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Editorial

7 Burning Questions About Email Unsubscribes

8 minute read
Chad S. White avatar
Seven questions about email unsubscribes that are at the heart of devising wise practices to protect your list and your reputation.

Brands work hard to build their email marketing lists, so they understandably want to minimize unsubscribes. However, lingering misconceptions about unsubscribes lead some brands to put the wrong tactics in place. In their efforts to reduce unsubscribes, some brands end up increasing list churn or hurting their deliverability, or both.

Here are seven questions that you or your boss might have about unsubscribes that are at the heart of devising wise practices that protect your list and your reputation.

1. If I make my unsubscribe link too prominent, am I encouraging people to opt out?

Visible unsubscribe links generally have the opposite effect. Having an easy-to-find unsubscribe link gives people more confidence to stay subscribed, because they know you’re going to make it easy for them to opt out later if they want to. You’re essentially acknowledging that the subscriber is in control, which gives them the power to move forward confidently in their relationship with you.

Thankfully, this common email marketing mistake is easy to fix. Just separate your unsubscribe link from any administrative text blocks in your footer, use a font size of at least 14pt and consider bolding, and ensure that the link uses the keyword “unsubscribe.”

Brands have the most anxiety about making their unsubscribe link too prominent when it involves putting a second unsubscribe link above the fold in their preheader or header. However, this can be an especially valuable tactic for welcome emails and reengagement and re-permission emails, all of which arrive at times when subscribers are more likely to opt out. An unsubscribe is the opt-out method you want your subscribers to use, as I explain in a moment.

2. Do unsubscribes hurt my email deliverability?

No. While unsubscribes reduce your list size, your sender reputation is unaffected by them. This stands in contrast to the other three ways that subscribers can opt out:

  • Clicking the spam complaint button. This immediately opts the subscriber out from receiving future emails from you, plus it potentially damages your sender reputation. When a brand’s spam complaint rate rises above 0.1%, they may start to experience junking or blocking.
  • Ignoring your emails. When a subscriber doesn’t open or click any of your emails for a long time, their lack of engagement can hurt your sender reputation at the mailbox providers like Gmail that demand positive engagement as well as a lack of negative engagement (such as spam complaints). This disengagement can also be a sign that your subscriber has abandoned their email account, which increases the risk because mailbox providers convert some of them into recycled spam traps. Sending email to even a few spam traps can seriously harm your sender reputation. For both of those reasons, it’s wise to suppress emails to long-term inactives.
  • Deactivating their email address. In a world of Hide My Email and other relay and temporary email addresses, subscribers can also opt out by deactivating their address. Doing this makes any email sent to it hard bounce, and all reputable email service providers immediately suppress all addresses that hard bounces. When a brand’s hard bounce rate exceeds 2% on a monthly basis, they may start to experience deliverability issues.

When you compare unsubscribing to those other opt-out methods, it’s clearly the path you want subscribers to choose when they no longer want your emails.

Related Article: 7 Factors That Determine Email Deliverability

3. What about native unsubscribe links?

Your sender reputation also isn’t harmed when a subscriber opts out by using the native unsubscribe links that are provided by Gmail, Yahoo, and other mailbox providers. Typically positioned next to your sender name when an email is being read, these links are powered by list-unsubscribe functionality that all reputable email service providers enable. An unsubscribe initiated through one of these links functions exactly as an unsubscribe that’s processed through your unsubscribe page.

For people who may not trust the unsubscribe link in your email, native unsubscribe links provide a sender-friendly alternative to reporting the email as spam. That said, these mailbox-provided links do circumvent your unsubscribe page, which means you miss out on the opportunity to provide those subscribers with alternatives to opting out. So, the better your unsubscribe page or preference center is at retaining subscribers, the more you want your subscribers to be able to easily find your unsubscribe link and use it.

