Playing Games With Unsubscribers Is Becoming Increasingly Risky

Every good company needs to work in reverse. Just as an online clothing store has to make it easy to return unwanted items and a hardware outfit has to accept equipment in need of repair, any company engaged in email marketing has to make it easy to say goodbye.

It might sound odd, but unsubscribers can be a blessing in disguise. OK -- so nobody wants to see a list go down, particularly when repermissioning around GDPR is likely to be doing that anyway. However, a subscriber base that is being kept artificially high because there's no apparent way of breaking away is not good for a brand. It means recipients begin to find their messages annoying and they're increasingly likely to get marked as spam. From a deliverability point of view, the last thing you want is the likes of Gmail or Yahoo picking up that many of your emails are being marked as spam.

So it's interesting to see a bunch of experts in eConsultancy line up to remind email marketers of a hard lesson in life -- as long as there have been email lists, there have been unsubscribes. It happens, so make it as easy as possible. The golden rule is to avoid the tactic that really gets me annoyed. Just try it for yourself. Some companies will either hide away an unsubscribe option so it can't be found or, just as bad, link the unsubscribe button to a web page that then ask you to sign in to an account.

I have to be honest -- if I want to stop hearing from you, the chances are I don't have an account with you, or if I do, I can't remember the log-in details.

That's not to say unsubscribing should be a one-click affair. People who are leaving your list are a great source of information. Just ask them "why." Options may include emails being too frequent, too irrelevant or maybe someone's just not in to what a business offers any more. 

According to research covered in eConsultancy, people are finding it harder to unsubscribe from a mailing list than it is to sign up -- 29% say is is very difficult or somewhat difficult to sign up to an email address, compared to 39% when it comes to unsubscribing. Similarly, 48% of people find signing up for an email list easy, compared to 38% who find it easy to unsubscribe.

Email marketers are clearly playing games here with either not offering unsubscribe links or putting obstacles in a consumer's path. 

Currently, this is something that will get on an individual's nerves and possibly make your email messages appear a little spammy. Within a year, however, companies will have to show the authorities in the EU that they are not assuming permission lasts forever. Unsubscribe links will be expected to take a consumer to a consent page where they can see what they've signed up for and make alterations. The current thinking is that even without this, the upcoming GDPR law will require lists to be repermissioned every two years. 

All this means it will be increasingly difficult and even risky to hold on to people longer than they want to be on your list, so offering a way out and gathering data on why people are leaving has to be the simplest route ahead. 

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