Preventing False Abuse Reports
You don’t have to be a spammer to get reported for spamming. In fact, we’ve found that totally clean lists that are 100-percent double opt-in will get one or two abuse reports per 50,000 recipients. Sometimes it’s a simple mistake, like when an inexperienced user clicks Report Spam as an easy way to unsubscribe from an email.
But even if it’s a mistake, getting reported for abuse is serious. If a major ISP like AOL receives even a small handful of complaints about your emails, then they’ll start blocking all email from your server. And if you use MailChimp (or any email-marketing service, for that matter), that means your emails can affect the deliverability of thousands of other legitimate marketers. One bad apple can truly spoil the whole bunch. By the way, this is why we created Omnivore, which you’ll learn about later.
And since it’s inevitable that you’ll receive spam complaints every now and then, ESPs like us are constantly monitoring abuse reports from ISPs, blackhole lists, and anti-spam networks, so we can immediately pinpoint problems as they arise and re-distribute email delivery to different servers and IP addresses while we investigate the account in question.
When you receive an abuse report, you’re kind of “guilty until proven innocent.” All the major ISPs care about is reducing unwanted email for their customers. There’s no negotiating, and they don’t have time to listen to excuses or long-winded explanations. And who can blame them? They’re too busy trying to handle the bajillions of other spam complaints.
How Abuse Reports Work
When people receive what they think is spam or junk, they can just click a button in their email program to label it as spam. When they do that, an abuse report is often created and sent to their ISP. If their ISP receives enough of these reports, they fire off an automated warning message to the sender. If you’re using MailChimp to deliver your emails, we’re that “sender.” So our abuse staff receives these warning messages. Usually, the report is very terse. It hides the identity of the person who complained and usually includes a copy of the email you sent, plus something like:
Hi. Our customers are complaining about your emails. You need to address this issue ASAP, or we’ll start blocking all email from your servers.
If the complaints continue within a certain timeframe, that’s it—all email from that particular IP address of the sending server is blocked, at least temporarily. Scary. That’s why we’re constantly monitoring incoming complaints, and it’s why we have human reviewers to approve new accounts before they’re allowed to send campaigns. It’s why we monitor our outgoing mail queue all the time, and why you might hear from one of our reviewers with tips on how you can make your email less spammy.
Reasons for False Abuse Reports
So why do legitimate email marketers get falsely accused of sending spam? Sometimes it’s a mistake. But more often than not, it’s the marketer’s own fault. Here are some common reasons marketers get accused of sending spam:
The marketer collected emails legitimately (through an opt-in form on their site), but took too long to contact his list. People receive full-blown email newsletters out of the blue and don’t remember opting in two years ago.
The marketer runs an online store. They’ve got thousands of email addresses of customers who have purchased products from them in the past. Now they want to start emailing them. Instead of asking people to join the email-marketing list, they just start blasting offers.
The marketer is exhibiting at a trade show. The trade-show organization 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 from the tradeshow), the marketer assumes they have permission, and starts emailing full-blown newsletters and promos.
Fish bowls and business cards. Yep, we’ve all dropped our business cards into a fish bowl somewhere to win a free lunch or a door prize. To marketers, it’s common sense that the fish bowl is a list-collection technique. To prospects, it’s just a shot at a free lunch.
Purchasing or renting members’ email addresses from an organization, then just adding them to their list without getting permission.
There’s a common theme here. In all of the above cases, the missing element is permission. The marketers are caught up in legal rules and definitions. But it’s not enough to be legal—you’ve got to be polite, too.
So now you understand what abuse reports are and know why emails get reported. Now let’s get into how to prevent them.
Ways to Prevent False Abuse Reports
By now you understand that permission is extremely important, and that without permission, you’ll be reported for abuse (whether the email is legit or not). So here are some ways to prevent false spam complaints:
Even if they’re your customers, don’t send promotions without getting permission first. Set up a separate marketing list for customers to join. Tell them you’re about to start up a great email newsletter or promotions program, and give them reasons to sign up.
Don’t hide your opt-out link. It should be prominent. People who no longer wish to receive your emails are either going to unsubscribe or mark you as spam. Which would you prefer? Some marketers are even placing the unsubscribe link at the top of their emails, so it’s super easy to find.
Make sure your email looks reputable. If you’re not a designer, then hire one. Your email needs to look like it came from your company, not some scammer who’s phishing for information. If your email looks unprofessional, who’s going to trust your unsubscribe link?
Set expectations when people opt-in to your list. If people sign up for monthly newsletters but you also send them weekly promotions, they’re probably going to report you for spamming. Tell them what you’ll be sending and how often. Set up different lists (one for newsletters, one for special offers and promotions). Understand that there’s a difference between soft-sell newsletters and hard-sell promotions. Don’t mix them up.
Use the double opt-in method. This is standard in MailChimp. If you use double opt-in, you have proof that each and every recipient gave you permission to send them emails. Period.
Don’t wait too long before contacting your subscribers. We’ve seen lots of small businesses collect emails at their storefront, but then wait more than three months (sometimes years) before contact- ing their customers. Too often, it’s with a coupon offer during the holidays (when recipients are already getting overwhelmed with offers from other online merchants). Set up a process where new subscribers receive emails from you right away, like a “Top Ten” list that you send weekly, using MailChimp’s Autoresponder tool.
We highly recommend the double opt-in method when managing your email lists. In fact, it’s the only way MailChimp’s built-in list management system will work. Here’s a quick overview:
- A customer signs up for your email newsletter through a form at your website.
- He receives an email with a confirmation link.
- If he clicks the link, he’s added to your list, and you store the IP address, date and time of registration. Now you’ve got proof of opt-in, should you ever need it in the future (like if you receive a false abuse report).
- If he doesn’t click the link, he’s not added to the list.
Double opt-in is fast replacing the single opt-in method, where someone submits a form, and bam—they’re added to a list. There are too many chances for someone to get signed up to a list without his permission, either erroneously or maliciously. And there’s no need to even discuss the old opt-out method anymore. That’s getting phased out, due to all the spam complaints marketers get from people who never saw the opt-out check. Don’t be so desperate to grow your list that you put your company’s reputation on the line.