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Why a Good Unsubscribe Experience Is Important

  |  October 7, 2009   |  Comments

Three steps to ensure that subscribers can get off your e-mail list just as easily as they can get on it.

Not everyone who wants to stop your e-mails from you is angry, unhappy, or dissatisfied, but that can occur if your unsubscribe process doesn't work or is too complicated.

People have many reasons for wanting to get off an e-mail list. Some drivers, such as relevance and frequency, can be managed with a preference center to make your e-mail better suited to their needs. That's a topic for another column, however.

Here, I want to help you change the behavior of subscribers who have already decided they want off your list for whatever reason. An easy, clear, and accessible process will encourage them to click the unsubscribe link instead of the spam-complaint button.

Unsubscribes: What Are They Good For?

A good subscription experience is essential to build your e-mail list. How you manage the unsubscribe process is just as important, both for your own deliverability and for your customer relationships.

This is a hard concept for some marketers to grasp.

Think of the unsubscribe process as an endorsement instead. It means your subscribers care enough about your e-mail to use the unsubscribe link instead of clicking the spam button or just deleting your messages without opening them.

Why Subscribers Use the Spam Button

We used to think that spam-button clickers didn't know any better or did it by accident. Actually, many e-mail users know exactly what they're doing. They use the button to send a message to the marketer:

  • They don't trust you to honor their unsubscribe request, often because you try to make the unsubscribe link hard to find.

  • You do this when you hide it behind an image that you have to mouse over to seemay not render by default, use a font color that's the same as or close to the background color, or give it an obscure name. In my own emailinbox, I'm more likely to click the spam button if I have to hunt around for the unsubscribe link.

  • People just don't want to invest any time on your e-mail once they decide they're through.

  • Clicking the spam button is easier than hunting down your unsubscribe link or having to send an e-mail with "unsubscribe" in the subject to an address that's different from the one the message came from.

Step 1: Place an Unsubscribe Link High in the E-mail

Most unsubscribe links are at the bottom of the e-mail message, often with other administrative information like contact numbers and postal address.

That's a good standard to follow, but consider adding a link near the top of your e-mail message, especially if you are trying to reduce a high spam-complaint rate. Readers who decide right away that they want to unsubscribe won't have to scroll down to find the link.

Simple is best: Use the word "unsubscribe" and put it in text, not an image, so that it shows up even with images disabled. Right-justify it and be sure there's enough room to separate it from your preheader (the first sentence in your message, where you preview your content and which can be pulled for snippet text in the inbox).

Does putting the unsubscribe link at the top make you nervous? Name the link "Update Preferences" or "Update My Account" instead. Add You could add it to your e-mail's navigation; the idea is to prevent the reader from having to scroll down. Just make sure it's visible in the preview pane without images.

Step 2: Build Up Trust in Your Unsubscribe

Remember that lack of trust is one reason why subscribers click the spam button. You reinforce this lack of trust when you hide or disguise your unsubscribe link.

This happens when you obscure your administrative info, including a second unsubscribe link, in hard-to-read type or post it way below the last line of your e-mail's main body copy.

Posting an unsubscribe in an administration center at the bottom of your e-mail message is fine as long as you make it easy to access and read:

  • Post it right underneath the body copy, so it's visible without scrolling.

  • Use a standard-size type font in a dark color that contrasts well with the background color (please, no white type on a gray background, or red type on any background color).

  • Boldface the link so it stands out from the rest of the copy in the administration center.

  • Provide multiple alternatives to unsubscribing, to let subscribers know they're in control and to address other unsubscribe drivers such as relevance and frequency.

  • Use a one- or two-step process that either removes the name immediately and leads to a verification page or delivers a page with the e-mail address and newsletter name filled in, which the subscriber need only click to submit.

Step 3: Process Unsubscribe Requests Immediately

Forget the 10-day window that CAN-SPAM grants marketers in the United States to remove an unsubscribed e-mail address. When people want off your list, that decision takes effect immediately in their minds. They'll consider anything you send after they unsubscribe to be spam and act accordingly.

Unless someone asks offline to be unsubscribed (via postal letter or call to your customer service line), there's no excuse not process the request immediately.

Until next time, keep on deliverin'!


Stefan Pollard

Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.

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