Are You Making These Preference Center Mistakes?

I disagree with marketers who say email preference centers are a waste of time and energy because they don't generate the results that marketers want, whether it's actionable data or more satisfied customers.

In an earlier Email Insider, I argued that preference centers themselves usually aren't the problem. Rather, it's how marketers create the center or how they market their preference centers to their subscribers.

As I work with companies and attempt to manage my own preferences with hundreds of personal and work-related email relationships, I’ve uncovered dozens of examples of where marketers go wrong.

Many of these mistakes are relatively easy to fix and can help create a better customer experience and improve your data collection. How many of the following mistakes apply to your own preference center?




1. Capturing only the email address: Don't sacrifice data richness for the sake of a speedy registration. Use a two-step or other approach or progressive form to capture data beyond the email address.

2. Asking for too much information: If what you ask for doesn’t provide some recognizable value or choice to the subscriber, get the data another way. What kinds of data do you really need to segment or target?

3. Excluding behavior: Think beyond expressed preferences to include behavior – what they do – along with what they say.

4. Collecting data that you don't use: Age-restricted businesses aside, why ask for the birth date if you don't send birthday emails?

5. Turning your preference center into a survey: A preference center has specific purposes. If you want to know what's on your customers' minds, send a survey.

6. Not explaining why you are asking for kinds of data: If you need to know sensitive or identifying information (age, household income), explain why. If not, expect customers to skip those fields or abandon your forms.


1. Showing every list your have in your email software: I went to unsubscribe from a corporate newsletter recently and was presented with nearly 100 lists – every list the company had in database. Yikes.

2. Omitting alternatives to unsubscribing: These include  "Change Email Address"; “Change Frequency”;  "Change Channel Preference"; and “Snooze” options, and can help you reduce list churn.

3. Requiring a login/password or multiple clicks to act: CAN-SPAM prohibits logins or passwords to complete unsubscribing.

5. Requiring subscribers to enter basic information you already have: Pre-populate forms when users click-through from your emails.

6. Offering outdated options such as “HTML versus Text”: Time to modernize!

7. Sending all subscribers to the same point in your preference center: Create different variations of your preference center based on which goal and link your subscriber clicked such as “Unsubscribe” versus “Updating Email Address.”

8. Omitting a "global" unsubscribe: In the United States, CAN-SPAM requires you to enable subscribers to opt out of all company mailings.

9. Not setting expectations: Can a new subscriber easily get a sense of frequency, content type and value proposition?

10. Not showing samples of emails or adequately explaining the value of an email program: It is wonderful you’ve come up with a cute name for your loyalty program email, but do subscribers know what it is?

11. Making every field required: Really, you need my birth date so I can receive your daily deals email?

12. Update plan: Do you have a process in place for continually monitoring and updating your preference centers?


1. Not mobile-friendly: Your preference center probably was built for desktops. Look at it on a mobile device. Ouch!

2. Using your ESP's default basic form: Defaults don't provide branding or offer the unique experience customers expect from you.

3. Too much descriptive text: This can make your page less navigable and is fatal in a mobile environment.

4. Obscuring the preferences link in your regular email formats: Highlight – don’t hide - the different options in your emails calling at key options such as “Change Email Address”; “Unsubscribe” “Receive Fewer Emails”; etc. And don’t use a tiny, grayed-out font.

5. Confusing layout and navigation: Don't make subscribers hunt for or guess where key options are. Design the pages with ease of completion in mind.

Did I miss any other major mistakes that reduce preference center use? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

1 comment about "Are You Making These Preference Center Mistakes?".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, July 26, 2013 at 4:56 a.m.

    I like giving subscribers a second chance when they click unsubscribe, so preference centers are a good thing, but many are complicated and confusing. So keep them simple and *do usability testing*. If I encounter an over-complicated or unclear form, I give up and report the mailing as spam because it's easier, which doesn't help your reputation.

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