records with each other. So, if you get reported to one, you could be blocked from others.


If enough people click the spam button, the ISP can blacklist you. When that happens, an ISP blocks any message from you to anyone on their network. ISPs have different thresholds for blacklisting, but they tend to be very low.

Even a few spam reports could get you blocked. It's extremely difficult to get de-listed from a blacklist, because they're generally run in secret. The takeaway is that it's critical to ensure your subscriber lists are permission-based and that your permission doesn't go stale.

A few complaints can derail your email marketing for a long time.

What You Can Do

Never assume you have permission to send someone emails. Subscribers must provide express, verifiable consent to receive certain types of email from you. This is true of anti-spam laws in other countries, and is outlined in MailChimp's Terms of Use.

When you're building an email list, the short story is: When in doubt, get permission.

  • Never send marketing emails to someone who hasn't specifically requested them. Prospects, leads, friends, family, and even previous customers aren't fair game. Get permission.
  • Never send marketing emails to a list you purchased or "scraped" from websites. Get permission.
  • Don't send to people you think or assume might be interested in hearing from you, like colleagues, co-members of your association, or people you met at a trade show. Get permission.

When a subscriber signs up using your double opt-in MailChimp form, they'll receive a confirmation email, and click a confirmation button. It helps in the end, because the person has confirmed interest in your campaigns and are more likely to engage with your company. Plus, we know their email address is valid, because they confirmed it.

You can also ask new subscribers to add your From email address to their address book. This "whitelists" your emails, so they don't get accidentally blocked or reported as spam in the future.

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