Below is a quick guide to the difference between unsubscribing and marking an email message as spam.
When to unsubscribe and when to mark an email as spam
Most countries have various email marketing laws. In Australia we have the Spam Act and in the U.S.A. there is the CAN-SPAM Act. Most (good) anti-spam laws dictate that a sender may only send to people that have expressly agreed to receive certain information via email from the sender (please don’t get me started on the Australian Spam Act). If you receive an email marketing message from a sender that you didn’t agree to get information from then chances are that the sender is spamming. in this case you should mark the email message as spam (sometimes called junk). All good email clients and services allow the ability to mark email messages as spam/junk; Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail, Godaddy Email and so on.
If you subscribed to receive marketing communication from an organisation and no longer wish to receive the email campaigns then merely click the unsubscribe link in the footer of the message you receive (most ethical email marketing services such as Mailchimp automatically insert a one-click unsubscribe link in the footer of every email campaign).
There is a big difference between marking an email message as spam and unsubscribing.
What happens when you mark an email as spam
Assuming that the sender is using Mailchimp or a similar service, when you click the unsubscribe link in an email message, the recipients contact list is updated noting you as unsubscribed. When however you mark an email message as spam there are a series of actions taken in the background that have far-reaching consequences for the sender.
Email services are learning systems and they are primed to detect spam using various know spamming techniques; for example using too many images with a large amount of text will result in the email message being detected as spam before reaching your inbox. Spammers are constantly evolving their techniques and email systems therefore rely on users reporting senders that are sending unsolicited email messages. Each time a person marks a sender as a spammer the email system gives ‘negative points’ to the offending domain; once a certain number of spam reports are received then the domain will be blacklisted and all messages sent from the offending domain will automatically be identified as spam.
By reporting spam, you have a positive impact on the problem. Reporting unsolicited email also helps feed spam filtering systems. Spamcop
In addition to your email system learning which senders are spammers for their own use, email systems also advise Mailchimp and other email marketing services when a sender has been marked as a spammer. The email marketing systems have legal and economic reasons to prevent their customers from sending unsolicited email campaigns and will ask spammers to take their business elsewhere.
Hopefully it’s more clear as to when to unsubscribe and when to mark an email message as spam.