How marketers can prevent spam complaints

Ben Chestnut
Ben Chestnut

You don't have to be a spammer to get reported for spamming. Even totally clean, double opt-in lists will get one or two abuse reports per 50,000 recipients. Sometimes it's just a simple mistake, but getting reported for abuse is pretty serious. If a major ISP receives even a small handful of complaints about your e-mails, it will start blocking all e-mail from your server.

So it's worth looking at how legitimate e-mail marketers get falsely accused of sending spam.

Sometimes, it's a simple mistake. But more often than not, it's the marketers' own fault, caused by one or more of these actions:

  • The marketer collected e-mails legitimately, but took too long to make contact. People receive full-blown e-mail newsletters and they don't remember opting in two years ago.
  • The marketer runs an online store that yields thousands of e-mail addresses of customers who have purchased products in the past. Instead of asking people to join the e-mail marketing list, the marketer just start blasting offers out.
  • The marketer is exhibiting at a trade show that has provided a list of attendee e-mail addresses. Instead of e-mailing those people an invitation to join its list, the marketer just assumes it has permission and starts e-mailing newsletters and promos.
  • Fish bowls and business cards. To marketers, it's common sense that this is a list-collection technique. To prospects, it's just a free lunch.
  • Purchasing or renting members' e-mail addresses from an organization, then just adding them to the list without getting permission.

Ways to Prevent Abuse Reports

  • Use the double opt-in method. This way you have proof that each and every recipient gave permission to send them e-mails.
  • Even if they're your customers, don't send promotions without permission. Set up a separate “marketing list” for customers to join. Give them reasons (or free prizes) for signing up.
  • Don't hide your opt-out link. Make it very prominent. Some marketers are placing the “Unsubscribe” link at the top of their e-mails, so they're easy to find. We think this is a best practice.
  • Make sure your e-mail looks reputable and professional so that people will trust your unsubscribe link.

(This article first appeared in the 2007 edition of the Essential Guide to E-Mail Marketing.)

Ben Chestnut is the co-founder and managing partner of He can be reached at

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