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Email Marketing Mistake No. 2: Not Optimizing the Unsubscribe Process

By Loren McDonald, Vice President, Industry Relations

A quick, easy and reliable unsubscribe process is an essential element of your email marketing program. However, not everyone who clicks the unsubscribe link actually wants to end the relationship with your company. But, if you don't give them options, or if you make the ones you have hard to find, you will certainly lose them.

I think because the opt-out concept is seen as a negative, many marketers either pay almost no attention to it, or, worse yet, attempt to make it difficult for subscribers to say goodbye.

These are the three keys to an effective unsubscribe process:

  • Make it easy, but not too easy, to opt out.
  • Provide alternatives to opting out if they don't actually want to leave your list.
  • Leave on good terms.

Make it Easy to Opt Out
Purists will argue for a one-click unsubscribe, but the reality is that many subscribers might simply want to change the nature of the relationship, not end it.

If someone truly wants to leave your list, however, make it quick and easy. Don't hide the unsubscribe link in your email, and don't use some euphemism on the link that the subscriber wouldn't recognize immediately. Making the opt-out process difficult will result only in more spam complaints and potential delivery problems.

Provide Alternatives to Opting Out
When users do click on the unsubscribe link, direct them to a combination preference center/unsubscribe page. Again, don't obfuscate the unsubscribe language or process, but do make it clear that they can choose to do something besides opt out.

Your subscribers' needs and interests change over time. Maybe they don't have time to read your daily emails and would be happier with a weekly digest. Perhaps they just need to change their email address, prefer RSS feeds or a text version they can read on their BlackBerry or cell phones. If you don't offer them some choice in how to make your emails more relevant and valuable to them, you could lose the ability to communicate with them forever.

Here are reasons why subscribers might click your unsubscribe link, with alternatives you can offer to retain the relationship:

  • Email address change: Many subscribers simply want to change their email address. If you don't make this easy, they'll be forced to opt out and resubscribe. You could lose them entirely this way. For best practices on the email-address-change process, see last month's
    "Mistakes" column.
  • Frequency: The average consumer receives roughly 300 email messages a week. That might not seem like a lot to people who work in email, but it's a lot for the consumer. If you are a retailer, for example, and send two or three emails per week, consider offering subscribers alternative frequencies such as once per week or month.
  • Channel: Sure, we're all about email, but there are so many more channels available to marketers. As appropriate, offer alternatives to email communications such as an RSS feed or direct mail.
  • Interests/Preferences: Subscribers change. They might switch from downhill skiing to snowboarding, change jobs or need to shop for school clothes now instead of baby toys. If possible, pre-populate their existing profile or preferences and make it simple to modify.
  • Format: As more people adopt the BlackBerry and similar mobile devices, some of your subscribers might prefer to receive rich-text versions of your email rather than HTML. They'll get tired of looking at mangled HTML emails with lines of HTML code rather than text. Be sure to offer that option.
  • Alternative Emails: If you publish multiple newsletters, allow subscribers to uncheck the box next to the newsletter they no longer want and check another that now fits their needs.

Leave on Good Terms/Solicit Feedback
It is vital to give your subscribers a good opt-out experience. While they might no longer receive your emails, they might continue to patronize your business now or in the future. Thank them as they unsubscribe and tell them you are sorry to see them go. Most of all, make the entire process simple and pleasant.

Lastly, use the opportunity to uncover why they are unsubscribing. This allows them to be heard, but also it gives you data points about why people are leaving your list. A simple comments field will work, but better yet is a drop-down or check box of the most common reasons plus a comments field. This way, you can more easily aggregate common reasons, yet still capture individual feedback.

The key then is to act on this feedback so you can improve your program and minimize list churn.

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