Top 10 Causes for Spam Complaints

At AWeber, we want to provide the best service possible.

At AWeber, we want to provide the best service possible. We want you to have the best deliverability possible; the best performance. In a nutshell: complete satisfaction.

Our Best Practices Manager, Kristie Sullivan, helps us help you meet these goals. Kristie helps customers maintain their accounts by providing tips for proper list management. Part of this job entails helping manage spam complaints.

This means she’s our go-to person for learning what causes spam complaints, which bring down your deliverability, and what you can do to fix the situation. She identified the top ten reasons why spam complaints occur.

First, What’s a Spam Complaint?

When someone marks a message as spam, their email client uses a feedback loop to tell us a complaint was made. Here’s how the “mark as spam” buttons look in different email clients:

Mac mail:



Subscribers can also contact service providers (like AWeber) directly to make a complaint. Subscribers who submit complaints are automatically unsubscribed from the list as you don’t want those subscribers on your list.

The Causes and Their Solutions

1. Lack of expectations being set

Subscribers aren’t clear on what they signed up for and when they’ll be getting emails.

Solution: Provide details in the web form, confirmation message and welcome message that let subscribers know what’s going on and what they need to do (confirm, check email certain days, etc.)

2. Unrequested content

If subscribers get information they did not request, that’s spam. Sending information regarding related products or content can fall under this category. For example, if someone signs up for cooking recipes, they should not get sent offers for cooking supplies, because they did not request offers about cooking supplies.

Solution: If you’re unsure about the content you’re sending, don’t send it! If you run multiple lists, make sure only the list that requested that information gets it, instead of every list you have.

3. No confirmation message

When subscribers don’t confirm, there is no audit trail. There is also more of a risk that they aren’t as interested about the information being sent.

Solution: This one’s pretty easy: turn on confirmed opt in! Don’t forget to customize the confirmation message so it sets expectations for your email campaign.

4. Invalid from address

Subscribers won’t be able to reply with any questions or concerns they have if the from address is invalid. This can be frustrating, and lead to complaints.

Solution: Invite communication. Don’t stop at using a good from address; invite subscribers to give you feedback and contact you on social media. People like talking to people, not businesses. If you ever need to change your from line, make sure you let your subscribers know.

5. Lack of company branding

If the from name and address are there, but not related to the domain the subscriber came from, the subscriber might not recognize it. If they can’t recognize it, they may think it’s spam.

Solution: Stay consistent with your branding. Make sure the name on your website matches the name in the from line, include the same logo in all of your messages and use the same signature.

6. Poor traffic source

Purchased traffic can produce bogus results. These visitors aren’t necessarily arriving at your site because they’re interested in you. These subscribers can forget who you are or what they signed up for by the time they get an email from you in their inbox.

Solution: Bring in your own traffic. Use social media to spread the word about your business, write guest posts and talk in forums on other sites in your industry and practice good search engine optimization.

7. Misleading subject lines

It’s good to have a catchy subject line, but leave out the lies, please. This means don’t put “Re:” in front of the subject to trick subscribers, don’t reference anything irrelevant and don’t talk about enclosed account information if there’s really no account involved.

Solution: There are plenty of ways to present the topic of an email in an interesting way:

  • Offer to teach something
  • Ask a question
  • Announce something new
  • Offer a solution to a problem

8. Hiding the unsubscribe link

If there is a lot of blank space between the end of the content and the link to unsubscribe, it’s harder to unsubscribe for subscribers that want to leave. If they can’t find the unsubscribe link, they may mark the message as spam since that will solve the problem.

Solution: Include an extra unsubscribe link in your pre-header. The pre-header is good for including links to view online versions and also provides the subscriber with easy access to their preferences.

9. Sending too much or too little

Even if the emails are what subscribers requested, sending too many emails (multiple times per week) can lead to spam complaints. On the flip side, sending not enough may cause subscribers to forget why they’re getting these emails.

Solution: This goes back to setting expectations. Somewhere in the expectations, mention how often they should expect to get emails. Stay consistent with send times.

