What is SPAM?

Updated on: February 24, 2015 Category: Email Marketing Basics, SPAM & Abuse

This Post Will Teach You About:

  • What Spam Is
  • Spam Complaints
  • Feedback Loops
  • The Top Causes of Spam Complaints
  • Email Design Choices to Avoid

What Is SPAM?

We’ve all been victims of unwanted emails in the form of SPAM. Countless offers for free Viagra, get rich quick schemes, and dating website offers litter our email boxes on the regular. Luckily, SPAM filters spare us from having to look at them, but if you ever open your SPAM folder, they’re all right there.

Technically speaking email is SPAM if it is both:

  1. Unsolicited: The recipient never chose to opt in.
  2. Sent in bulk (think 500+ recipients) with nearly identical content in each email.


It’s important to realize that these unsolicited emails are ILLEGAL and usually the result of virus infected, hacked computers. These emails are not taken lightly, and have serious consequences.

SPAM Complaints

We all see the “Mark as Spam” button in our email browsers and applications, but most of us don’t give it much thought. Occasionally we click the button, but never see what happens behind the scenes once an email is flagged as SPAM.

Here are the three things that would happen if someone were to mark an email you sent via Robly as SPAM:

  1. The ISP that the email originated from is notified of the complaint, and a copy of the email is sent in a report.
  2. The ISP tracks down Robly (the server  the email originated from) and sends a feedback loop warning.
  3. If enough SPAM complaints are received the ISP blocks emails from Robly. ISPs have a very low threshold for blocking — we’re talking around 1 in 1,000.

Any user who marks an email as SPAM will automatically be removed from your list. If we receive enough complaints, we will be forced to shut down your account.

Top Causes for Spam Complaints

Every once in a while someone will mark your mail as SPAM, even if they did opt-in to your list. However, any campaign that receives a high number of abuse complaints is almost ALWAYS a result of a variation of the same thing:


Here are some very common variations to this one main theme.

Old Lists

Sometimes people forget they opted into a list if you wait too long to email them. Imagine you signed up for a newsletter and receive your first email four months later — you may not even remember opting in to receive it. We refer to these lists as “stale.” If there hasn’t been active emailing to a list in the last month or so, it will increase the chances of being perceived as SPAM from your recipients.

Trade Show Lists

The host of a trade show often gives an email list of each attendee to all participating exhibitors. NEVER upload this list and send a mass email — trust us, we know from experience that it will get marked as SPAM. We know it’s tempting, and even though these seem like targeted leads, remember the cardinal rule: If they didn’t specifically ask to receive your emails, it’s SPAM.

Outlook an Salesforce Dumps

Outlook and Salesforce don’t let you differentiate between opt in and non opt in. So when you dump your entire address book and contact list, it exports everything. It goes without saying at this point that if there are email recipients in your list that didn’t ask to be emailed, it’s SPAM.

Purchased Lists


No matter what the circumstance is, no matter how legitimate the list purchase may seem, it is illegal, and it can get you, and Robly, in a lot of trouble.

Organization or Chamber of Commerce Lists

You may be a member of a local business group which allows access to their membership directory. You will also have access to your local Chamber of Commerce.   These directories should be used for one-to-one networking opportunities and not mass email marketing.

Importing a List From Your Old Email Service Provider

Please make sure you import the most updated version of your email list. New clients will sometimes mistakenly download an out-of-date list. Also, keep in mind that your download might include unsubscribed/bounced email addresses and may need to be updated manually.

Design Choices to Avoid

Image Only Emails

Image Only emails cause two major problems:

  1. If your HTML email is nothing but a giant image, most SPAM filters will block the email immediately
  2. If you happen to sneak past the SPAM filter, your recipient will likely see nothing but a blank image…most mail clients have images turned off by default.

Over Designed Emails

While we aren’t here to discourage creativity, keep in mind that email design and web design are two totally different things, and if you design your email like a webpage, odds are it won’t look right to your subscriber, and it will get marked as SPAM.

All of our templates and layouts are coded and tested to work in all of the popular email clients, so they’re a great place to start.

If you’re going to design your own template, keep these tips in mind:

  • Emails need to be table-based. Div tags don’t work well.
  • CSS needs to be inline.
  • No flash, no javascript.

Check out our Email Marketing 101 section to learn more about smart design.

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