Causes of Spam Complaints

Here are the most common reasons we end up having to shut down an agency’s client for too many SPAM complaints:

  • Old lists (Surprise factor) – If your client has been collecting email addresses on their website for years, and this is their first email campaign to the list, there will be people who do not remember the client – (“Who the heck are you, and how did you get my email address?”). These people will report you for SPAMMING. You want to avoid the surprise factor as much as possible with email marketing.
  • SPAM traps – Some ISPs take very old email addresses they assume are not being used anymore, and they post them to public websites. Then they wait for SPAM-bots to scrape them, and SPAM them. As soon as they get SPAM to one of these “SPAM trap” addresses, they block the SPAMMER. This is why you never send to a list more than a year or two old. It is also why you should never buy an email list, and why you should never scrape emails off of websites. The effect of hitting a SPAM trap is devastating and fast.
  • Tradeshow lists – When people attend a tradeshow, they usually buy their tickets online. They submit their email address. The tradeshow host then gives their email address to the companies who exhibit at the show. Companies can theoretically use this list to find prospects that plan to attend the show, and reach out to them. That is fine, as long as the communication is one-to-one. But if they send an email campaign to the entire list, it is SPAM, and they will get reported for it.
  • Outlook address book dumps – This one is extremely common with small businesses that do not have big fancy customer databases. They just manage everything in their Microsoft Outlook Address Book. The problem is their address book does not let them export a list of “only my customers” or “only people who opted in for email marketing.” It exports everybody, including “grandma, the guy I met at a tradeshow three years ago, my tech support who I emailed two years ago, and my ex-wife.” These people will report you for SPAM. But it is not limited to small businesses. You may tell your client, “Okay, we’re prepping the big email campaign now. I’m going to need your customer email list.” Your client will then ask their entire company sales team, to “Give me your lists of customers by close of business, so we can get our exciting email newsletter out!” Guess what that sales team is going to do. They are going to dump their entire address book out and send it. They are not going to spend the time to sort out opt-ins vs. non opt-ins.
  • Sales force dumps – This is similar to the “Address Book Dump” above, but at least you have some sort of classification (theoretically) of email lists. Be on the lookout for clients who dump all their different lists into one big one. Ask them if they combined their prospects list, leads list, qualified leads list, customer list, and subscriber lists, then tell them how dangerous that is.
  • Purchased lists – It is a real no-brainer that purchasing 30 million emails from some seedy, offshore company is a dumb idea. The thing is most clients buy lists from local networking organizations, or tradeshows, or publications they advertise in. They sound innocent, and totally legit. And sometimes, the intent of the list seller is to let you send one-to-one communications (not SPAM). But the reality is most people buy those lists to send unsolicited bulk email. So ask your client if the list was purchased. If it was purchased, then whoever sold them the list needs to send the bulk email. Or, the client needs to send totally different emails, one at a time. Unacceptable responses to this include, “But this list is all legit”, and “But this list is all opt-in”, and “But this list was very, very expensive”, and “But this list came from a reputable industry source that everybody knows.”
  • Organization lists – Your client may be a member of a realtors’ organization, or a local business group. Organizations will often give you their membership directory whenever you join. This is for one-to-one networking. It is not mass subscribing them all to email marketing. The most vicious SPAM complaints can come from these lists, because often your client’s competitors will be members of the same organization.
  • Chambers of Commerce lists – When you see a small/new company that has an inexplicably large email list, it is probably from their local chamber. Again, the lists they give out are for one-to-one networking with other business owners, not mass email marketing.
  • Lists from their previous ESP– If you are helping a client switch from another email service provider to, make sure they are exporting the latest clean version of their subscriber list. Some clients will mistakenly export their entire list of subscribers (even those who previously unsubscribed, or bounced). Sometimes it’s because the they use does not give them the opportunity to download a “clean” list. We do not know if that is just poor functionality or if they are trying to lock people in. In those cases, you will need to download the full list, plus the unsubscribe list, and the bounce list, and then clean them manually before importing.

*Did You Know – ISPs want to reduce the barrage of unwanted e-mail sent to their users, permission-based or not. Spam complaints are the number-one factor that harms deliverability with major ISPs.

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