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Time to say goodbye: the unsubscribe process

January 30, 2013

The unsubscribe process is the part of marketing we least want to face. We all like to see our mailing lists growing, and we don’t want to see people leave. But in fact, it’s far better if people tell you they don’t want to hear from you than if they stay on the list unengaged. Unengaged subscribers clutter up your database; they don’t buy, and, if you have too many of them, you harm your reputation with ISPs and increase the likelihood of your emails ending up in spam.

If someone has decided to leave, the best thing you can do is to welcome their decision, make breaking up easy, and part on good terms. That means creating a simple and straightforward unsubscribe process that shows you respect people’s time and leaves them with a positive impression of your brand. 
Here, you’ll find quick reminders of the basics, answers to some of the questions we get asked, and ideas for tweaks that will help you get the most out of your unsubscribe process.

Use a two-click process

When people decide they don’t want to spend any more time with you, they mean it. Make the process take any longer than absolutely necessary, and you quickly annoy those trying to unsubscribe – who might well until then have had no gripe against you.

The best option is a simple link that takes people to an ‘unsubscribe’ page. This should show their email address already filled in and give a tick box to confirm the unsubscribe.

There are two reasons for pre-populating the email address field. The first is simple: to make it easier. The second is that people won’t always know which email address they – or a colleague - gave for the original sign-up.

Don’t use ‘mailto’

The use of the ‘mailto’ tag causes problems with both the one-click instant unsubscribe approach and the still-popular option of sending an email with ‘unsubscribe’ in the title. This is because the recipient’s default ‘send from’ address might be different from the recipient address on your system – they may have several email addresses, or be receiving emails originally signed up for by a colleague. The result is that people get people stuck in a loop and can’t unsubscribe.

Make the unsubscribe link and process obvious

Don’t bury the link in a list of other links, or put it in a tiny font size. Use the word ‘unsubscribe’ throughout the process. Words such as ‘manage’ ‘edit’, and ‘delete’ can confuse and irritate people.  
Some organisations are finding it works well to put the unsubscribe link at the top of the email, on the basis it gives people more confidence and encourages them to read further. If you try this, it’s a good idea to keep the link at the bottom too, as this is where most readers will expect to find it.

Don’t make people jump through hoops

If your process requires people to enter a password, or use captcha, you can guarantee you are annoying 99.9% of those who try to unsubscribe. Remember, all people want to do is get out – and get out fast. 

Should you ask why?

It’s fine to ask why people are unsubscribing. Just make sure your question is optional, comes after you have confirmed the unsubscribe, and keeps things simple. An example might be:

If you can spare us another click, please tell us why you have unsubscribed:

  • Info not of value to me
  • You send too many emails
  • I’ve just had enough
  • Other

Should you try to win people back during the process?

We’ve seen a number of examples of creative approaches that try to persuade people to stay. No doubt some of these work – but in doing so, they risk cluttering the database with subscribers who are never going to buy. 
What is definitely worth doing is to try to weed out those subscribers who might still be of value. Techniques for doing this include:
a) Giving people options
Some subscribers might be happy to continue to hear from you, just less often. And if you have different types of content, let people know what the choices are – they won’t remember the options they saw at sign-up time.  
b) Showing any current special offers. 
If people have decided to unsubscribe, they may not have been reading your emails for a while and might have missed recent offers. 
c) Asking people if they would like you to contact them again, after they’ve had a break. 
This can be useful where people haven’t ruled out a purchase but aren’t in a position to buy right now. Let people choose the time period – maybe one month, three months, or six months.

A touch of humour can help

Whatever you try, it’s important the information comes after you have allowed people to unsubscribe.


It’s well worth creating a branded page for your unsubscribe confirmation, rather than simply using the default page provided by your software. This way, people know they are in the right place - and they see you care about the details. 
If you need further advice on setting up an unsubscribe process that works for your brand, we’re here to help. Please call us on 0161 817 292 or email [email protected]

How do you reengage email subscribers?

Brand consistency is the future

Posted by Joel Jarman

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