There's No Excuse for Trust Abuse

Five steps to creating a trust-inducing e-mail unsubscribe process.

Like other folks in the e-mail business, I subscribe to many mailing lists to see what marketers are sending. Some of it is good, more is bad, and way too much of it can easily be classified as “ugly,” primarily because I don’t trust it.

What don’t I trust? Like any other recipient, if I can’t tell why I received a message or who sent it, I also won’t trust the sender to honor a request to unsubscribe. If I can’t trust the unsubscribe process, I’ll click the “spam” button to get rid of it.

It isn’t enough to include unsubscribe instructions in the message body copy, as CAN-SPAM requires U.S. e-mail marketers to do for messages that are all or mostly commercial. Marketers must make the unsubscribe process as trustworthy as possible so subscribers will feel they can use it with confidence and not have to resort to the “spam” button in desperation.

If recipients don’t trust you as an e-mail sender, they’ll be more likely to report you as a spammer to their ISP. If the ISPs get enough complaints, they’ll either block your e-mail or route it to the bulk folder instead of the inbox. That damages your reputation and hurts your ability to get e-mail delivered correctly.

Lack of trust in the unsubscribe process can ultimately hurt e-mail deliverability. My company is researching how e-mail marketers manage this and other aspects of the unsubscribe procedure. Want to include your own experiences and challenges? Take our short survey. I’ll report some of the results along with best-practice advice in a future column after the survey has closed.

One Trust Killer: Protesting Too Much

Don’t provide recipients with a vague statement telling them they received your e-mail because they opted in to a list. Be direct and explicit and remind them how and where they made the request. If you can’t be explicit you look defensive, as if you’re trying to cover up for spamming. Nothing says “I don’t care about your privacy” more than pointing out you don’t even know why I’m on your list.

Do you collect names only on your Web site? Or do you also collect them at trade shows, at cash registers, from rented lists, orders, transactions, downloads, and the like? If you do, there’s no way you can get away with a blanket statement that covers all your list-collection bases.

Here are two examples pulled from my inbox. They sound pretty fishy and make what could be perfectly respectable, requested e-mail messages appear the spammiest of spam:

This e-mail was sent to [email protected] by where you signed up for this service (this sign-up process might have taken place at one of our affiliates). This e-mail is an advertisement on behalf of Company Name. While we hope you find the above information of professional interest to you, we respect your online time and desire for e-mail privacy. Should you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, you may request so over the Web (only one click is needed with this option).

Firm Name periodically sends a newsletter to its customers and/or affiliates. You received this e-mail because you requested the Firm Name newsletter, entered a Firm Name contest/birthday club/frequent buyer program, or ordered from Firm Name.

Neither statement tells me exactly how the sender got my name. They only highlight many possibilities, which illustrates the senders themselves aren’t sure why I’m on their lists. The result: if I don’t recall taking any of those actions listed in the e-mail, I’ll assume you’re hiding something and jettison the message after clicking the “spam” button.

How To Do It Right

Create a trust-inducing unsubscribe process through these five simple steps:

  1. Use an unsubscribe procedure that takes as few steps as possible. Ideal is a one-click instant removal or a click that leads to a prepopulated form without requiring a password or log-in. More than that, and it looks like you’re doing everything possible to prevent unsubscribing.
  2. Tell users exactly where you got their names. If there’s more than one source (Web site, referrals or forwards to a friend, points of sale, trade shows, downloads), include the source in database files so you can merge the correct information. If not, maintain a separate list for each source, and use Web links or e-mail addresses unique to each source.
  3. Place the statement where readers can easily see it. If you don’t want to use valuable real estate at the message’s top, place it in your e-mail admin center, which should appear in the same place in every message.
  4. Test your unsubscribe procedure regularly, either by clicking the links or sending test e-mail. Patrol all e-mail inboxes associated with your program to capture any misdirected unsubscribe requests.
  5. Provide alternate methods for removal, such as a telephone number or dedicated postal address subscribers can use if they can’t or choose not to use the online version.

Yes, it’s more work. But the damage your reputation will suffer if readers don’t trust you and report you as a spammer will hurt more in the long run.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

Meet Stefan at ClickZ Specifics: E-Mail Marketing on October 2, in New York City.

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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