How I Got Banned by MailChimp (Without Sending a Single Spam Email!)
- Andrea Lotz
OK, so technically wasn’t banned, but I couldn’t send any emails through MailChimp-and without that capability, I might as well have been banned.
Here’s how I got into this predicament – without ever sending a single spam email – and how you can avoid the same fate.
Building My List… in all the Wrong Ways
When I started my first website back in 2005 (ancient history in Internet time), the experts and gurus hammered home the point that I must collect email addresses and begin “building my list.”
“The money’s in the list,” was the chorus I heard over and over again.
So I asked my developers to add a small opt-in box to the site. There was no “subscribe bribe” or anything. It just said, “Sign up for our newsletter.”
Mistake #1: Not Giving People a Reason to Subscribe
What I Should Have Done: Created some valuable free download to give away as an incentive to subscribe.
My first site was a shoe shopping site, so I could have created some sort of guide to buying shoes online (when you can’t try them on!), or some “insider” tips on how to get the best deal. This literally would have taken just a couple hours to complete, but I didn’t know any better. So, I never did it.
The same marketing gurus who insisted I needed to be building my list were also touting the same email service provider: AWeber.
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When I asked my developers about it, they told me I didn’t need to worry about that – they would just set up the form and collect the email addresses in the website’s own internal system. That seemed reasonable, and I was happy because it meant one less monthly bill to pay.
(This would be the equivalent of throwing up a Google Docs form and collecting email addresses that way.)
But this set-up had its downsides: there was no double opt-in, no confirmation or welcome email, no autoresponder, no nothing.
Mistake #2: Not Using a Double Opt-In
(A double opt-in forces new subscribers to click a link in an email to confirm they really want to receive messages from you. Without this step, there’s no way to verify people are putting their own email addresses in your opt-in box.)
What I Should Have Done: Gotten a second opinion (from someone outside my development team) and used a real email service provider.
Just because someone is an expert in one technical Internet-y thing – database development in this case – does not make them an expert in all technical Internet-y things.
And similarly, just because the email collection can be done in-house, that doesn’t mean it should be done in-house.
Percentage-wise, not many people signed up. After all, I didn’t give them much reason to.
But in raw numbers, given enough traffic, even a tiny conversion rate adds up over time.
Email Was Not a Priority
One problem with growing my email list was that I was so busy with the day-to-day operations of the site, I emailed my list VERY rarely.
There was no consistency to the “newsletter” these people had signed up for. If some advertiser had a strong promotion, or I read an article about the value of email marketing, that’s when they would get an email from me.
Seriously, I’d read an article about how great email marketing was, and all of a sudden I’d remember my list.
I probably sent out less than 10 newsletters in the first 3 years.
Mistake #3: Not Emailing Consistently
When people don’t hear from you consistently, they forget they signed up. They start to wonder, “Who is this guy?” and, “Why am I getting this?”
What I Should Have Done: Created a routine newsletter calendar, maybe bi-weekly, and stuck to it.
I could have had a virtual assistant research topics for the newsletter and even create the drafts. Latest fashion tips, celebrity shoe trends, flash sales, interesting shoe-related news, etc. – the footwear niche certainly lends itself well to an email marketing strategy.
With a predictable rhythm to the emails, I could have become a familiar and trusted name in my subscriber’s inbox.
Because I didn’t have an email management provider, on the rare occasion when I did send out my newsletter, I just sent it through my Gmail.
That’s where I sent all my other email, so why not mass-marketing messages too?
Mistake #4: Sending Bulk Messages From My Personal Gmail Account
Fun fact: If you send more than 500 messages in a day, Google will temporarily shut down your ability to send email.
But even that wasn’t enough for me to get serious about email. Once the list grew to more than 500 subscribers, I just split the list and sent my email on 2 or 3 different days – problem solved!
I did my best to be CAN-SPAM compliant, asking people who wanted to unsubscribe to just reply and let me know.
I would get a few unsubscribes with every send, which of course I honored, but other than that I had no measurable data on delivery rate, open rates, click through rates, or sales.
