Email Optimization

18 Ways to Improve Your Unsubscribe Process

Posted by Julia Peavy on

No marketer likes it when subscribers opt-out of their email communications. However, it's bound to happen. If a subscriber is truly done engaging with your brand via email, you need to make it easy. However, you also want to ensure your unsubscribe process is working hard for you.

1. Be compliant with CAN-SPAM. Let's start off with the obvious. Any email unsubscribe process needs to be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.  In order to be compliant, you must provide instructions on how to stop receiving emails from your brand that are easy to understand. This could include a return email address or ideally, an Internet-based way (like an unsubscribe link) to allow people to easily communicate their preferences to you. In addition, you must include the option to stop ALL commercial (a.k.a. marketing/promotional) messages from your brand. You also can't require individuals to login in order to opt-out of your email messages.

2. Don't bury the unsubscribe. While no one wants to have subscribers opt-out of your email program, the alternative (spam complaints) is much worse. Don't try to hide your unsubscribe link in a long paragraph of terms and conditions. Subscribers are trained to look in the footer for a way to opt-out, but don't make them search for the link or instructions on stopping your marketing messages. 

3. Use the word "unsubscribe." Using the word "unsubscribe" in the footer allows subscribers to easily skim your footer to find what they are looking for. This doesn't mean you have to remove links or wording associated with "updating email preferences" or "manage my preference," but including links for both updating preferences and unsubscribing provide the opportunity for subscribers to choose how they are engaging with your brand. The example from Shutterfly includes terms and conditions in the footer, but the "unsubscribe" and "my 'preferences" links are separate from this text and easy to find when skimming the content.


4. Don't automatically unsubscribe subscribers. We obviously don't want to make unsubscribing painful for your audience, but we also don't want to miss a potential opportunity to engage with these individuals in a different way. When subscribers are automatically unsubscribed with one click, you have immediately lost the opportunity present different options for communicating with these individuals. Drive subscribers to an unsubscribe page where they can easily opt-out of your email program, but are also presented with additional options for engaging and the benefits of receiving your emails. 

5. Fight complaints with an unsubscribe link at the top. If your program has been generating complaints ("This is Spam") with the ISPs, include an unsubscribe link at the top of the email (in addition to the footer). You don't have to aggressively highlight an unsubscribe link at the top of the email, but by presenting it in the pre-header, you're making it easy for those subscribers that don't want your messaging to request to opt-out instead of hitting 'this is spam."  This email from Rent the Runway includes simple text and a link to opt-out of emails at the top of the email in the pre-header area. 


6. Watch your email frequency. According to the ExactTarget Social Breakup Report, 54% of consumers say they unsubscribe when emails come too frequently from a particular brand. There is no one answer for optimal frequency. Test frequency options for a variety of key subscriber segments and determine the total number of messages a specific subscriber group will receive in a given time period. Also, when looking at frequency, pay close attention to your complaint rates.  Frequency and complaints are highly correlated and can determine your business rules around the  frequency of emails sent to a subscriber.

7. Present an "email digest" format.  According to the 2013 BlueHornet Consumer View of Email Report,47% of respondents said that if they were presented with the option to “opt-down” during the unsubscribe process, they would consider it. For high frequency email programs (like daily newsletters), provide subscribers with the option to receive a digest version  on your unsubscribe page so you can provide "the best of" or a "weekly highlight" version and keep subscribers on your file.  This unsubscribe page example from "the daily sip' from epecurious presents a very visible option for a "weekly recap" email before the unsubscribe options are (very clearly) presented. 

8. Provide frequency options. While a digest version of an email don't make sense for every sender, providing frequency options on the unsubscribe page is another way to put subscribers in control. Frequency options allow you to keep some email addresses on the file because they simply want less email, not no email at all. This Sephora unsubscribe page provides subscribers the ability to receive all Sephora emails or limit the number of emails to weekly or monthly. 

