Let Go Gracefully: Unsubscribe Best Practices and Two Big Reasons to Use Them

Unsubscribes. The dreaded rejection by someone who was once a willing recipient of your email marketing. Ouch.

Unsubscribes are often viewed as a necessary evil in the life of every email marketer, with emphasis on the word “necessary.” We not only offer unsubscribe links because people want them. We do so because the law requires them!

Rather than treat the unsubscribe like a freeloading, undesirable distant cousin we’d rather ignore, however, email marketers are better off making the most of the situation to be subscriber-centric and keep people happy by following best practices.

If you search for examples of unsubscribe worst practices, you’ll find plenty. I wish I could tell you all the worst examples come from small mom-and-pop operations that don’t know any better, but I can’t. Plenty of unsubscribe sins are committed by big, well-known brands that really should know better.

Two Big Reasons to Be Unsubscribe-able
The unsubscribe is required by law, yes, but beyond that, we suggest knowing and implementing unsubscribe best practices for two very important reasons:

  1. When people can’t easily unsubscribe, they are more likely to simply report your email as spam which negatively impacts your email deliverability rate. And without the highest possible email delivery, you can’t have the highest possible ROI.
  2. When people opt out, you want to leave them with good feelings about your brand. They might be unsubscribing now, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose them as a customer forever…unless you annoy them.

With those two reasons in mind, consider the following unsubscribe best practices and how well you are—or aren’t—adhering to them.

Make It Overtly Obvious
Make the unsubscribe obvious. This best practice probably seems obvious, yet you’d be surprised how many companies bury the unsubscribe link in an email. Look in your own inbox. Open a few random emails from companies and see.

How does it get hidden? It can be included in a list of links making it hard to spot among the clutter. It can be overshadowed by graphics or in teeny tiny font that’s hard too find. The unsubscribe link should appear at the bottom, where people expect to find it, without any clutter hiding it and big enough to be found a.s.a.p. when someone wants it.

Even when found in plain sight, sometimes it’s in obscure language, so it doesn’t look like an unsubscribe and is overlooked as a result. Words like “manage,” “delete” and “edit” aren’t clear enough. State it plainly, using words like “unsubscribe from these emails” or better yet, “stop getting these emails.” Don’t make people guess. They likely won’t. They’ll opt for the spam button instead.

Make It Easy as Can Be
Once it’s easy to find, make it easy to do. Are you making people log in to unsubscribe, really? It happens! Don’t ask for captchas, either. When they click the unsubscribe link, send them directly to that page, not to a page with a lot of other options. Or make them confirm their email address for you.

Your best practice is a one-click unsubscribe. That is all. They click a link, you take them to a page, they click on a button…done!

Give Them Another Chance
Now, this doesn’t mean you’ve lost them forever. If you have a preference center, direct them there to change the options. It could be they still want to hear from you, just not as often or with different content. This is after letting them unsubscribing easily, however.

If you don’t, you can let them know you are sorry to see them go and give them a chance to change their mind with the click of another button to resubscribe. You can follow up with an email confirming the unsubscribe and thanking them for being a subscriber. In that email, give them a resubscribe link. Whichever route you choose, remember that this is your last chance to leave them with good feelings about your company and word your message accordingly, in a friendly, helpful way. Avoid being apologetic or groveling. I’ve seen this in an unsubscribe confirmation. It’s not pretty.

Leave Them With a Loving Feeling
An unsubscribe doesn’t have to hurt. It can be a pleasant, even humorous, experience. My favorite unsubscribe experience had me laughing out loud: After clicking on the unsubscribe link, I was taken to a webpage and asked, “Are you sure?” To answer yes to that question didn’t mean clicking on a “yes” button. Rather the words on the button were “I’m out of here.” That was funny enough, but then a popup box appeared asking, “For the love of god, are you sure??” I laughed out loud at that. I still unsubscribed, but I enjoyed the experience. They made me go through two clicks for the unsubscribe, but I didn’t mind because it was playful and unusual.

You don’t have to be a comedian to be good at unsubscribes. I share this story because it illustrates how to leave them with warm fuzzies for your brand. Just because they don’t want your emails doesn’t mean they’re boycotting your brand altogether. And wouldn’t you rather leave them smiling?

Reduce the Urge to Unsubscribe
Unsubscribe best practices are smart marketing, but even smarter marketing is having fewer unsubscribes. You can decrease the number of unsubscribes you get by proactively managing and meeting expectations:

  • Manage expectations by being clear from the very beginning what types of emails you will send and how often.
  • Send a welcome email to reiterate these expectations.
  • Deliver relevant, targeted and timely email messages that meet expectations.
  • If it’s within your capabilities, offer a preference center on your website to give recipients more control over the content and timing of your emails.

Unsubscribes might not be fun for you as the email marketer, but you can lessen the pain for both you and the subscriber by following best practices and making the most of every situation.

Marco Marini
ClickMail Marketing

2 thoughts on “Let Go Gracefully: Unsubscribe Best Practices and Two Big Reasons to Use Them

  1. Good article. I went thru unsub-hell with travel weekly. Took several calls and emails and MONTHS to get off their lists. They promised many times, but never followed through. I’ll never look at their site again.

  2. Great post, Marco! It’s so important to remember that unsubscribes are often healthy for your list (certainly more healthy than spam complaints!)

    We have a post on this topic on our blog as well going through the reasons you shouldn’t fear the unsubscribe and some precautions you can take to make sure you aren’t driving people to unsubscribe: https://blog.ividence.com/en/archives/why-you-shouldnt-fear-the-unsubscribe-if-you-maintain-the-health-of-your-list

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