What I Should Have Done: Used an email service provider.
An email service provider (ESP) will let you send more than 500 messages at a time and make sure you are compliant with all the applicable email laws and regulations. After all, it’s their neck (and servers) on the line if you break the rules.
Because they’re trusted senders, they’ll often realize higher delivery rates than someone blasting out 500 marketing emails from their Gmail accounts.
It makes sense: are serial spammers more likely to go with the above-board option they have to pay for, or the free wild-wild-west version?
Eventually the list grew too big for me to risk losing my Gmail access over, so I signed up for MailChimp. MailChimp was free for up to 2000 subscribers and they allowed me to import my current list.
But by the time I got around to sending another newsletter, another several months had gone by, and I’d also changed the name of the site.
Mistake #5: Not Re-Opting in Subscribers During the Domain Change and MailChimp Import
My first email sent through MailChimp generated an “abuse rate” of 0.9%, meaning 9 people out of the roughly 1000 recipients complained about the message being spam.
The maximum allowed abuse rate is 0.1% (one in a thousand). I was 9 times the legal limit!
Lesson learned. Even though all these subscribers had opted-in at one point or another, they didn’t remember because it had been months since they’d heard from me.
What I Should Have Done: Imported a “warm” list.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with importing your own email list into a service provider like MailChimp – but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
What I should have done in the months leading up to the transition was start to send more frequently, and let all the complainers drop off. I could have done a series of “coming soon” messages touting the new and improved features of the new site and why it would be in their best interest to stay subscribed.
One strategy I really like now is to gain additional buy-in from your subscribers, by almost “daring” them to unsubscribe. I could have sent a message like “massive savings ahead – last exit!” and explicitly asked people to get off the list if they weren’t interested in hearing from me.
If it Tastes Like Spam…
Even though I was technically compliant, spam is in the eye of the beholder.
As far as MailChimp is concerned, the subscribers’ perception is reality. They’re not about to risk their deliverability on some crappy imported list no one remembered signing up for.
Unlike fine wine, email subscribers do not get better with age!
Since that created an immediate red flag on my new account, I had to explain the situation before being allowed to send again. I explained that some of these subscribers had been on the list for 5 years and had only received a handful of messages.
I told MailChimp I planned to email more frequently going forward, and they agreed to reinstate my sending privileges.
A month later – to my honest surprise – my second newsletter was greeted with an even higher complaint rate!
This time I was 13 times the legal “abuse rate” limit. Again, everything was above board and compliant, but the list was still single opt-in and considered very “stale.”
After the second blast generated even worse results, MailChimp explained I would have to email every subscriber on my own, and ask them to re-opt-in using a MailChimp form.
You can imagine what the take-rate on a task like that was.
I share this story so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
Done right, email is a powerful tool to build relationships and do business online, but I blew it big time. At one time or another, more than 1000 people agreed to open their inboxes to me, and I wasted that opportunity.
This is the essence of “permission marketing.” When someone gives you permission, take it!
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49 thoughts on How I Got Banned by MailChimp (Without Sending a Single Spam Email!)
Thanks very much for the highly enlightening post Nick, it really does highlight the importance of a consistent and engaging approach to email marketing. So much these days is written from the point of view of what you can get away with and how to optimise conversion rates etc. without tackling some of the less obvious pitfalls of not having a proper strategy. I am sure this will help a lot of people get this right from the start. I know I have had several conversations with business owners over the last couple of years who didn’t really understand how the laws have changed and how important it is now to ensure that your subscibers not only opt in but also remember why they opted in and are comfortable that they can leave when they want to.
Thanks for the reminder about the “essence of permission marketing.” I’m afraid it’s something I’ve been woefully remiss in doing for my own site. I’ve been with Aweber the whole time, but I know my list has gotten stale. Time to take your advice to heart, and give my subscribers a reason to stay subscribed!
