Getting out of MailChimp Jail

What to do if you get on the wrong side of MailChimp

by | Jan 18, 2019

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Sometimes, we make a mistake…

We don’t mean to do it, but we do…

…and unfortunately, there’s always the chance that we’ll get caught.

There’s a chance that getting caught might have no consequences at all… it could be that you just get a warning… a slap on the wrist.

…but what happens when there’s a penalty… and that penalty causes you and your business a big problem.

Omnivore and Getting in (and out of) MailChimp Jail

A common question that gets asked in my Facebook group for MailChimp users, is “my account has been put on hold”, or “I can’t send an email because MailChimp is reviewing suspicious activity”, or just a cry of “Get me out of MailChimp Jail”.

MailChimp has reviewed activity on an account, marked it as suspicious in some way, and then put it “on hold” while it works out whether there is anything for it to worry about.

Most of the time, it’s just being a bit over-zealous in protecting itself, and after a short time, everything goes back to normal – especially when you’ve not done anything wrong… (and you didn’t do anything wrong… did you?)

..but why does it do this?… what can you do to avoid being put in MailChimp jail?… and how do you get out of it?

Why does MailChimp Jail exist?

MailChimp is the world’s largest provider of email marketing services.  For small businesses its market share is 3 times that of other providers… and it regularly claims in marketing that it has over 10 million users.

…that’s a lot of emails… and a lot of risk.

Risk?… yep… think about it.

MailChimp allows you to send emails and to get them into someone’s inbox. Anything that prevents this from happening strikes at the core of MailChimp’s existence.

At its core email requires a sender, a recipient and a message… but once spam appeared, there needed to be some “protection” for recipients.

The protection is provided by the inbox providers, like google (gmail), yahoo and lots of others. They review the emails that their customers receive, and decide if they’ll let the email get to the inbox (or be put in a promo/spam folder, or even bounced completely).

…and a big factor that they take into account is the “reputation” of the person who sent it.  If that reputation is tarnished, then the inbox provider will always be likely to penalise that sender, and limit the chances of emails getting into an inbox.

So a bad reputation for MailChimp would be catastrophic for it’s business…

…and so MailChimp looks at a whole load of factors when you set up and send emails… and if it spots anything that will damage their reputation as a sender… they’ll do something about it – and stop you from hurting them any more.

So how does MailChimp know when you’ve been bad?

The MailChimp Cops

MailChimp sends a lot of emails… billions… and has over 10 million users… it simply doesn’t have the ability to check every email that gets sent manually… so it uses a tool that automatically scans everything on their behalf called Omnivore.

MailChimp tells Omnivore the type of activity that could cause a problem and then Omnivore checks everything and if it spots a problem, it’ll automatically put a stop on your account and put you in MailChimp Jail.

There’s every chance that the actual activity you’ve taken is completely above board… but if it’s deemed suspicious, then Omnivore spots it and “clang goes the jail door” – so don’t take it personally, it’s just a computer based policing program working on guidelines.

However, Omnivore is just the cops… once you get in jail, real MailChimp people will review your case and decide if you need to be put in jail permanently, or if your intention was pure, let you go with no charges.

So if you haven’t done anything bad… there’s nothing you need to do but wait for MailChimp to set you free again.

…but obviously, you don’t want to put in jail anyways (if you are a regular emailer, a few days when you can’t send emails is a problem… and if you’ve got automations, they all get paused and you have to manually restart them!), so how can you avoid it?

Things you can do to get into MailChimp Jail

How do you avoid the MailChimp cops?… Well much like the Google Algorithm, there’s no fully published detailed guidelines, but here are a few things which will potentially cause an issue…

Actually, before I give the list, just take a moment and think about it… All Omnivore is doing is protecting MailChimp… so it’s key that your intentions are pure when you use MailChimp… If you are consciously trying to be underhand, then you deserve to be put in jail… as you are making it harder for everyone else.

