Even legitimate marketers with clean audiences will receive an abuse report at some point. You might see two reports per 50,000 contacts, but it's important to understand abuse reports, and how to protect your reputation, because anyone can be blocked by major ISPs.
In this article, you'll learn common reasons for abuse reports and how we handle them.
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 audience 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 audience.
Common reasons for abuse reports
Some abuse reports are the result of a subscribed contact 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 Audiences
The marketer collected emails legitimately through an opt-in form on their site, but didn't contact them soon after. A subscribed contact 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 audience, 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 audience, 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 audience building 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 audience without getting permission first.
Ways to prevent abuse reports
Here are some specific ways to prevent spam complaints.
- Get Permission
Even if they're your customers, you need to ask permission before you send promotions. Set up a separate audience for promotional messages, and ask customers to join it by explaining the benefits of your email content.
- Don't Use Purchased Lists
- Don't Hide Your Opt-Out Link
Make your unsubscribe link prominent in every campaign. When contacts 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 recipients 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 contacts. If they sign up for monthly emails, send them monthly emails. To send more frequently or to promote other topics, set up different audiences or groups with their own opt-in process.
We hope you found this useful. If you're interested in how all the different abuse report systems work, and what Mailchimp does to stay off denylists (other providers may refer to it as "blacklists"), here are some resources.
- 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.
- 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.
- Guidelines and FAQs from the Spamhaus Project.