Why Easy Unsubscribing Really Is Better

The latest report from the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC) draws a portrait of American e-mail users as an experienced, savvy group willing to use the functions they’re given to manage their e-mail, yet they’re looking for more help from new features such as a universal “unsubscribe” button.

Marketers have been requesting an “unsubscribe” button as an alternative to the “report spam” button many e-mail clients now provide. But that alone won’t solve the real problem: unsubscribe processes that are unnecessarily complicated or unworkable, sparking frustration among users.

That frustration drives many users to click “report spam” instead of navigating the official unsubscribe path, which in turn leads to deliverability problems. The survey found 20 percent of respondents admit to using the “report spam” button to unsubscribe. It doesn’t sound like a lot, until you look at spam complaint numbers. Wouldn’t you have liked to reduce spam complaints by 20 percent last year?

The survey results convincingly argue that subscribers are smarter than many marketers give them credit for. Not only do they know what the “report spam” button is for, they use it for specific reasons when they click it.

More than 8 out of 10 e-mail users have used the “report spam” button in their e-mail clients’ interfaces. Nine out of 10 e-mail users want a universal “unsubscribe” button in their e-mail clients’ interfaces, one that would send an unsubscribe request from the receiving e-mail server to the sender’s database. Ideally, this would automatically remove the address. This is exactly how ISPs want marketers to use the feedback data provided by those “report spam” buttons.

Many e-mail senders, and even the ESPC itself, have advocated that device for a long time as a way to combat false-positive spam reporting. Some coding work has been done, though a beta test is a long way off.

Many marketers are seriously misguided about why subscribers want that feature. It’s because the regular unsubscribe process is difficult, is confusing, or just doesn’t work. Marketers who fail to recognize that frustration and don’t work to reduce it may well be missing a key factor in their own delivery issues.

Conventional wisdom says people use the “report spam” button because they don’t know any better, they believe it’s the correct way to stop unwanted e-mail, or they’re just too lazy to do the right thing. But consumers have shown they do know how to use that button, and they use it for a reason.

Although more marketers have seen the light on permission, not as many see the value in an easy unsubscribe process. The thinking is that once they get that coveted e-mail address into their database, they must keep it there at all costs.

But when someone’s ready to go, you don’t benefit by keeping them on your list one minute longer than they want to be on it.

An unsubscribe request doesn’t always signal the relationship’s end. But if that’s the only way you interpret it and you cling to the subscriber with a complicated unsubscribe procedure that leads to frustration, you may end up with false spam-reporting incidents. This, in turn, can lead to delivery challenges for the rest of your subscribers.

You’re guilty if you do any of the following as part of your unsubscribe process:

  • Require subscribers to log into their accounts, using user names and passwords to access the unsubscribe link.

  • Require subscribers to reply to an unsubscribe confirmation before honoring the request.
  • Delay the request to your database for the full 10 days the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act provides while scheduling multiple mailings during that window.
  • Place the mandatory unsubscribe link in an out-of-the-way place or behind an image that doesn’t load when a client blocks images by default.

Why invest time and effort to review, and possibly redesign, your unsubscribe process? Because people want to (and will) use it. They want the process to work.

A best practice for e-mail unsubscribes dictates you require as little information and as few clicks as possible to complete the process. No log-in data should be required beyond the correct e-mail address, and one click (two at most) should be all it takes. If subscribers are taken to a preference page, it should be prepopulated with that user’s information.

While you make unsubscribing as easy as possible, also make it a positive experience. A well-crafted unsubscribe confirmation page or e-mail can include these elements:

  • A statement recognizing the subscriber’s wish to leave the list and offering other options, such as less frequent mailings or other publications.

  • An address-update form for people who didn’t access your profile-update form from the e-mail.
  • Links to other site resources the visitor might find useful.
  • A quick exit survey (text box or clickable options) that asks the reason for leaving and suggestions for improvement. Keep it to two questions, maximum. (It’s best to solicit this information after you receive the unsubscribe request, not as a barrier to it.)
  • Directions on how to halt the unsubscribe process if the user clicked to the page in error.

Are you a permission marketer suffering from high spam-complaint rates but aren’t sure why? Take a few minutes to review your unsubscribe process. See if you can’t make it easier to use.

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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