People are taught to report e-mail as spam and never unsubscribe. Why it's a problem -- and ideas for solutions.
The other day, I went to my Yahoo email account and found a sweepstakes promotion on the log-in page. Usually I ignore sweepstakes, but this caught my eye: the Yahoo spam sweepstakes.
Intrigued, I clicked through. It said: "If you receive a message you believe is spam, click the 'This Is Spam' link at the top of the email message."
I give Yahoo credit for good intentions. However, there's a major issue here. When you click to learn how to prevent spam, you're told, "Never respond to unsolicited email." I'm not here to just pick on Yahoo Both MSN/Hotmail and AOL offer the same advice to email users.
Why Your E-Mail Lists Are Dying
My point is the majority of permission-based email lists are seeing a significant drop in effectiveness, not merely because of the glut of email, but because recipients are reluctant to unsubscribe. Instead, recipients either delete or filter email into the junk or deleted items folder.
Worse, promotions such as Yahoo's tacitly encourage users to label email as spam, even if the recipient is actually an opt-in subscriber. This, in turn, makes a bad situation worse for email marketers in their struggle to maintain (or achieve) whitelist status. If recipients continually designate permission email as spam, ISPs and email service providers will have no choice but to discontinue whitelist programs.
10 E-Mails, 10 Unsubscribe Options
There are no common ways to unsubscribe from permission-based newsletters or commercial email. I won't dispute spammers (as opposed to legitimate marketers) do collect email addresses from unsubscribes. But the biggest, most trusted email companies are fueling consumer confusion and lack of confidence in email unsubscribes.
Examining my own email account last week, I found five newsletters and five promotions from highly reputable brands. Each had different unsubscribe options. Some highlights from my unsubscribe confusion:
Three Ways to Increase Unsubscribe Confidence
Reemphasize who the sender is, precisely what the recipient is subscribed to, and at which email address she receives the messages. If you send recipients to the Web to unsubscribe, make certain it's a branded landing page containing clear instructions. Finally, a clearly branded confirmation page or email helps increase confidence.
Provide options. Instead of unsubscribing, perhaps a recipient wants to change his address, the email format, or his preferences. Often, he wants a modified relationship with the sender, not to sever ties completely.
Make it as easy as possible for recipients to choose the unsubscribe option. Some feel comfortable replying to an email, but most prefer a one-click option. Some prefer to unsubscribe online. A choice increases the chances they will respond.
E-mailers should agree on an unsubscribe standard, a way to increase recipients' confidence. Perhaps this could take the form of a seal or mark. Maybe just a common set of educational resources to help recipients differentiate permission email from spam.
How do you think confidence in unsubscribing can be increased? Should there be a standard or an educational initiative? Send me your thoughts!
Ben is on vacation this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.
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Ben Isaacson is the privacy and compliance leader for Experian, overseeing Internet and advanced technology privacy and compliance affairs across Experian Marketing Services products including CheetahMail, Digital Advertising Services, and Hitwise. Mr. Isaacson's previous roles include serving as the executive director of the Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM), a former DMA subsidiary. He regularly blogs at EmailResponsibly.com.
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