Ask The Experts: List-Unsubscribe Q&A

Posted by Tonya Mitchell 

Recently I hosted the Return Path “Ask the Experts” webinar focused on the List-Unsubscribe. The turnout and questions were great. So great in fact, that we ran out of time to answer them all! So as promised, I wanted to follow-up and answer the questions that were not addressed during the webinar.

As a reminder, the List-Unsubscribe header is an optional email x-header that you can add to your messages as described in RFC 2369 and RFC 8058. It allows subscribers to see an unsubscribe option generated by the Mailbox Provider they can easily and safely click if they want to stop receiving your email. By implementing this header into your emails and allowing this easy unsubscribe option to occur, you positively impact your email reputation and deliverability by helping to keep your list clean and reduce complaints.

Now, onto our Q&A follow-up!

Q: Is it acceptable practice to direct a List-Unsubscribe option to a landing page instead of a one-click opt out?
As described in RFC 2369, yes, however, RFC 8058 is all about the one-click opt out. RFC 8058 was implemented to encourage the use of the one-click opt-out to simplify the process by alleviating the subscriber’s need to take additional steps to unsubscribe.

Q: How many options do you need to give to unsubscribe in an email?
Per CAN-SPAM law, the sender always needs to provide one unsubscribe link within their email. The implementation of the List-Unsubscribe header allows the Mailbox Provider to create an additional, easy way for the subscriber to unsubscribe as well. The List-Unsubscribe is not a requirement of CAN-SPAM.

Q: Why doesn’t the unsubscribe always appear?
As discussed in our webinar, not all Mailbox Providers support the List-Unsubscribe. As a result, you won’t always see the option appear once you have it in place on your end. However, the major players in the industry do, including Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo. As a result, the majority of subscribers that likely make up your list will benefit from having this functionality available.

Q: What do I tell marketers or management concerned about having a prominent unsubscribe option that can increase opt-outs?
Failing to have an easy way for subscribers to unsubscribe from your list leads to them hitting the spam button to get off the list instead. This issues a complaint against your program and results in a negative hit against your sender reputation. Permission is not forever and the List-Unsubscribe makes it easy to let people off your list when they lose interest and helps ensure you’re only sending emails to people who really want to hear from you. Unsubscribes don’t hurt your sender reputation, complaints do! Keeping your list clean and your complaints low are key factors in maintaining a positive, healthy sender reputation and email program.

Can the List-Unsubscribe cause a spike in unsubscribe rates since it’s easier for someone to spot?
It’s possible, but it’s more likely you’ll see unsubscribes occur over time versus a big spike all at once.  

Q: Why will the List-Unsubscribe improve our deliverability when it’s not visible for all email providers?
It won’t have an impact at Mailbox Providers that don’t use it. However, the major Mailbox Providers that do use it including Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo likely make up a high percentage of your list. As a result, allowing people to easily unsubscribe from your list rather than complain will have a positive impact on your program. It is important to note that just implementing the List-Unsubscribe isn’t going to improve or guarantee deliverability. You need to follow all best practices for your email program.

Q: Does the List-Unsubscribe opt the recipient out from marketing email only or from all email communications from the sender?
The functionality will unsubscribe the subscriber from the email type where the header was included unless your internal process includes a global unsubscribe where the individual is removed from all communications.

Q: Is the smart, or automated, unsubscribe only available to senders that have configured the List-Unsubscribe into their email headers or it is forced on all senders?
The automated unsubscribe features implemented by Gmail and Yahoo monitors inbox activity and asks users if they want to unsubscribe from promotional emails that they haven’t opened in 30 days or more. Outlook.com will ask users if they are “receiving too much mail” and prompt them to unsubscribe from that sender or manage subscriptions for every sender they receive mail from. They all utilize the List-Unsubscribe header information to process the unsubscribe request. If the List-Unsubscribe is not in place and the subscriber wants off the list, the Mailbox Provider may ignore the request, further annoying the subscriber,  or in the case of Outlook.com, you will be added to the subscriber’s personal blocklist.

Thank you again to everyone who was able to join the webinar! Please keep an eye out for future Ask the Experts webinars coming soon! In the meantime, be sure to check out Return Path Resources for our blogs, whitepapers and case studies for more information on how you can set your email program up for success!

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About Tonya Mitchell

As a Senior Technical Account Manager, Tonya Mitchell is a results-oriented professional passionate about building and maintaining strong client relationships that foster success. With over 12 years of email deliverability experience, Tonya has collaborated with a wide range of clients to provide strategic, data-driven guidance to maximize email delivery, sender reputation and brand engagement. She enjoys sharing her knowledge via Return Path webinars, blogs and industry events.

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