4. How can I retain more subscribers when they visit my unsubscribe page?

In addition to succinctly reminding them of what they’d be missing by opting out, getting subscribers to stay is all about providing alternatives. If you don’t provide any, then very little will stop them from unsubscribing.

For example, if you provide a one-click unsubscribe, then you’ll lose 100% of the people who click your “unsubscribe” button. But even providing the option to “Stay subscribed” on your unsubscribe page can retain some subscribers.

However, to retain a high number of would-be unsubscribers, you’ll need to provide options that address the reasons that drove them to click unsubscribe in the first place. Invariably, the two most common reasons are frequency objections (“I receive too many emails from you”) and content objections (“Your emails aren’t relevant to me”). The best ways to address those concerns is to offer contact frequency preferences and content preferences.

For example, in terms of contact frequency preferences, if you typically send four emails a week, providing an option to receive only one email a week can be highly effective at retaining an unhappy subscriber. In terms of content preferences, can you provide content options by line of business, product category, topic, location or other factors? Even just a few broad stroke content options can make your emails considerably more relevant to a subscriber.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: B2B Marketers: Make Your Email Newsletter a Thing

5. What about offering a 'Snooze' option?

The option to pause emails started as a way to prevent subscribers who were done with their holiday shopping from unsubscribing due to high holiday email volumes. Then it was offered empathetically as a way, for instance, to let subscribers who had lost their mothers to opt out of Mother’s Day emails. But the use of the snooze continues to grow, said Jeannine Pine, senior director of agency services at Oracle Marketing Consulting.

“We’ve tested the snooze option with a number of our clients and we’re typically able to decrease unsubscribes by 82%,” she said. “That level of success has caused some of our clients who implemented them solely for the holiday season to decide to make it a year-round option on their unsubscribe page or in their preference center.”

If you decide to add this option, a snooze of one month is fairly standard for brands with a high email frequency. Lower frequency programs generally offer a snooze of two or three months.

6. How many clicks should it take to unsubscribe?

As I mentioned earlier, having a one-click unsubscribe process just doesn’t make sense for the majority of brands. But it’s equally senseless to require subscribers to click more than twice to opt out. In my book, "Email Marketing Rules," I call this the “2-Click Unsubscribe Rule.”

Requiring one click in the email and just one on the unsubscribe page strikes the right balance between providing an efficient opt-out process and providing choices to potentially address that subscriber’s dissatisfaction — with exercising those choices understandably requiring additional clicks. But every click beyond two to unsubscribe makes the ruthless efficiency of the one-click report spam button look more appealing.

7. What should I pay attention to when testing my unsubscribe process?

Hopefully, I’ve given you some ideas of changes you’d like to test. If your updates are an improvement, then you should see a 

  • Decrease in spam complaint rates. A healthy unsubscribe revamp should encourage more subscribers to unsubscribe instead.
  • Increase in retention rates. If you update your unsubscribe page or preference center, then look to increase the percentage of your subscribers who click the unsubscribe link and then do something other than opting out. Also consider looking at your subscribers’ average time on list, which you want to see increase.

Keep in mind that an unsubscribe is usually not the end of your relationship with your customer or prospect. It’s just a bump in the road. And you want that bump to be as small as possible so they’ll carry a positive brand impression into their interactions with you on social media, on your website, in your physical locations, and wherever else you interact with them.

In fact, for anyone who does unsubscribe, you should use your unsubscribe confirmation page to try to get them to opt-over to other channels such as social or SMS so you keep the line of communication open. However, they won’t consider doing that if you’ve made the unsubscribe process difficult or awkward or have been unappreciative of the attention they’ve already given you by being a subscriber until now. Put another way, you spoil much more than an email relationship by ending it on a sour note. You sour a customer relationship. Craft your unsubscribe process so it avoids doing that.

About the author

Chad S. White

Chad S. White is the author of Email Marketing Rules and Head of Research for Oracle Marketing Consulting, a global full-service digital marketing agency inside of Oracle.