Mail Chimp (www.MailChimp.com) are Nazis. They send me spam all the time, but when I wanted to send legitimate emails, they banned our company. They’re as evil as Constant Contact (constantcontact.com)
Great advice which will prevent me making the same errors. Thanks 🙂
Why stigmatize MailChimp for what has happened? I think the article should have a title such like “What stupid thingS I did to get banned by my mailing list provider” or such like, and then later on explain that the provider happens to be MailChimp.
What did happen was clearly the writer’s fault (why couldn’t she ask everybody to opt in again as advised?) and I don’t think MailChimp acted unreasonably.
The email I received today from Danny was also kind of misleading as it read:
“… I’ll bet you’re dying to know what the whole “banned from MailChimp” is about.
How I Got Banned by MailChimp (Without Sending a Single Spam Email!)
This is an important read if you’re with MailChimp, or thinking about using them…
…or frankly, if you’re with any auto-responder company, because this could happen to you if you aren’t careful!”
MailChimp is mentioned three times and only at the end, as an afterthought, it is said that this could happen with other providers as well. I bet that a similar story could happen with Awaber all the same.
I, for one, flag as spam all kind of marketing emails I never asked to receive and I wish the email marketing providers were more strict to limit the amount of spam one receives.
BTW, I do use, and PAY FOR, MailChimp, but I don’t even take advantage of their affiliate program, so no bias there.
Great response, Andrea! See my post below … I totally agree with you!
Hi Andrea, you’re right — these mistakes would have grounded an email list on ANY service provider. MailChimp just happened to be the one I was using, but it could just have easily been Aweber, Constant Contact, or any of the others.
Kathy H Porter
Hi Andrea – I no longer feel that I have to post because your own was beautifully done.
Actually, Andrea, I’m not even sure from your response that you read the entire post. Nick (who is a he, not a she) does not put the blame on MailChimp, but rather on himself for all the mistakes he made.
His entire post is about every mistake HE made, not MailChimp. He even said they gave him another chance and he blew it again.
I’m not sure why you feel you have to be defensive of MailChimp. It’s too bad you can’t just see the lessen here and not worry so much about which mail service it was. I didn’t read anywhere in the post that he was trying to dissuade anyone from signing up with MailChimp.
It was simply a lessen in staying in contact with your list on a regular basis so they remember who you are and don’t turn you in as a spammer. The message I got from it is that I will make more of an effort to remind my subscribers that they are perfectly welcome to unsubscribe at any time if they feel they are not receiving any value from my emails. I would rather have them do that than turn me in as a spammer if they don’t remember signing up to my list.
Well, I have to say this seems to be a good controversial post, stirring up some emotional debate! Good job, Nick! 🙂
Thanks for sharing such a great cautionary tale and lessons to be learned. Permission, explicit permission, is key. As is reminding them why they signed on and continuing to give good quality content to keep readers happy. I’ve been kicking myself to be more consistent and regular in my new newsletter campaign – and this is the reason why you have to be!
Great insight on how email list should and shouldn’t be used. I will take care on this. Unfortunately I’m with the chimp, but I was planning to change in a while. Is it possible to change your list from one service provider to another?
Pray, why would you want to move? Because of what is said in the the post? This is what I feared would happen (see my comment above) because the subliminal message (and not even THAT subliminal) is that MailChimp is bad, while the takeaway should be that one should use email marketing wisely (and do as one is told 😀 ).
No, I didn’t change my mnd based on your post, but It was something I was planning to do since the beginning. Why didn’t I’ve chosen Aweber from the very beginning. Because I was unable to afford it after investing in my host.But I wanted to start right away. Maybe I took the wrong decitions, but I want to correct my path in order to succed. I just want to change because I’m aware that Aweber offers more options in segments. That’s is why I want to change eventually and that’s is why I asked if its possible to import your list from one to the other. 🙂
I too had been temporarily banned from Mailchimp, but it was not from my own list, but one from a non-profit organization whose database list extended for 38 years. And being a non-profit, they hadn’t the resources to pay someone to clean up their database from old data or multiple entries to the same persons. Lesson here was, just because it was a big beautiful 5,000 person database, did not make it beautiful to email servers like Mailchimp. We got a 35% bounce back with a 9% complaint rate. Yes, the organization took the info from me, but to my knowledge, still have not cleaned up their database in order to try again. They just continue to add new entries to the old data every year of their conventions. Another lesson: Old dogs rarely learn from their mistakes.
