Jan 8, 2008

What should I do about abuse complaints?

Question: "In my campaign stats, I noticed a few "abuse complaints." What does this stat mean, and what should I do with them?"

When people receive unwanted email, they click the "This is spam" or "Junk" button in their email program. MailChimp is alerted whenever your recipients report your email campaign as spam, and we automatically remove those people from your list. We can do this because we’re members of feedback loops at major ISPs (AOL, Hotmail, Comcast, United Online, Roadrunner, and more).

If you’re running your own in-house email program (coding an email with Microsoft FrontPage, sending it with Outlook, through a computer in your broom closet, connected to your local ISP), you’re probably not on a feedback loop. Over time, repeated complaints will get you blocked by those ISPs. This is one reason so many people switch to MailChimp (or any other reputable ESP).

Anyways, it can be reassuring to know that MailChimp has your list management on "auto-pilot" and that we’re cleaning complainers off your list, and preventing future complaints. In theory, you don’t have to do anything to them. We’ve cleaned them for you already.

But you should always log in after every single campaign, and check your abuse complaint stats. It’s sort of a "relevancy" gauge from your own recipients, and you should react accordingly…

Diagnosing Abuse Complaints

If you send an email campaign, and you see more than a normal amount of abuse complaints, something’s wrong. If you’re not sure what "normal" is, here’s a breakdown of average email stats by industry. IMHO, a good opt-in list of 10,000 people shouldn’t get more than 2 or 3 complaints. In my experience as the abuse desk manager at MailChimp, 5 complaints is all it would take to start experiencing delivery/blocking issues.

So you should watch your abuse complaints like a hawk (like you probably obsess over your open rates).

Here are a few questions to ask if you’re seeing abuse complaints for your (or your clients’) email campaigns:

  • Surprise factor – are people surprised to be getting your email for some reason? Did they merely purchase a product from your store, and now suddenly you’re sending them marketing messages without their permission? Did you have some kind of "drop your business card in the fish bowl" contest (without telling participants you’d be subscribing them to regular emails)?
  • Is your branding consistent in your emails? Can people look at your email, and instantly say, "Oh yeah, I remember that website where I subscribed"?
  • Is my list 100% permission-based? Or are portions of it from non-permission sources? For example, did you merge a bunch of people from your sales team’s CRM "prospects" list?
  • Are you sending so infrequently, that people just forgot who you are?
  • Is your from-name descriptive, and is your subject line non-spammy? If not, your email might look like it’s from a stranger.
  • Does your content just plain suck? Is it useful? Easy to read?
  • Did you set the expectation that you’d send useful news, but now all you’re sending is e-coupons and advertisements? Perhaps you need to segment your lists upfront better.
  • Did you purchase a list from some shady operation? Go punch yourself in the gut for being stupid. Then, remove the list immediately.
  • Are your recipients just plain crazy? It’s rare, but it happens. Expect a handful of accidental spam reports. It just goes with the territory (but here are some ways to prevent them).

If you’re not constantly watching over and researching your abuse complaints, the problem can snowball to the point where your IP address and/or your company’s domain name gets blacklisted.

Learn more ways MailChimp works hard to get your emails delivered…