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Is it easy to unsubscribe?

January 11, 2008

Since the introduction of the EU Directive on email marketing in December 2003, an unsubscribe is compulsory now on most email campaigns and good practice to include on all email communications. 

That said, have you noticed how many emails are sent with no unsubscribe at all, sometimes from high profile companies? But for those of us who pride ourselves on including an unsubscribe on all our email communications, are we really offering an effective means of unsubscribing for our recipients? 

We may diligently include an unsubscribe at the foot of each email, but we could be frustrating our readership if the unsubscribe doesn’t work properly and they continue to receive our emails. So how does this happen? 

A common method of unsubscribing is to encourage recipients to reply with ‘remove’ in the subject line. Another method is to provide a short web form where you type in your email address and click submit. But there is a fundamental flaw in both of these (fairly standard) methods. 

The problem stems mainly when emailing business addresses and there are two key issues:
1. Emailing people who have two or more email addresses
So for example, you have [email protected] on your database list, but Fred’s main email address (the one that he always uses and the default reply from his emails) is [email protected] Every time he replies from that address or fills in the form with his email address, the unsubscribe will fail to work because you have no match in your list for ‘fred.smith’ only ‘fsmith’. 

2. Your contact has left the company
Often when someone leaves a company, their successor will receive their emails. In this case, Fred will be unable to unsubscribe from your list because he isn’t on it in the first place; the person subscribed is his ex colleague who is subscribed as [email protected]

To add in another complication, imagine the company Fred works for is taken over by XYZ Limited and all emails become e.g. [email protected] So your email to [email protected] is now being unsubscribed by [email protected] Even if you were checking the unsubscribes manually, it would be very difficult to work out how to stop the emails from going to Fred. 

The solution – pre-population 

The simple solution is to pre-populate the unsubscribe with the email address on your list. This can be set up as an email with the subscribed email address pre-filled. So for example:
‘To unsubscribe to this newsletter please reply with ‘remove [email protected]’ in your subject line. Alternatively if you are using a web form it would need to pre-populate with the recipient’s name. (See below)


Even with your best efforts to include an unsubscribe, if you keep emailing someone long after they have asked to leave your list, they will get very frustrated indeed. Repeated failure to unsubscribe someone could be reported to the information commissioner and land you in hot water. Furthermore it serves to alienate, and perhaps lose, a potential customer.
By simply including the email address you have subscribed, you can ensure that the unsubscribe process is smooth, swift and effective.

If you would like further information, please email [email protected] or call 0161 817 2929

Posted by Simon Hill

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