Patti — I was using another email provider, didn’t like their service, and decided to switch to Aweber. Every subscriber was a double opt-in. I asked Aweber if I could simply import my list without going through the opt-in again because no matter how loyal they are you are going to lose subscribers. They forgot they subscribed, they don’t open the email, etc. I had kept every single opt-in confirmation. I even sent Aweber the opt-ins. After going back and forth and reaching the ultimate decision-maker, the answer was “NO.” So I had to email everyone again and ask them to opt-in. This happened not too long ago, so I’m sure this policy is still in place, FYI.
What a story! You did make a lot of mistakes, but thanks for sharing. I’m sure – SURE – you aren’t the only one. I made the opposite mistake of NOT capturing emails for years and giving away free content.
Thanks for the post.
Haha I share because I care! Are you collecting the emails now AND sending regularly?
I am doing both now, but I am focusing hard on working that list – growing it, nurturing it, and sending to it.
I agree with Andrea … why use MailChimp as the scapegoat here? They were merely doing their job of responding to complaints. I think there’s a horrible anti-MC attitude among the “guru” industry, probably because everyone doing the bashing has an affiliate link to some other e-mail provider. I have been using MailChimp for several years in the RIGHT way — letting people sign up via double opt-in, and mailing to my list on at least a monthly basis. I believe I’ve only had two complaints in all that time, one of which was a friend of mine and when I asked her about it, she never even unsubscribed herself, so I think that was a weird Yahoo thing (she was using a Yahoo address). I think a much better headline would have been to say “How I got banned from sending e-mail by being lazy & careless”! That’s much more to the point than blaming the service provider, which could have easily been any other provider.
Great article. Will save me making the same mistake.
It sounds like you ought to export back out of MailChimp and start the transition with lessons learned and start opting folks into your new list on MailChimp by giving a sign-up bonus or two.
No reason you can’t back off of an ESP until your list is warmed up.
For every import, there is an export 🙂
That’s great advice kenneth,
I agree, he needs to re-warm up his list. And it sounds like, that’s exactly what mailchimp too him to do as well.
Thanks for the great advice. I am in the process of building an email list from past contacts. Had signed up for Mail Chimp because of it’s integration with Eventbrite and have been thinking of using it for my emailling. I had also thought of using my email on gmail or aol. But you convinced me that was a no-no. A question I have is can I download email addresses from my Facebook Friends and my LI connections in order to send them my first email newsletter and asking them to opt in?
Hey Trudy, thanks for the comment. I’m not sure the technical steps for exporting email addresses from fb or LinkedIn, but I think it would be ok to send them an initial message letting them know about your biz and asking them to opt in if they’d like to hear more about it. But I wouldn’t auto-import them into an Email Service Provider without their explicit approval.
I’m sorry, but this article made me laugh. I never thought email marketing would cause a problem like this if you didn’t keep in touch with your contacts. How long did it take to collect the contacts again? And how many people re-subscribed?
I am new and obviously out of the loop. My blog was sending me all the email addresses of subscribers to my site. I assumed that these addresses were receiving notification when I wrote a new post. I have never personally notified them or now I wonder if they really left their emails and want to be notified. WordPress and Bluehost do not do this automatically, right? So I need to get MailChimp or equivalent, right? Will I have a problem, will they I am spam after 6 months of no contact? I would appreciate some advice on what to do next. Thank you for this opportunity to interact with people who know this stuff. Have a great day everyone.
I believe there’s a way for people to subscribe to your blog posts directly through WordPress without any third party ESP — but I’m not sure exactly how to set it up, and I don’t think you have much flexibility on the messages that go out. Like it will just auto-send the text of any new post you publish. Can anyone verify that?
