'Abuse Emails': What They Are and How They Impact Your Email Marketing Spam complaints affect your email marketing performance. Are you keeping them at bay?

By Liviu Tanase

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Abuse emails: Whether you've gotten one or 200, they're bound to be lurking in your subscribers list. At some point, someone is going to think your email is spam and is going to label it as such.

Related: The 5 Mistakes That Will Land Your Email in the Spam Folder

And that action can have consequences. Might it impact your email marketing, and what can you do to prevent the damage? Let's place things in context first; then I'll share my best tips on emailing safely.

First, what are abuse emails?

These email accounts belong to people who have a habit of marking emails as spam. In email marketing, they're known as "complainers." According to a study by MailChimp, which analyzed hundreds of millions of email campaigns, companies that have between 26 and 50 employees have the lowest abuse rates: 0.007 percent.

Some 53 percent of the world's email traffic is spam.

In 2019, people like you and I are getting about 126 emails a day. It seems, then, like a large part of our lives has moved into our (increasingly crowded) inboxes. On top of that, over 53 percent of the world's email traffic overall is spam, according to the most recent numbers from Statista. When you consider this statistic, it's no surprise we've become so sensitive about and protective of our space and time.

Internet service providers (IPSs), too, have given us tools to fight back and regain control over our mailboxes. The "Unsubscribe" button allows us to fire an annoying sender for good. And the "Mark as Spam" button is a quick way to let ISPs know that a message is unsolicited and irritating.

How abuse emails affect your sender reputation

All these tools are necessary, of course. But when you're running a business, they can become harmful weapons turned against you. They can easily tarnish your reputation, and that should give you pause: As an email sender, you should consider this as a serious influence on your deliverability ability.

Related: Deliver content straight to the Inbox; How to Surpass the Spam Filter

ISPs keep an eye on your sender reputation to determine how to handle your emails. A high complaint rate -- just as a high bounce rate -- raises a red flag. It tells inbox providers you're not following email marketing best practices. As a result, they'll withdraw their support, causing your emails to:

  • either land in the spam folder
  • or never even reach your subscribers.

But what if you're a legitimate business owner and you've never meant any harm? As Stephanie Colleton of Return Path explains, human behavior is often hard to predict, so you're still exposed to risk. Some of your emails may come across as spam, so people won't hesitate to hit the dreaded button.

It's impossible to guess who those people are just by taking a long look at your email list. An email validation system, on the other hand, scans your contacts and detects abuse emails in a matter of seconds.

Here's a quick test to show you how it works.

On the ZeroBounce platform, I typed in an address that has a history of marking emails as spam. In less than two seconds, the free email validator returned this result:

abuse emails

As you can see, the status says "abuse," so you know right away that this person has marked a considerable number of emails as spam. If people do that a few times, they're likely to continue, and the next email they complain about might be yours.

It's best to remove abuse emails.

Email service provider AWeber advises that a sender's average complaint rate should stay below 0.1 percent. So, to avoid exceeding this industry standard,you'd be smart to remove abuse emails as soon as an email validator spots them in your list.

Sacha Clément, direct marketing team leader at IMD Business School, is one of our customers who decided to stop emailing complainers.

"ZeroBounce usually unearths between 0 and 2 percent of abuse email from our lists," he told me. "Abuse emails are known as being risky for sender reputations. We have consistently taken the decision to remove all such emails from any type of mailings, to ensure our deliverability rates remain high. Needless to say, we will stick to this strategic decision."

Related: Deliver content straight to the Inbox; How to Surpass the Spam Filter

As a rule of thumb, always pay attention to your complaint rate. It's a metric that gives you good feedback on your email hygiene and the quality of your content.

How to avoid being marked as spam.

It all starts with asking permission. That means you shouldn't even consider buying an email list or adding people to your database without consent.

When you establish an honest relationship with your subscribers from the very beginning, abuse emails should be foreign to your list.

Here are some of the best ways to develop a genuine connection with your audience:

  • Use the double opt-in: When people confirm they want to be on your list, they're less likely to mark you as spam. Furthermore, according to a study by Get Response, in countries like France and Germany, where the double opt-in is a standard, open and click-through rates are higher.
  • Email consistently: Your subscribers will forget who you are (and label you as spam) if you don't show up in their inbox on time. Be disciplined in your sending behavior.
  • Careful with your subject lines: Certain words trigger spam filters, HubSpot reminds us. Even if you think they're effective for your marketing, words like "money," "save up to" and even "success" will sabotage your deliverability.
  • Make unsubscribing easy: Some people are going to leave your community, and that's fine. Make sure you point them to the easy way out and provide an "unsubscribe" link in every email.
  • Avoid aggressive marketing: Instead of constantly pushing your product, attract your subscribers with high-quality, meaningful content. This infographic by Demand Metric shows that 80 percent of people appreciate learning about a brand through articles and visuals that respond to their interests.

Email deliverability rules every business owner has to know

  1. Keep a neat email list. When your bounce rate exceeds 2 percent, run your database through an email validation system. It removes invalid, fake and other types of addresses that pose a risk to your deliverability.
  2. Personalize your emails as much as you can. Use all the data you gathered to send the type of content your subscribers expect. Your engagement will increase and your reputation will improve.
  3. Authenticate your emails. Do some research on SPF and DKIM authentication, and implement them in your email marketing program.
  4. Install an email validation API on your signup forms. It validates emails in real-time and prevents poor-quality contacts from subscribing.
  5. Remove dormant accounts. Subscribers who haven't opened your emails in more than six months affect your engagement rates. It's best to let them go.

Related: 6 Reasons Your Email Marketing Efforts Are Not Effective


Once you integrate these best practices into your email marketing program, you'll start seeing results. Not only will you build a better relationship with your subscribers, but you'll also increase your return on investment. Having a strategy and checking everything off the list may take more time, but it's well worth the effort.

Liviu Tanase

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder & CEO of ZeroBounce

Liviu Tanase is a serial entrepreneur and telecommunication executive with extensive experience in the creation, growth and sale of novel technologies. He is currently the CEO of ZeroBounce, an email validation and deliverability platform.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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