When Unsubscribe Doesn’t Really Mean Unsubscribe

Posted by Stephanie Colleton on

There are plenty of good reasons why people unsubscribe from your list. But sometimes an unsubscribe is not actually an unsubscribe. Sometimes your subscribers really just want a way to get less email or get different email.

But sometimes, what they really want is even simpler: they just want to change their email address.

I have to say, as an email marketing consultant who works with lots of top-brand clients, I’m perplexed that one of the most basic best practices – giving your subscribers an easy way to change their address – is still not implemented by many companies.

This became clear to me recently when my personal email account was getting overwhelmed by marketing messages.  As you can imagine, as an email marketing consultant I subscribe to many programs so that I can keep track of the latest trends.  But it got to the point where my personal emails where getting crowded out by programs I would have long ago unsubscribed from, but didn’t since they provide me with good email marketing examples for work.  I simply wanted to create a new address for marketing emails, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to change my address without having to completely unsubscribe one address and then go newly subscribe another.  Few marketers included a link to change my email address in their email messages.  Few offered the option to change my email address on the unsubscribe page.

Last fall when I was preparing to do back-to-school shopping for my children’s clothing at Lands’ End, I opted in for their email program hoping to get some good discounts.  I may have, but was then bombarded with offers all of the time when I really only buy kids clothes a few times a year. As I recently trolled through my inbox identifying marketers that I could redirect to my new marketing inbox, I was happy to see that Lands’ End did in fact include the following links in their emails: “Subscribemodify‚ or unsubscribe from the e-mail list.”  Perfect.  Finally, someone who will make email change of address easy.  On the landing page I changed my email address.  Unfortunately, I ended up getting emails to both of my addresses – quite the opposite of what I was hoping for!

The lack of an easy way to change an email address leads to two big problems for marketers:

  1. They lose the subscribers who unsubscribe with the old address but don’t bother to re-subscribe with the new address
  2. If a subscriber starts up a new address but doesn’t bother to unsubscribe the old one, the old address actually becomes inactive, or even worse, an unknown user or spam trap.

Think this isn’t really issue? It definitely is. David Daniels reported on ClickZ that “30 percent of consumers changed or created a new email address in the past year.” Can you afford to lose 30% of your list a year to unsubscribes that should have been ECOAs?  Making it simple and easy for subscribers to change their email address could also help a sender’s engagement rate by reducing the number of inactive users within their file.  As a factor that ISPs use to determine reputation and ultimately whether a message arrives in the inbox or junk folder, engagement rate is becoming a part of the deliverability formula.

Even the best marketers struggle with the ever-changing needs of consumers.  With subscribers having different email addresses to suit their needs, marketers need to offer the option to easily change email addresses.  The fact that so few companies offer this option in 2012 is very surprising, and tells me that we still have a long way to go in terms of email marketing best practices.


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About Stephanie Colleton

Stephanie began her digital marketing career 20 years ago with AOL followed by BMG Columbia House. She has been with Return Path for 11 years working with clients to optimize their email marketing programs by leveraging custom consulting and innovative AI solutions. Stephanie is based in New Jersey.

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