Marlene, your readers receive email for every post you submit if you’ve got an RSS set up and they’ve signed up for it.
What you can do is, as Nick suggested, sign up with Mailchimp (or any other ESP of your choice), export your contacts and start sending useful newsletters about new posts published.
Since they haven’t heard from you for 6 months, some of them may choose to unsubscribe.
BUT — I am confused — if you haven’t got any ESP working for you, how is it that you’re getting notifs of people subscribing? You must have something in place, right?
Always, always get subscribed to your own list to see what’s being sent. Email yourself a test message before hitting SEND to your list. (Mailchimp lets you do that).
Trust this helps.
Thanks for the feedback. I have only what WordPress and Bluehost have set up for me. I don’t know my way around the blog site well enough to check things out. And sometimes I am afraid to change things because I don’t understand it. Quest: Should I try emailing one of the more recent subscribers and just asking?? I will look into mail chimp but I don’t want people to be double messaged either. I don’t understand about the RSS feed — You have probably gathered I am technically challenged. Thanks again for your patience.
Great article, I didn’t have quite the same experience,
but I did lose a lot of subscribers.
I switched from getreponse to aweber after changing my site, ezine name & hosting company -but I never warned my list.
Luckily, I was emailing bi-weekly like clockwork at the time, and many of my subscribers just shot me an email to make sure it was me mailing from the new address.
I can tell you another mistake you made: You got my email address from somewhere and have been sending me messages even though I’ve asked you to stop. Do I have to sue you to make you go away?
Hey Kellye, not sure if this is directed at me, but if so please send me a message (nick @ sidehustlenation dot com) and I’ll make sure you’re removed from every list I have. Nowadays my unsubscribes are handled by Aweber so not sure what’s going on. I’m sorry I have no record of any unsub request w/ your name (or any email at all from that name) in the last 9 years.
Well never used Mailchimp but this is very interesting read about your failures by using it. I’m going follow your tips.
Thanks for sharing
Your title is what lured me to read this article and in my perception, there wasn’t anything derogatory at all specifically directed at Mailchimp. I commend you for creating a very ‘catchy’ title that drew interest. In reading the entirety of the article I can completely see how taking the steps you took originally could lead to being banned from any ESP.
Thank you for having the humility to share your mistakes so that so many others can prevent this from happening to them. : )
Nick, I agree with Lynn – I did not take away from your post the fact that you were bashing MailChimp. I don’t use MailChimp. I use aWeber, but I could possibly see the same thing happening there if I were to only send an email to my subscribers once a month or so.
The main thing I got from this post is that you need to keep a regular engagement with your subscribers or they WILL forget who you are and that they subscribed to your list, whether it was a single or double opt-in.
Staying in touch with your list on a weekly basis at least, and making sure to send personal or informational emails and not just promotional emails, is a good way to touch base with your subscribers and gain a relationship with them. In doing this, you have a lower risk of them claiming spam. You can always mention in your emails that they can unsubscribe at any time if they no longer wish to receive emails from you.
I appreciate the fact that you admit that it was your mistake, not MailChimp’s and that you wrote this post to help others NOT make the same mistake. I’m sorry that some of the other comments don’t reflect that.
Thanks for exposing yourself and your mistakes. Not everyone can do that.
Karleen (and Lynn), for me the problem is NOT the post itself, but the (in my view misleading) title and the way this post was described in the mail I received (see my comment above).
Lynn, a catchy title is fine, but it has to reflect the content.
The title goes: “How I Got Banned by MailChimp (Without Sending a Single Spam Email!)”
What about it is misleading? The guy did get banned by MailChimp and nothing in the title implies that they wronged him.
The title does makes one want to read the article – that’s why it’s there. The interpretation we give it is our own…
I totally agree with you Ruth! In fact I was just going to reply to Andrea stating the same thing. There is absolutely nothing misleading or untruthful about the title.
Nick, great reminder about what to do and not do. I’ve been busy in the bacground for awhile and have forgotten my subscribers a little. Thanks for the nudge!
