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I'm trying to send myself a test, but keep getting blocked

Question: "I'm trying to send myself a test campaign, but keep getting blocked. What's wrong with MailChimp?"


It's not us. It's because you are sending an email from yourself, to yourself. But behind the scenes, the email is actually originating from MailChimp's server. Your company's spam filter or email firewall thinks that the email must be an impostor.

You don't believe me. Nobody ever believes it when we explain that to them.

Here's some proof, and here's what you can do...

Dan, our customer service guy here at MailChimp, saw an interesting article on CNN, and he wanted to send a copy to himself for later. He clicked the "forward to friend" link.  He entered the same email address under both the "From" and "To" fields (he wanted to send an email from himself, to himself), and this is the warning he got:


Apparently, CNN's forward-to-friend vendor is experiencing the same issue. It's pretty common. We only have a few thousand customers on MailChimp. I can't imagine how many times CNN deals with this problem (apparently, it's enough for them to post a message about it).

If you can't seem to send test campaigns to yourself, one thing you can do is tell your company's IT group to "white list" MailChimp. They'd basically need to tell your spam filter to go ahead and just trust all emails from MailChimp, even if they look like an impostor. That'll help you get your test campaigns delivered internally for review. Your IT group would basically need to know the IP addresses that we use. Contact us for that information.

Another tactic (if you don't want IT to get involved) is to change the "reply-to" address to some other email account, such as your home email address. Just remember to go back and change that before you actually send to your list!

Finally, if you have access to your DNS (or if you have access to a nerd who has access to your DNS) it's helpful if you setup an SPF record for your DNS, to authenticate your email campaigns. It basically says, "If you receive an email that claims to be from my company, but it's actually sent from a MailChimp server, it's okay---we've approved it."

To do that, your IT group would just need to add this code to their SPF record:

v=spf1 mx ptr ~all

This would basically make all your campaigns you send from MailChimp SenderID authenticated, which can actually help your deliverability. To learn more about email authentication, check out the Microsoft website. More and more big ISPs are checking for authentication, so if you have the ability to add this to your DNS, you should go ahead and do it sooner than later.

May 25, 2007 in Ask MailChimp | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Forward-to-friend Forms: Can I save the friends' emails?

Got this question the other day:

"Dear MailChimp,
My site has a forward-to-friend link. If I save the friends' email addresses and contact them later, would that be spam?"

Short answer: Yes, that would be spam. More importantly, it would be rude.

Long answer:

Refer-a-friend (aka tell-a-friend, and forward-to-friend) tools are touchy. I'd be concerned about a few things.

1. Storing all those friends' emails is a pretty huge privacy faux pas (unless you actually post a statement that explains "we'll be saving your friends' email addresses, and we'll also be contacting them later"). Of course, nobody would ever submit their friends' email if they saw that. Which, I guess, is the point. They're probably trusting you to keep that stuff private. Actually, they're probably expecting you to never even save their friends' emails in the first place.

2. If you emailed that list of friends en masse, it's spam. If you emailed them personal notes, one at a time, from your own computer, it's probably not spam.



3. Even if you emailed those people one at a time to get around the technical definition of spam, good luck gaining trust from those people after they realized you got their emails from a refer-a-friend form. And even if it's not technically spam, when people receive emails from people they don't know, they report it as spam to their ISPs anyway. You could get blacklisted fast by doing this. I doubt any blacklist administrator would be very forgiving of anyone collecting emails from a forward to friend form.

4. If one of those friends you contact rats on you, you'll lose the trust of the original friend too.

What you should do instead:

When someone tells their friend about your web page, do you include something in the email you send, asking that friend to opt-in "for more great content like this"? That's really about as far as you can go with refer-a-friend tools. Make the email that gets forwarded to the friend as trustworthy as possible/

On your forward-to-friend form, always require the referrer's name and email address, so you have proof that this message was a "casual" forward, and that you weren't paying people to forward emails to their friends (you can get into legal trouble if it looks like you're paying people to submit these forms to their friends). You should also do your best to make sure the forwarding tool can't be grossly abused, or you could be accused of "looking the other way" and allowing spam to be sent from your system.

Other resources:

Here's what the ASA in London says about refer-a-friend forms, and privacy

Here's the pledge that all ESPC members must make (Read the very last paragraph in the PDF concerning FTF forms).

Perhaps the best place to look are the companies that actually specialize in refer-a-friend tools.

