email marked spam

What Are Abuse Emails – And 6 Simple Ways You Can Prevent Spam Complaints

Even the best email lists can have abuse emails. Learn how to avoid them, prevent spam complaints and help your campaigns arrive in your customers’ inboxes.

This article was first published in 2018 and was updated in September 2022.

Have you ever sent out a great email, only to see that it got marked as spam? It can happen to anyone. Sometimes, people do it by mistake, but in most cases, they’ve done it before. In fact, they do it all the time.

How does this affect your email performance? 

Spam complaints taint your sender reputation and bring down your deliverability, so you can’t ignore them.

Let’s see what abuse emails are, how they sabotage your email marketing efforts and what you can do to avoid them.

What are abuse emails?

Abuse emails belong to people who have a history of marking emails they receive as spam. There are different reasons they do that:

  • You’ve purchased your email list and the recipient has no idea who you are.
  • They don’t remember signing up to receive your emails.
  • People can mistake the “Mark as spam” button for the “Unsubscribe” button.
  • Some feel like your campaign looks spammy.
Picture of young Causasian woman in front of her laptop, checking her email list for abuse emails with ZeroBounce.

What happens when you receive too many spam complaints

When your subscribers report your emails as spam, your sender reputation gets tarnished and your email deliverability will suffer. 

Internet service providers (ISPs) take spam complaints as a relevant behavioral signal. Spam complaints reflect the quality of your emails and how people feel about them. If many of your recipients consider your campaigns spam, your future emails can start going to the junk folder.

What is a high spam complaint rate?

The accepted spam complaint rate is 0.1%, which is one spam complaint for every 1,000 emails you send. When you exceed that rate, your emails can start landing in spam.

Does your email service provider care about abuse emails?

The answer is a resounding “yes.” Too many spam complaints will get you in trouble with your email service provider (ESP). Getting blocked and not being able to send emails can affect your entire business.

Did you get a few spam complaints on your most recent email?

Remove those addresses from your list immediately. Not only will those subscribers never convert, but they may report you as spam again, further hurting your email deliverability.

In some cases, when a sender receives an alarming number of spam complaints, their ESP will suspend them. If you find yourself in such a situation, your ESP will investigate your list and try to determine:

  • how you collect your contacts and how healthy your email list is
  • whether your content triggered the spam complaints
  • if you abide to email marketing best practices.
Picture showing a list of contacts on a laptop screen, with the hands of a marketer resting on the keyboard.

How to avoid abuse emails and being marked as spam

There are a few measures you can take to keep a good sender reputation and land your emails in your subscribers’ inboxes. 

Here are a few steps you can take and some good habits to follow.

#1. Avoid buying an email list

It’s the most prevalent reason for spam complaints. Recipients don’t know who you are and why you’re emailing them. Buying an email list may seem like a tempting shortcut, but it only sabotages your email results.

Also, never add people to your list without asking for consent. A powerful, engaged email list is one that everybody signs up for because they want to.

#2. Use an email checker

Keep up with your email list hygiene by running your contacts through an email validator. A quality email list verification system identifies abuse emails and removes them from your database – before they report your emails as spam.

If you have a whole email list, it’s easier and faster to upload it on and have it cleaned in bulk. But if you only need to validate an email address or two, you can always use our free email verifier.

Here’s how it works — you type in the email address in the field:

Screenshot of the ZeroBounce free email verifier illustrating how ZeroBounce can detect abuse emails and help you avoid spam complaints.

In less than two seconds, the system returns a result. If the status says “abuse,” you know that emailing that address is risky because that person is likely to label your email as spam.

ZeroBounce validates email addresses instantly and lets you know if there is any issue.

Sign up for a free ZeroBounce account

#3. Make sure your campaigns look legitimate

The way your email comes across plays an important role in the number of spam complaints you get. A subject line that seems off-brand, spammy words or too many emojis and links may confuse your audience. 

It’s a good idea to keep your branding consistent across your templates, so that people can easily recognize you. 

#4. Use the double opt-in method to collect email addresses

Remember we said you should never buy an email list? Go a step further: add double opt-in to your sign-up forms. 