Email is about building positive relationships with people who want to be involved and get your emails… sharing useful stuff… and being a good emailer. So every time you get ready to send an email… make sure that you are doing it for a positive reason and that you are sending a good email that people will want to receive… that alone will improve your chances of avoiding the MailChimp cops.

Anyway… here’s some things I know will cause Omnivore to get suspicious of your account:

  • A high unsubscribe rate – an obvious one really.  High unsubscribes tell MailChimp that people didn’t like your email… and so if you unsubscribe rate for any specific email you send goes above a certain level, then Omnivore kicks in.
    Of course, it could be that you’re doing a list cleanse and are expecting a high unsubscribe rate, but Omnivore doesn’t know this – so if you are thinking of doing a list cleanse and are positively asking people to unsubscribe, it’s probably best they email you to tell you this, rather then they click on the MailChimp unsubscribe link.
  • Complaints – when someone unsubscribes, they get sent to the unsubscribe detail page that’s held within MailChimp… and that’s where they can complain and class your email as spam. So doubly make sure your email doesn’t cause offense!
  • Dodgy links – MailChimp is very sensitive about the links you put into campaigns… and if it decides that one of those links contravenes it’s policies, the cops will arrive!
    In MailChimp’s terms of service, links to things like MLM services, affiliates etc. are likely to increase your chances of getting caught…
  • Dodgy email addresses in your list – The last main area that will trigger Omnivore is when you have lots of emails in your list that MailChimp ‘doesn’t approve of!’.
    Sometimes, this isn’t your fault – a load of emails sign up to you list via a ‘bot’ through your public facing form…MailChimp spots this and stops your account as it doesn’t want these emails to be emailed (it’ll damage the reputation).
    However, adding emails to MailChimp directly, that you have either bought (a MailChimp no no), have scraped, or have gotten through some other nefarious scheme will likely be spotted by MailChimp.  This type of activity is what spammers do… and the emails potentially include ‘spam trap’ emails, which are used to catch spammers… so just don’t do it.
    Occasionally, you may upload a list from your CRM which you know is above board, and yet still fall foul of Omnivore… remember, all Omnivore does is automatically look for signals that you could be being bad… even if you aren’t.

Avoid these things are your chances of being spotted by the MailChimp cops as they cruise past your account are minimal.

So what about if you do get caught and jailed… for no ill intent… and want to get out quickly.

Getting out of Jail

OK… so for whatever reason you’ve been put in MailChimp Jail. Your intent has been pure, and Omnivore has made a mistake.  What now?

If you’re on a paid account (and it’s not like it’s a huge investment), just request a chat with support… tell them your issue… and usually they can have it resolved quickly.  Just be transparent and honest with them…

…and there are a few things you can do yourself to sort the problem out, depending on the reason there was a problem…

  • If the issue is because you’ve recently imported some new emails…it’s probably those emails that have caused the issue… in which case just undo the last import and go through an email reconfirmation process (create a new signup form and send them an email outside of MailChimp asking them to re-sign up).
  • If you haven’t imported any emails recently, it could be your list is old and has some invalid emails… which then requires you to go through the email reconfirmation process.
  • …and a good way is to find the last import you made and check that…
  • It’s also good to consider using an email validation tool (like where they can check the emails you want to use and remove any bad/old/dodgy ones before you upload them to MailChimp.

Of course, if you don’t fall into that bracket and you’re on a free account, the best solution is probably to contact them via Social Media (their Facebook and Twitter accounts seem to get the best response), especially if this issue has been going on for a few days.

You could also try their compliance email –

Wrapping up

Everyone makes mistakes… the key though is making sure that the mistake is truly that… and not a specific action which is wrong.

If you’re above board and doing all the good things we recommend when it comes to email marketing, then you should never hear from the MailChimp cops… and if you do, it shouldn’t be a huge bind to solve the problem.

However, if you are doing something a little dodgy… then stop… because you’re making it harder for the rest of us!





Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.


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