For instance, almost every page on has a link that lets you forward it to a friend. They use a vendor called Clickability for that service. Clickability makes it clear on their form they're not going to contact your friend:


If you read their privacy policy you learn that they do collect your activities and preferences (such as which pages you found interesting enough to send or save), and then provide that to their clients (such as CNN), and perhaps use the information to target banner ads. No mention of contacting the friends you forward to. Their features list indicates that they only report aggregate information about forwards, no personal friends' email addresses. My guess is they've been doing this since 1999, and have some pretty huge clients, so they've probably done the legal due diligence on this issue. If they don't think they can get away with it, why would you?


Our recommendation is: don't do it. If you've got content that's actually interesting enough for a friend to refer another friend, you're already ahead of the curve. Keep posting great content, and add a newsletter opt-in link (in a non-annoying way) inside all the emails sent to those friends, so that they'll give you permission to contact them. If those friends go through the trouble of opting-in, you'll know they truly want to hear from you, and your response rate will be much better. Go through great lengths to protect your users' privacy, and post information about it. That'll actually help your reputation, as opposed to destroying it by contacting people who don't know you.

By the way, MailChimp comes with a built-in forward-to-friend link in all the emails you send. Just add the *|FORWARD|* tag to your campaigns, and we'll insert the link for you:


We never store any of the email addresses used to forward emails. We do provide our users with aggregate information in their campaign reports:


May 14, 2007 in Ask MailChimp | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reclaim Old Customer Emails (example)

Q: "I have a list of 9,000 customer email addresses. I haven't emailed them in a while, and now I'm ready to start sending them email newsletters. How can I do this without getting blacklisted, or angering my customers?"

A: Very carefully. If these recipients haven't heard from you in a long time, chances are they already forgot opting in. Or, your emails just aren't relevant to them anymore. And just because they bought something from you 5 years ago, it doesn't mean they want to get email newsletters from you today. The chances are very high that they'll click that nasty "this is spam" button in their email program. If only a handful of recipients click that button, some ISPs will start blocking all future emails from your company.

So you've got to be extremely careful. Here's some advice we gave someone yesterday, who asked us this very question:

  1. Send a "Re-introduction" campaign. The tone of the email is the most important factor here. Think more "Letter from the president" than "Boy, have we got an offer for you!!!!"
  2. In that email, try to remind them how you got their contact information. If they've purchased something from your site, or if they've opted in, put that in your message. Got an order ID? Name of the product they bought? Mail-merge it in.
  3. Give an incentive to stay opted-in. If I did business with you years ago, why would i want to do business with you again?
  4. Send the re-introduction campaign to very small chunks of your list. Don't just blast one message to 9,000 people. Break it into smaller lists of 1,000 or 2,000. And why not spread it out over several days? That way, you can watch for abuse complaints, and tweak content for maximum effectiveness.

So check this out.

This morning, I received an email (out of the blue) from Modern Postcard. I haven't heard from them in years. How'd they do it?

Waaaaaay back when we started MailChimp in 2001, I made postcards (the paper kind), and mailed them out (the snail-mail kind, not email) to a list of creative directors and ad agencies that I purchased from D&B Online. I did it all through ModernPostcard's website. I think I sent 250 pieces or so, and got about 3 customers out of it. One of those customers has been with us for years, and has more than paid for that campaign, so I was pleased.

Overall, it was pretty nice using Modern Postcard. Well worth it.

But I haven't printed anymore postcards, or heard anything else from them since then.

I think their "Re-introduction" email does a perfect job (click to zoom in):


Keep in mind it's early morning, I've got my giant coffee mug in my left hand, and I'm using my right hand to click on emails in my inbox and mark them as spam. It's like this every morning: spam, spam, spam, spam, save for later. spam, spam, spam, spam, save for later.

This is literally what my inbox looked like:


Here's what convinced me to open Modern Postcard's email:

The From ("Sender") field: They put their company name in it. I remember using them, so I know it's not a stranger.

The Subject line: It's not overly spammy, and it also has their company name in it.

Here's what convinced me to sign up, and not just delete it forever:

It's not bright and jazzy and slick (overly sales-y). And coming from a postcard printing company, you know it must have been hard for them to hold back on that. They knew that this should be more "letter from the president" than anything else. I have no idea if Blake Miller is actually their president, but this email sure looks like it. This is more polite, and it makes me feel like they know what they're doing, and they're not just going to send me tons of crap every other day (I hope).

Incentive to stay: I'll get a free PDF if I sign up. Hey, I'm a sucker for PDFs.

Would love to hear from Modern Postcard on how much of their list they actually retained after this campaign. When we've done this for clients in the past, we've seen their lists get reduced by about 50%.

Just in case you're curious, here's a screenshot of the landing page (if you click the "sign up" link):


I think the checkboxes are a nice touch.

First of all, they're not pre-checked. If they were, I would have left the page immediately out of disgust (or at least rolled my eyes in disdain). Second of all, checkboxes make people stop and read. And when I read what they were offering, I liked what I saw.