This email subscription method requires new subscribers to click a confirmation link that goes out to them via an automatic email. By clicking that link, people confirm they have a genuine interest in your content and that they want to be on your mailing list. As a result, you’ll also see an increase in your engagement rates.

Screenshot of an automatic email from email strategist Vicky Smith asking to confirm email signup. Illustrating how double opt-in helps to build a healthier email list.
Email strategist Vicky Smith, a Mailchimp Pro partner, uses double opt-in to ensure that every person on her email list really wants to be there.

Of course, there might be some abuse emails among those new sign-ups. To weed them out, you could use an email verification API. 

The ZeroBounce real-time email verification API is easy to connect to all your sign-up forms and will reject abuse emails as they try to get on your list.

Learn more about our email verification API

#5. Make the Unsubscribe link visible and the process easy

Most businesses like to hold onto their email contacts. Afterall, growing an email list is no easy task. However, keeping people on your list against their will goes against your efforts to boost results.

So, if your sign-up process is easy, so should unsubscribing. Make sure all your templates have a visible Unsubscribe link, so that anyone can find their way out. Have the unsubscribe link at the bottom, along with the physical address of your business.

If opt-outs make you feel uncomfortable, read this article that shows you why unsubscribes are good for your email list.

#6. Maintain a constant sending rhythm

One thing both email subscribers and ISPs like is consistency. Being predictable supports your sender reputation. It shows that you don’t behave like a spammer, who may send a high volume of emails followed by a period of inactivity.

So, once you determine how many emails you can commit to, stick to a schedule. 

Not only will this keep your sending IP warm, but it will also prevent your subscribers to forget who you are and why they are getting your emails. 

Picture of male and female colleagues working together on creating a marketing campaign.

What happens if I keep abuse emails on my list?

ZeroBounce is one of the few email validation systems that can spot abuse emails and will separate them from your list. Once you weed them out, you can email more confidently knowing your sender reputation is safer.

However, some marketers decide to keep sending emails to known complainers. Find out what our former Chief Technology Officer Henry Timmes thinks about this by reading his take on the topic.

Bonus tip: Identify spam traps on your email list

Abuse emails are high-risk contacts you should handle with care. But there is an even more corrosive type of email to be aware of: the spam trap.

Spam traps can lead to havoc in your email performance. They are fake emails created by ISPs and blacklist providers with the sole purpose of trapping spammers – and blocking them. 

Hitting a spam trap can have negative effects on your sender reputation. 

A comprehensive and accurate email validation service will identify spam traps. It’s a great idea to use an API to connect to all of your sign-up forms to ensure that spam traps (or any other type of harmful emails) won’t make their way onto your email list.

If you’d like to know more about these types of risky email addresses, read the ZeroBounce guide to spam traps.

FAQs about Abuse Emails, Spam Complaints and Spam Traps

What is an abuse email?

An abuse email address belongs to a person who habitually marks emails as spam. The reasons for doing so could be maliciousness or carelessness. An abuse email could be due to the user not knowing proper email protocol. Whatever the cause, it’s risky to add an abuse email to your list because of the chance they will eventually mark you as spam.

What is a good spam complaint rate?

A good spam complaint rate is 0.1%, or one spam complaint for every 1,000 emails. If you get more spam complaints, your emails can begin landing in the spam folder.

How do I stop spam reports?

A good way to stop spam reports is to build your email list organically, use email list verification and keep your emails on-brand. Also, make sure to include an Unsubscribe link in all your email templates.

How do you identify a spam trap?

Spam traps can appear like other emails on an email list, but an effective and reputable email list checker will detect them. They should be removed without delay.

How do I remove spam traps from my email list?

Periodic email pruning is necessary, or a spam trap could find its way onto your list. As important is using an email verification API to prevent a spam trap from being added to your database. Email validators can identify some spam traps, and help you protect your sender reputation and deliverability.

What is a spam email address?

A spam email address is one associated with the sending of unsolicited or junk messages. They are typically not associated with a real person, in the practical sense. Spam email addresses are an inferior, illegitimate type of email that has no marketing or correspondence utility. Even sending an email to a spammer is to be avoided.