Clear and Conspicuous Opt Outs

CAN-SPAM calls for email opt-out mechanisms to be “clear and conspicuous.” Last time, I wrote about the customer service and CAN-SPAM implications for unsubscribe wording in email but only briefly touched on the actual opt-out process.

Today, I’ll discuss opt-out processes by sharing my top subscription system gripes — the most annoying unsubscribe issues I’ve encountered.

  • Don’t ask for unnecessary information. Don’t require me to enter any information that’s not absolutely necessary, and never require me to enter information you already know. It shouldn’t be necessary, for instance, for me to enter my email address; it should be encoded in the unsubscribe link.

    Over the years, I’ve had many addresses. Company names and naming conventions have changed, and I still receive email at a wide variety of these addresses in a single mailbox. In addition, I receive email addressed to a number of former colleagues. I shouldn’t have to figure out exactly which address is in your database to be removed.

  • Don’t be a pedant. Maybe I misspelled “unsubscribe” as “unsiscribe,” but surely your system is smart enough to figure out what I meant and remove me. Don’t send a message telling me you don’t understand my request or, worse, just ignore it.

    I may send my request from an address that isn’t in your database, but I have many aliases. Surely you can tell who I am by the reply address and remove me anyway.

    And don’t, under any circumstances, send a message containing just a cryptic error message and number. I am not familiar with your software and don’t wish to be.

  • Don’t erect roadblocks. Unless there’s a legal or contractual obligation to the contrary, don’t require me to log in to your site to unsubscribe. I don’t recall my username or password. Your site isn’t that important to me. Just stop the email already.

    In one instance, I didn’t have this information as someone else had entered my email address in a company’s subscription page. It took much effort on my part to put a stop to the constant barrage of unrequested email.

  • Don’t make me say it twice. When I ask to be removed, I want to be removed. I don’t want to wait for another email from you, which may or may not arrive, then reply to it, click on a link, or dance with the devil in the pale moonlight to have my request honored.
  • Give me choices. If you offer a variety of email communications, let me choose which ones and at which frequency. Do this and I may stay on your list. Continue to bombard me with information you consider important, at a frequency your sales team considers vital, and I’ll take my business elsewhere.
  • Handle it in real time. Don’t take my request, put it on a disk somewhere, blithely tell me I’ve been removed, and handle it in a few days. By that time, when it turns out that the disk was full, the file got corrupted, or some other problem arose that I couldn’t care less about, you’ve no way to let me know I wasn’t actually removed.
  • Fail gracefully. If an error does occur while removing my address, don’t just display a cryptic error. Show me you were prepared for this eventuality. Send me a friendly message telling me how I can still be removed. Perhaps I can try again later, send an email somewhere, or even call a toll-free number.
  • Let me back on. Send me a confirmation notice with a link so I can resubscribe if I want to. In the unlikely event I unsubscribed by accident, or someone unsubscribed me without my permission, I can easily reinstate my subscription.

    If you offer a subscription management system, send a message that indicates my new subscription preferences. Let me know what I am and am not subscribed to. Who knows. I may see something in there that interests me.

E-mail marketing is about choice. Recipients decide what email they’ll accept and how often. Though none of us want to see our lists shrink, the least we can do is make unsubscribe process painless for those who want to be removed.

Until next time.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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