Unsubscribes are a way of life in e-mail marketing, but don't take them for granted. Instead, use unsubscribes to improve your e-mail program and learn how to keep more of your subscribers around.
Unsubscribing itself has evolved over the years. Early on, marketers threw up one barrier after another to keep subscribers around or simply ignored unsubscribe requests. That tactic backfired, of course, giving rise to the dreaded "report as spam" button. So marketers moved on to a no-questions-asked policy: You want off this list? Click here and you're gone.
With Microsoft's announcement to add an unsubscribe button right in the e-mail interface for its Windows Live Mail users, we're getting closer to having a universal unsubscribe.
The universal unsubscribe and the no-questions-asked approaches might generate fewer spam complaints, but they don't serve marketers well because they don't tell you why subscribers are leaving. Did you send too many messages? The wrong offers? Do your messages have broken links and images? Or do subscribers still want to do business with you but hear from you less often or in different ways?
Unsubscribes aren't always the e-mail equivalent of breaking up; you just need to find a way to stay friends.
Your unsubscribe process can work better with a simple two-phase upgrade, one that addresses unsubscribe reliability first, then helps you mine more data from your departing subscribers. You may even be able to salvage a few customers.
Phase One: Improve the Process
When you improve the unsubscribe process, you boost deliverability. That's because you make it just as convenient, if not more so, for subscribers to opt out the right way instead of clicking the "report spam" button. That, in turn, improves your reputation with ISPs and third-party authenticators and accreditors, making you less vulnerable to blocking and filtering.
Phase Two: The Exit Interview
Instead of letting unsubscribers go with just a thank-you note, give them the opportunity to tell you why they're leaving. You can use that information to sharpen the focus of your e-mail program, redo your template or send schedule, improve personalization, or find other ways to become more valuable to subscribers or customers.
The fastest way to do this is to beef up your Web-based opt-out page by requesting more information or by offering other ways to keep the relationship going.
Instead of a brusque sentence saying, "Thanks, click here to be removed from future mailings," an opt-out page should include these elements:
Be sure to set up the page so it loads with the recipient's address prepopulated in the form. Also, don't require subscribers to fill out the survey forms for an unsubscribe to take effect.
Why Invest in the Unsubscribe?
It seems counterintuitive to devote time and resources to helping someone opt out of your list. It's certainly not a problem print direct mailers have to deal with.
But that's one of e-mail's advantages. Someone can pitch your paper catalog into the recycle bin and you'll never know. E-mail unsubscribe data, on the other hand, can help improve your program and retain more customers, even if they switch to a different channel. Your recipients started the conversation; give them the last word.
Until next time, keep on deliverin'.
Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.
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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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