Unsubscribing Best Practices: Do It Quickly!

A recent study by ExactTarget shows that 93% of U.S. online consumers are subscribers to at least one opt-in email per day. That's a lot of customers to whom you're sending emails!

We all know about CAN-SPAM. We all know about the necessity of working within the opted-in framework so that customers do not need to opt-out in order not to receive unwanted emails. But doing the minimum isn't enough.

Let's start with the unsubscribe button itself. Make it clear. Make it obvious. No, it doesn't have to be more obvious than the offer attached to the email, but don't make your customers hunt for it, either.

Once the button is placed, don't make the unsubscribe process difficult, either; as you'll see a little later in this article, that's never a good idea -- but especially not in these days of social networks and viral comments. I have several email accounts, and I don't want to spend 10 minutes figuring out which one I used to subscribe to your catalogue so that I can unsubscribe: just give me a button attached to a direct link.



The visibility and accessibility of the unsubscribe process may be obvious considerations; but the speed at which an unsubscribe is processed may not be as obvious, and it's a vital component to effective list management.

It may not be obvious because we're all accustomed to thinking from our own point of view: it's in process, it's on the list, it'll get done. But if we were to take the customer's point of view for a moment, we'd see the value in a quick unsubscribe. Here's the scenario: you decide that you no longer want to be on a given list. Maybe you haven't bought anything from that vendor for a few months. Maybe you subscribed by accident (it happens). In any case, thank you, no, I'm just not interested right now. You unsubscribe.

The following week, you receive another email offer. Perhaps even two. Now you've gone from feeling neutral about the company sending the emails to feeling irritated about it. The Web is supposed to be fast, right? So why didn't they get the message? You may decide to vent your frustration in public places -- on Facebook, in blogs, tweeting, even possibly on YouTube. And the company's word-of-mouth reputation suffers.

Even looking at it from the company's point of view speaks to the wisdom of a quick unsubscribe. Do you really want people on your lists who don't want to be there? Do you really want to make people feel irritated when they think about you? Of course not.

A quick unsubscribe mechanism is the best way to keep everybody happy, and your lists error-free.

6 comments about "Unsubscribing Best Practices: Do It Quickly!".
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  1. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., June 22, 2011 at 1:56 p.m.

    Great points, Jeannette.

    Here's one more reason to handle unsubscribes as quickly as possible: the leading metric used by ISPs to block your emails from getting through is the percentage of spam complaints received per campaign. Exceed the ISPs' spam complaint thresholds and your emails are doomed to the junk folder, bounced back to you, or worse yet, buried without being delivered at all.

    Former subscribers whose unsubscribe requests are not honored quickly enough will start hitting the spam complaint button when they get the least bit irritated. That's a lot easier to do than venting their frustration in public places. And they don’t care about giving marketers the ten days allowed to honor these unsub requests as required by CAN SPAM!

    So, follow Jeannette's advice - make your unsub process as easy as possible and honor these requests as soon as you can to help keep your email program operating smoothly.

  2. Chad White from Litmus, June 22, 2011 at 2:18 p.m.

    There's certainly some confusion about the 10 days that CAN-SPAM "allows" to honor unsubscribes. The only reason that's in the law is because of companies that use a lot of agents and branches like insurance companies, where an email list can be very distributed. The spirit of the law is that unsubs are honored immediately--which thankfully can be handled easily by any reputable ESP. Nowadays, if an opt-out isn't honored immediately you know it's on purpose by the marketer.

  3. Marla Jansen from Polk, June 22, 2011 at 3:20 p.m.

    So hard to convey this to aggregators of email addresses to do a global unsub for the greater good. Why poke the fire?

  4. Shira G from Undergraduate Student, June 22, 2011 at 4:14 p.m.

    All very sage points. Of course, if you are communicating with many customers and/or audience members across channels and/or company divisions this can be a bit more complex. Commercial solutions like UnsubCentral ensure that organizations that care about their customers and compliance can do this easily.

  5. Mark Walker from aka Media Mark, June 23, 2011 at 1:42 p.m.

    Maybe MediaPost can read this article- and change their ways... especially that part about "I don't want to spend 10 minutes figuring out which one I used to subscribe to your catalogue so that I can unsubscribe: just give me a button attached to a direct link."

    And maybe don't unsubscribe me to everything- just the specific email I clicked on! This is no longer and all-or-nothing world...

  6. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, June 24, 2011 at 10:39 a.m.

    I have long been a proponent for placing the unsubscribe link at both the top and the bottom of the email. This can be especially helpful if you have complaint issues, but also shows your commitment to the customer that spans well beyond the email program.

    My philosophy is to make it easy for your subscribers to leave the program. Sounds counterintuitive, but they will find other ways to me.

    Andrew Kordek
    Co-Founder, Trendline Interactive
    A Email Marketing Agency
    Twitter: @andrewkordek & @trendlinei

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