As a “self-taught” person I totally hear the mistakes made…have made those and a bunch of others as I’ve learned my way through the “online world.” Ah, if I could rollback time or have a do-over, it would be awesome! One of the reasons I use MadMimi is that they have helped me learn a lot through this process, have extremely reasonable prices and the tech support team, heck the co-founder, have helped me do more as the years have gone by.
It’s not perfect and I do, sometime in the near future, look forward to a higher powered tool.
Think I’ll focus on getting a schedule down and mastered first!
(Oh, and yes, I thought the title was catchy, definitely didn’t feel it was misleading tho.)
Great post Nick,
Hopefully a lot of people will gain some wisdom from your experience. I don’t undertand all of the comments accusing you of blaming MailChimp though. I did’t see where you did that, but maybe it’s just me.
Anyway, there are alot of people who make these types of mistakes, or get really close to making them. I specialize in email marketing so I talk to people who are trying to learn how to do it everyday.
The good thing is that you learned from your mistakes and that is what matters most. You can always build another email list. It may take time, but it can be done. At least when you do, you won’t make the same mistakes again.
There sure is a lot of good advice in this post. The takeaway, I think, is to lose the assumption that all these technological tools are powerful enough to fool your target audience into believing there is some ‘there’ there. One has to engage with a service like Mailchimp or you’re really just shooting arrows in the dark. And while some of those arrows will find the target just by chance, there is no telling what else you’re going to hit along the way.
I’m using mailchimp & really it’s a great article to reminder about what to do and not do.
Thank you 🙂
wish i saw this a week ago!!! just got banned for very similar reasons. don’t want to send an email to my list asking them to re-opt in as i already got them to . thinking of taking my list to another provider as mailchimp is not budging
Thanks for the tips. I don’t foresee doing any of these things, but it’s good to know.
Thank you for the informative post. I wonder if you could offer your opinion on whether single emails, that are not sent automatically, and sent from one person (me) to another person (addressed to them alone and addressing them personally) constitute spam. For example, while looking through lists of clients that haven’t used your services in a while it would stand to reason that writing them to say hello and offer your services again is a fairly benign undertaking. I’d love to offer content of value for a download, but in all honesty I think that looks spammier than a personal email. Thoughts? Are the aforementioned emails I mentioned spam in your opinion?
In general, one-on-one messages aren’t spam, but remember it’s in the eye of the beholder. If you’re sending an unsolicited pitch that’s not REALLY personalized and relevant to the recipient, it’s definitely going to get marked as spam.
You probably get those kind of messages all the time — I definitely do — “we can help with your SEO!”
So I probably would hesitate to pitch anything in a first email, but instead use it as a conversation starter. Send a link to an article you mentioned them in or give them a couple pointers on how to improve their site.
It should be noted that the article claims MailChimp’s abuse rate threshold is 0.1%. MailChimp’s abuse page specifically calls out this number as something many ISPs use. However, MailChimp goes on to say that they use a stricter threshold. They do not share exactly what that is.
I’ve heard around that the threshold is actually 0.01%, or 1 in 10,000 emails. We average a 0.02% abuse rate and we don’t get any warnings from MailChimp. I’m inclined to believe their threshold is higher than 0.02%.
Well, I beg to differ with most people, I think MailChimp is no better than any other business. I don’t think they give a rats ass about the people that use their service. All they care about is maintaining their integrity in regards to their servers getting blackballed. If they feel that your a threat to their service, sucks to be you. and if you have built a list of subscribers at great cost and time. They just dump you. They don’t try and work with you, let’s be honest it is just not cost effective to do this in their eyes.
But if you have built a business around their service. and it could be worth thousands of dollars to you, do they care? not one bit. Is MailChimp bad? , Don’t inspect anything different from any autoresponder service. They all will dump you and have two hundred new suckers tomorrow.
So my response to all you people that think companies like MailChimp are justified in their behavior. You will get your turn eventually, and then how will you feel. I bet not so warm and fuzzy about them unless you’re a complete moron.
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