10. Poor list maintenance

Sending emails to subscribers who have been inactive on the list for a long time is risky and not cost effective. If the subscriber hasn’t opened an email in months, they’re probably not interested anymore and more likely to complain.

Solution: There are a couple solutions for this. Subscribers that haven’t opened in a couple months (or whatever length of time you feel is appropriate) can be deleted from your list. If you don’t want to delete any subscribers right off the bat, try sending a reengagement series to get their attention.

Why Do You Hit the Spam Complaint Button?

These are reasons Kristie spots for trouble, but we want to know how you feel. What bothers you enough to mark a message as spam?



  1. Jamie Dolan

    3/21/2012 8:16 am

    I’ve reported a message for SPAM for using a deceptive subject line. They used “Re:” to try and make it look like a reply. I actually tried to respond and address my concerns with them directly, but they did not accept incoming e-mail messages either, so I then marked it as spam.

  2. Tim

    3/21/2012 9:01 am

    Seems risky to delete users havent “opened” an email – I know I have some subscribers who are listed as not opening an email, but are in fact reading them, and marked w a false negative.

  3. Leba

    3/21/2012 11:04 am

    I will try to give time before I report a message SPAM. When I continue
    to receive the same questions when answering questions, that’s
    when I say that’s enough SPAM.

  4. Adam

    3/21/2012 6:35 pm

    Ine of the problems is email sharing among own “guru” people. How it comes I unsubscribed from the list and then receive email from different person who mention previous guy? I even don’t know who is the one who sent me next email. Besides, there are guys who will send you twice a day or even on weekends pushing new WSO. I never give me prime email. It’s always for spammers one. When I see that the person I subscribed to is fine and don’t abuse it then I resubscribe with my proper email and at the same time unsubscribe from another one, so I continue to receive emails. Believe me there are many, many emails which goes to spam folder. I say again, unsubscribe does not mean you are fine. They share it and soon you can expect receiving emails from someone you never subscribed to.

  5. Charles Tutt

    3/22/2012 3:32 pm

    If I don’t recognize the sender or topic I spam it. If the subject and/or first sentence (which I can see) is not clear or of interest, I simply delete it.

  6. bob

    3/22/2012 7:59 pm

    haha it’s “off the bat” not, off the back 😛 as in, “to have instant response”
    like a baseball off a bat.

    great article tho, but yeah , little things like that can get an instant spam response, especially if its in the subject or towards the top !

    any form of engrish stands out like an off key note to an ear.

  7. Jayste

    3/22/2012 10:21 pm

    Two comments:

    1) VERIFICATION ON OR OFF. If you have it turned on and the confirmation message goes to the subscriber’s spam folder, you most likely have lost that subscriber. Or, if the subscriber contacts you through your website contact form and ask what happened to my subscription, you have to say sorry you must have got stuck in the junk mail, I will unsubscribe you and re-subscribe you in 60 days

  8. Crystal Gouldey

    3/26/2012 2:10 pm

    Tim- You do risk losing valid subscribers by deleting unopens, so some people handle this by deleting after 6 months or longer. Since ISPs are looking at how people engage with your emails (opens and clicks) when deciding if the message goes to spam or the inbox, it’s worth it to do some cleaning every so often.

    Bob- Fixed the typo, thanks for the heads up!

    Jayste- If you have confirmation off, you’re at a much greater risk of having false, undeliverable email address on your list which can kill your deliverability rate. In AWeber, all the subscriber needs to do is fill out your form again to trigger a new confirmation message.

  9. Annie Kate

    6/30/2012 6:00 am

    Yes, if it’s very difficult to unsubscribe or the unsubscribe form doesn’t work, I spam them.

    And if there’s any suspicious subject line from an unknown person. I don’t even bother checking it out but send it straight to spam.

  10. Dawn Alice

    2/19/2013 8:53 pm

    I myself do not open all emails, but because they may be of interest, I file them. One day I do intent to read them at leisure so it would be a shame if the sender deleted me from their subscriber list. This is one reason, I would not unsubscribe my readers.
    The second reason is – I don’t have many subscribers!