9. Allow subscribers to pause their emails. Subscribers want to stop receiving emails for a variety of reasons. The more choices you can provide to your subscribers, the more likely you are to address these various needs.By providing subscribers the ability to pause emails from your brand, you keep the subscriber on the file, but provide the ability to "take a break."  The unsubscribe page from Uncommon Goods allows subscribers to "snooze" their emails for up to 3 months.

10. Include an "unsubscribe from all" option. If you have several publications, providing your subscribers with an "unsubscribe from all" option simplifies the unsubscribe process. While requiring subscribers to uncheck every subscription type is compliant with CAN-SPAM, it is not the best experience for your subscribers. Potentially frustrated subscribers may abandon the unsubscribe process completely and choose the easy one-step option: hitting the "this is spam" button.  This example from Orbitz provides a clear and conspicuous way for subscribers to opt-out of all messages by simply checking the "unsubscribe from all emails" box at the bottom of the page.

11. Provide the ability to choose other email message streams.  If you send a variety of newsletters or have different email segments that receive different content, provide subscribers with the opportunity to choose other types of emails to receive from your brand. Subscribers may no longer be interested in a specific type of content for a variety of reasons or you may have new email streams that weren't available when they originally opted-in to receive emails from you.

12. Include subscription details and links to view email samples.  If your subscribers are open to receiving different emails, provide them with enough details to help them easily decide if this email stream is going to be interesting to them. In the Real Simple example below, subscribers are presented with additional emails and can easily see the frequency of the email, a short description, and view a sample of the email.


13. Allow subscribers to update their email address. Some subscribers may actually be looking to unsubscribe from your emails because they are switching emails or have created a new email account. Don't miss the opportunity to let subscribers tell you that they have a new email address on the unsubscribe page. On this L.L. Bean unsubscribe page, subscribers are able to simply enter their new email address and click the very clear call to action button ("Update Email Address") to complete the switch.

14. Promote your social media properties.  Just because an individual doesn't want to receive email from your brand, it doesn't mean they aren't open to engaging with your brand via other channels. Include links to your social media properties on your unsubscribe page so these individuals can easily choose how they want to engage with your brand. The Cost Plus World Market unsubscribe page promotes "staying connected outside the in-box" and includes links to their Facebook and Twitter pages.

15. Integrate mobile. Does your company utilize SMS for updates or reminders? Or can subscribers stay connected to your brand by downloading your mobile app? Use this opportunity to spread the word about staying connected via mobile to individuals that no longer want to receive email from you.

16. Work to make it so subscribers are less likely to unsubscribe in the first place.In the 2013 BlueHornet Consumer View of Email Report,  24.5% of respondents said they unsubscribe because email is not relevant. While sending more relevant email is not a small task, the ability to send more relevant emails to your subscriber base will not only decrease your unsubscribe rate, but also increase positive email engagement with higher open, click and conversion rates.  Use triggered messaging as well as available data points (opens, clicks, web browsing, location, preference centers, etc.) to work to provide more relevant content.

17. Include a survey.  Despite all of the above tactics, you will still have subscribers that choose to opt–out of your email program. When subscribers do so, provide them with the opportunity to give feedback on your email program and use these insights to refine and improve your email program and keep more of your hard-earned subscribers on your list and begging for more. This survey from Neiman Marcus provides the ability for subscribers to select multiple options from a list or provide feedback in a text box.

18. Provide the opportunity resubscribe. We all make mistakes. By including a link to resubscribe (like the Neiman Marcus example above), you are making it easy for your subscribers to correct any potential mistakes when it comes to the unsubscribe process.


What else would you include in this list?


About Julia Peavy

As the Director of Customer Onboarding, Julia manages a team that helps get Return Path clients up and running with our solutions. With more than 10 years experience in the digital marketing space, Julia has consulted with clients on optimizing their email programs and managed an email program that generated a multi-million dollar pipeline. When Julia's not working, you can find her traveling, attending her children's events, or on the slopes. Connect with her on Twitter @julia_peavy

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