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Don't Fear the Unsubscribe!

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
13 April 2009

The unsubscribe is perhaps the most misunderstood and ignored element of an email program. But given that a best practices unsubscribe process minimizes damage to your brand, aids deliverability and can help retain subscribers, it's worth a closer look.

Good Practice: Make It Easy to Unsubscribe
Unsubscribing is a normal part of the email relationship, and using tricks to make it difficult to opt out will backfire with an increase in spam complaints. Alternately, a trustworthy unsubscribe process can help your deliverability by leading more people to use it instead of clicking the spam button, deleting your emails unopened or leaving you when they migrate to a new email address.

Start by labeling your unsubscribe link clearly and in the same size type as you use in your email's main message, and use a text link instead of an image-based link so readers can see it even with blocked images. Locate the link in the same place in every message, preferably in an email administrative footer. In certain situations, such as when sending to segments that are completely inactive or have high spam-complaint rates, consider including an unsubscribe link near the top of your message.

Find more thoughts about where to locate the unsubscribe link in my Email Insider column, "The Unsubscribe Link Location: Top, Bottom or Both?"

Better Practice: Make It Easy for Subscribers to Do What They Really Want

Yes, you should keep the express lane open for subscribers who really want off your list. But some just want to change an aspect of their subscription, like their email address, format, interests or frequency.

Suggest alternatives along with the unsubscribe, and let them know in your newsletter that they can either unsubscribe or change preferences easily. You'll end up retaining more subscribers, even if they move to another communication channel.

Best Practice: Make Your Email Program Irresistible

Think about the reasons people unsubscribe:

  • Emails come too frequently
  • Lack of relevance
  • Email content isn't what they expected
  • Their interests changed
  • Never really wanted your emails to begin with

Look at every aspect of your email program for ways to improve it. Consider these:

  • Be explicit at opt-in about what you send and when
  • Add a welcome program
  • Use subscriber data to segment your list and send targeted, personalized messages
  • Move to a lifecycle program or triggered messages instead of bath-and-blast broadcasts
  • Design attractive messages that render well with or without images, regardless of platform, and tell your story with well-written copy.

Unsubscribes are generally a sign that you've failed with some aspect of your email program. Embrace this and work to improve those areas that aren't meeting subscriber expectations. However, don't fear the unsubscribe, because by making this option easier, you'll minimize more-damaging spam complaints.

If you still have questions or doubts, post them below.


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