April 26, 2007 in Ask MailChimp | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Should I buy an opt-in email list?"

We get that question a lot.

Short answer: Hell no.

Long answer:

December 21, 2006 in Ask MailChimp | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Average Email Marketing Stats and Metrics

Emailmarketingstats Our customers who are new to email marketing often ask us, "What kind of open rates should companies like mine be expecting?" and "How many bounces are too many?" or, "What's a typical abuse complaint rate?"

So we scanned over 30 million emails delivered by our system (where tracking was activated) and calculated average open rates, average click rates, average soft bounces, average hard bounces, and average abuse complaint rates, then sorted them by industry.

It's got average email marketing campaign stats for restaurants, hotels, financial institutions, churches, software companies, and more...

December 13, 2006 in Ask MailChimp, MailChimp News, Stats | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Making Online Video Demos

Box_captivate2_112x112 I've gotten a lot of calls from people who just want to know how we made our online MailChimp demo.

I used Adobe Captivate. It's $599, and requires no Flash or programming experience whatsoever. That's a lot cheaper than what a good Flash developer would charge for a demo. A complete idiot (like me) can use it. This is like Snagit on steroids.

It's got loads of features (I spent most of my time learning how to turn them all off). You can even record voiceovers and set background music.

All you do is turn it on, set it to record, and start clicking in your browser. Then you go back and edit your movie. You can even edit each screenshot in the movie, such as to disguise login names, etc.

Basically, the "screen" you see in Captivate is a background image. The mouse movements and dialog boxes are on separate layers. So I just open the screen images in Fireworks, tweak the slide as necessary, and copy-paste back into Captivate.

If you've ever wanted to do an online demo, I highly recommend Captivate. The MailChimp demo took me one full day to complete. About 1 hour of actual recording, 8 hours of planning and editing, 2 hours of goofing off at the local coffee shop, 2 hours of losing all my files and going back and starting over, and 1 hour of getting the movie uploaded to our website.

November 27, 2006 in Ask MailChimp | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ask MailChimp: My emails are setting off phishing alarms

Q: "We just sent an email campaign, and a few of our recipients called me up concerned that we're 'selling our list' to people. What gives?"

A: If you code your hyperlinks in your email a certain way, you could inadvertently trip phishing/scam alarms in some email programs...

What's Phishing?

You've probably received a phishing attempt before. It's when someone sends you an email that claims to be from your local bank, or PayPal, or eBay or something like that. They ask you to log in to your account. But when you click the link to login, they actually take you to an imposter's website. All they're trying to do is trick you into entering your password. Read more at Wikipedia.

I'm a legitimate marketer. What's this got to do with me?

So let's say I send an email with a link to the MailChimp website, and I choose to track clicks to that link.

9 times out of 10, I'd do it like this:

Want more monkeys? Visit the MailChimp website.

I wouldn't experience any problems if I coded my link like that.

But if I coded it like this, I'd set off phishing alarms:

Want more monkeys? Visit

That's because in order to track clicks in your email campaigns, MailChimp (or any email service for that matter), has to change all your hyperlinks (behind the scenes, in your HTML code) to point to a redirect script on our server. 

When a hyperlink is coded so that the text description is a full URL, but the actual URL is something different, it looks kinda suspicious. Like phishing.

So what can I do?

  1. Don't use URLs in the description portion of your hyperlinks. Use descriptive phrases instead, like "Visit our website at..." or "Take the survey here" (Note: avoid using spammy phrases, like "Click here now!")
  2. You can simply turn off click tracking, if you don't really need to know how many clicks you got (you can leave open tracking on, though). Just un-check the "track clicks" boxes in MailChimp.
  3. Use special tracking tags in MailChimp to selectively track only when certain links are clicked (leaving out the ones with your URLs in the description)

October 20, 2006 in Ask MailChimp | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ask MailChimp: How do you track email opens?

Q: How do you actually measure email opens? Also how are you able to individualise these opens? Also obviously if people don't open their images this won't be tracked.

A: Opens are measured in HTML email with a tracking .gif. It's tiny, transparent, and virtually invisible to the recipient. When the image file is downloaded from our server, we measure that as an open. MailChimp generates a unique URL for each recipient, and uses that in the .gif file's  <img> tag for every single recipient. If people don't turn on images, or if they only view the plain-text version, the .gif obviously won't work. However, MailChimp can still track opens (even in plain-text emails) if someone ever clicks a link in their email (so long as click-tracking is enabled by the MailChimp user).

More information on tracking and email campaign reports in this free PDF guide. You might also be interested in MailChimp's enhanced campaign reports here.

September 20, 2006 in Ask MailChimp | Permalink | TrackBack

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