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“I put so much effort into increasing the number of subscribers to my communications, offering them the chance to unsubscribe seems like an own goal.” Hands up anyone who’s never felt this way deep down.

It’s extremely tempting to hold onto the subscribers in your database any way you can, especially when you’ve put so much time and effort into creating the list transparently and haven’t taken any shortcuts. But it’s a temptation you have to overcome, because the damage it can cause far outweighs any benefits, compared to managing your unsubscribers the sensible way. Let’s look at why.

Transparency, reputation and deliverability

We’ll start with some basic statistics: every day, each user receives on average a hundred emails (data: Radicati 2015), and the trend looks set to increase even further.

In this flood of emails, users are likely to forget they ever signed up to receive communications from us, or they may just realize they’re not interested in them. So then they have the problem of how to stop them arriving.

There are two possible options:

  1. If there’s an unsubscribe button clearly visible, they can just click on it and remove themselves from the database instantly.
  2. If they can’t find an unsubscribe button they’ll mark the message as spam or junk, which can have undesirable consequences for the sender.

We all like to think our communications are so interesting and our offers so inviting that no-one would want to miss them, but in fact it’s quite healthy and normal to have a certain percentage of unsubscribers because it enables us to protect certain things that are vital to us:

  • the company’s reputation
  • deliverability
  • respect for privacy rules
  • the reputation of the sender’s domain

Regarding deliverability, offering a safe and simple opt-out to anyone who no longer wants to receive communications reduces the likelihood of them being marked as spam, and limits the damage that can do to our reputation.

Regarding customer relations, it’s important to remember that nobody likes to feel trapped; any interaction with a company must be spontaneous, desired, enjoyable and entered into freely by the customer. A customer bombarded with unwanted messages is an angry customer who is unlikely to shop in your store.

Unsubscribe links: a must for every message

What’s the ultimate situation that all email marketers should aspire to? Having a list of individuals who are actually interested in the information that’s sent to them, who are inclined to interact and click on links, and who see communications as a bonus rather than an inconvenience or an intrusion.

If a user is not interested, then it doesn’t matter if you lose them; on the contrary, as we never tire of repeating – quality is a more important attribute than quantity in a database.

So it’s best to make the unsubscribe option as clear, explicit and simple to activate as possible. The best way to do this is to insert an unsubscribe link in the email pre-header, or (more commonly) at the bottom of the message: “If you no longer wish to receive these messages, click here.”

Unsubscribe link emails 03

Net-A-Porter’s footer

Single opt-out or double opt-out?

One click doesn’t have to mean you’ve lost a user. Same as with the opt-in process, unsubscribing can also be done with either a single click or a two-step process: if you go for the double opt-out process, users are taken to a halfway page (the profile management centre) where they are given a number of choices.

  • To regulate the frequency with which they receive emails – daily, weekly, monthly etc.
  • To suspend communications temporarily (if they’re going on holiday, for example)
  • To change the address where they receive the emails
  • To change the method of communication and opt for SMS, RSS, etc.
  • To leave feedback as to why they’ve decided to unsubscribe (not interested, too frequent, etc.)
  • To unsubscribe permanently

The principle behind the double opt-out method is this: in many cases users want to modify the terms of their relationship with the company, not cut off ties completely.

If there’s some middle ground whereby a percentage of users can be retained (even if it’s a small minority), so much the better; the rest are free to unsubscribe unhindered.

The important thing is to provide a clear, user-friendly landing page; if users see it as an attempt to confuse them and can’t find what they’re looking for, any potential positive effect is lost in no time.

The single click option, on the other hand, is a quick and easy user interface that works on the principle that if a user has decided to leave, there’s no way of delaying him/her that won’t be perceived as a nuisance.

Ergo, it’s better to make it easy to unsubscribe. Just as there’s a choice between single or double opt-in (covered in depth in this post), there’s no single solution that’s right in every case; every company would do well to  experiment and try out first-hand the option that works best for them.

“You are receiving this email because you have subscribed…”

Transparent and effective ways of cultivating good user relations and reducing unsubscribing to a minimum don’t end there. It can also be useful, for example, to remind users how and why they subscribed to this type of communication.

PERMISSION REMINDER (DISCLAIMER)

This is called a permission reminder (or disclaimer or agreement review). Positioned at the top or bottom of the email, this brief message reminds users of the reason why they receive communications from us.

Including a permission reminder serves a number of purposes. First of all it offers users a foothold; they’re probably inundated with marketing communications and regret having agreed to receive these messages in the first place, so it gives them an alternative to reporting them as spam, which is advantageous to the sender’s reputation.

Second, the permission reminder can be useful to a third party (the system administrator, the postmaster or the abuse desk manager), in determining whether any spam report is legitimate or not.

Caution: a permission reminder is not a substitute for an unsubscribe link, it is complementary to it. Telling people, “you are receiving this email because you have subscribed to the XYZ list,” is not enough on its own and must be followed up with, “if you no longer wish to receive these messages, you can unsubscribe here.”

UNSUBSCRIBE EASILY RIGHT AWAY

Another useful step in maintaining relaxed, open relations with users is to make it perfectly clear from the very first welcome email you send that they have the option to unsubscribe whenever they want.

“You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking on this link,” is an excellent way of expressing it that is clear and simple and defines the kind of relationship you wish to establish with users right from the start: free acceptance with full consent, never forced and never intrusive. Gains in terms of loyalty will be significant.

Unsubscribe link email MailUp

MailUp’s footer includes a clear permission reminder and links to the privacy settings, the preference center and the unsubscribe option.

Unsubscribe or delete?

Finally, let’s clear up a fundamental distinction: unsubscribe and delete are not the same thing when it comes to email marketing. When a user chooses to unsubscribe, his/her contact details actually remain in the database but are moved from the subscribers list to the unsubscribed list, and as a result they cease to receive communications.

On MailUp, each list has its own list of subscribers and unsubscribed. So if a user unsubscribes from list 2, he/she will continue to be on the list and may be imported into other lists. The best thing to do is to make it transparent to the user that he/she is included in different lists, and give them to choice of unsubscribing from all or just some of them. To do this you just need to go for the double opt-out method of unsubscribing.

Deletion, on the other hand, is carried out at the express request of the user and involves “physical” and not just “logical” elimination from the database. This is a specific option recently reviewed by the new privacy regulations, and introduces the right to be eliminated, to be “forgotten”, by company databases.

This right goes much further than the traditional right to cancel and oppose the use of data; every trace of the data must be completely eliminated.

The company may also decide to manually delete a subscriber from their database instead of moving him/her to the unsubscribed list. MailUp advises against this option however, as it involves the loss of statistical data on unsubscribers and does not prevent the user being re-subscribed in error (those who unsubscribe are filtered out of any imports).

The unsubscribe rate is an important indicator that should be constantly monitored to evaluate how effective email campaigns are. Any peaks or increase trends should sound the alarm bell and trigger a rethink of the frequency and quality of messages.

In conclusion

Making it easy and straightforward to unsubscribe is in the best interests of anyone engaged in email marketing. Poor management of unsubscribing (missing or broken links, complex procedures, lack of clarity, etc.) is harmful rather than beneficial to a company’s reputation, brand identity and deliverability. Always ensure that:

  • Every email contains an explicit user-friendly unsubscribe link
  • Every message contains a permission reminder/disclaimer
  • The landing page, if you decide to use the double opt-out method, contains alternative options and doesn’t attempt to confuse the user
  • The unsubscribe rate is constantly monitored as it indicates any critical situations.

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