18 Ways to Improve Your Unsubscribe Process

No marketer likes it when subscribers opt-out of their email communications. But it’s bound to happen. If a subscriber is truly done engaging with your brand via email, you need to make it easy. However, you also want to ensure your unsubscribe process is working for you.

1. Be compliant with CAN-SPAM. Let’s start off with the obvious. Any email unsubscribe process needs to be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Compliance means providing instructions on how to unsubscribe from your brand that are easy to understand. This could include a return email address or ideally, an internet-based way (like an unsubscribe link) to allow people to easily communicate their preferences to you. In addition, you must include the option to stop ALL commercial (i.e., both marketing and promotional) messages from your brand. You also can’t require individuals to login in order to opt-out of your email messages.

2. Don’t bury the unsubscribe. While no one wants subscribers to opt-out of their email program, the alternative (spam complaints) is much worse. Don’t try to hide your unsubscribe link in a long paragraph of terms and conditions. Subscribers are trained to look in the footer for a way to opt-out but don’t make them search for the link or instructions to stop your marketing messages.

3. Use the word “unsubscribe”. Using the word “unsubscribe” in the footer allows subscribers to easily skim your footer to find what they are looking for. This doesn’t mean you have to remove links or wording associated with “updating email preferences” or “manage my preference.” Including links for both updating preferences and unsubscribing provide the opportunity for subscribers to choose how they engage with your brand. The example from Shutterfly below includes terms and conditions in the footer, but the “unsubscribe” and “my preferences” links are separate from this text and easy to find when skimming the content.


4. Don’t automatically unsubscribe subscribers. Obviously, you don’t want to make unsubscribing painful for your audience, but you also don’t want to miss a potential opportunity to engage with these individuals in a different way. When subscribers can automatically unsubscribe with one click, you have immediately lost the opportunity to present different options for communicating with these individuals. Drive subscribers to an unsubscribe page where they can easily opt-out of your email program, but are also presented with additional options for engaging and the benefits of receiving your emails.

5. Fight complaints with an unsubscribe link at the top. If your program generates complaints (“this is spam”) with mailbox providers include an unsubscribe link at the top of the email (in addition to the footer). You don’t have to aggressively highlight an unsubscribe link at the top of the email, but by presenting it in the pre-header, you make it easy for those subscribers who don’t want your messages to request to opt-out instead of hitting “this is spam.”  This email from Colorado Technical University includes simple text and a button to opt-out of emails at the top of the email in the pre-header area.


6. Watch your email frequency. While optimal frequency varies from brand to brand, sending too many emails can cause your subscribers to opt out of your email program. Test frequency options for a variety of key subscriber segments and determine the total number of messages a specific subscriber group will receive in a given time period. Also, when looking at frequency, pay close attention to your complaint rates. Frequency and complaints are highly correlated and can determine your business rules around your ideal email frequency.

7. Present an “email digest” format. According to the 2013 BlueHornet Consumer View of Email Report, 47% of respondents said if presented with the option to “opt-down” during the unsubscribe process, they would consider it. For high-frequency email programs (like daily newsletters), provide subscribers with the option to receive a digest version  on your unsubscribe page so you can provide “the best of” or a “weekly highlight” version and keep subscribers on your file. “The daily sip” unsubscribe page from Epicurious below presents a very visible option for a “weekly recap” email before the unsubscribe options are (very clearly) presented.


8. Provide frequency options. While a digest version of an email doesn’t make sense for every sender, providing frequency options on the unsubscribe page is another way to put subscribers in control. Frequency options allow you to keep some email addresses on file because they simply want less email, not no email at all. This Sephora unsubscribe page provides subscribers the ability to receive all Sephora emails or limit the number of emails to weekly or monthly.


9. Allow subscribers to pause (aka “snooze”) their emails. Subscribers want to stop receiving emails for a variety of reasons. The more choices you can provide to your subscribers, the more likely you are to address these various needs. By providing subscribers the ability to pause emails from your brand, you keep the subscriber in your database, but provide the ability to “take a break.” This can be especially relevant for brands or industries that have a long sales cycle or when the time between purchases is likely to be longer (think travel brands). The unsubscribe page from Norwegian Cruise Lines allows subscribers to “snooze” their emails for up to 90 days (we recommend no longer than 6 months to prevent list hygiene issues).


10. Include an “unsubscribe from all” option. If you have several publications, providing your subscribers an “unsubscribe from all” option simplifies the unsubscribe process. While requiring subscribers to uncheck every subscription type is compliant with CAN-SPAM, it is not the best experience for your subscribers. Potentially frustrated subscribers may abandon the unsubscribe process completely and choose the easy one-step option: hitting the “this is spam” button. This example from Martha Stewart provides not one, but two options to opt-out of all messages by simply checking the “unsubscribe all” box at the top and bottom of the page.


11. Provide the ability to choose other email message streams. If you send a variety of newsletters or have different email segments that receive different content, provide subscribers with the opportunity to choose other types of emails to receive from your brand. As we can see in the Real Simple example below, subscribers are presented with a variety of other email content (and the ability to opt-in to all of the newsletters). A subscriber may no longer be interested in the original content they signed up for, or you may have new email streams not available when they originally opted-in that are now relevant to them.


12. Include subscription details. If your subscribers are open to receiving different emails, provide them with enough details to help them easily decide if this email stream is going to be interesting to them. In the Real Simple example above, subscribers are not only presented with additional emails, but can quickly see the frequency of the email as well as read a short description.

13. Allow subscribers to update their email address. Some subscribers may actually be looking to unsubscribe from your emails because they are switching emails or have created a new email account. Don’t miss the opportunity to let subscribers tell you they have a new email address. On this Staples email preference page, subscribers are presented with their existing email address and are able to simply enter their new email address twice to update their email address. Having a subscriber enter the email twice helps ensure only good email addresses are added to your database.



14. Promote your social media properties. Just because an individual doesn’t want to receive email from your brand, doesn’t mean they aren’t open to engaging with your brand via other channels. Include links to your social media properties on your unsubscribe page so these individuals can easily choose how they want to engage with your brand. The PureWow unsubscribe page states “now, how ’bout a second chance. follow us” and includes links to their Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter pages.


15. Integrate Mobile. Does your company utilize SMS for updates or reminders? Or can subscribers stay connected to your brand by downloading your mobile app? Use this opportunity to spread the word about staying connected via mobile to individuals that no longer want to receive email from you. In addition, make sure your unsubscribe page is, at a minimum, mobile friendly. With more people opening email on their mobile devices, you need to ensure your unsubscribe page can be used by someone on their phone so they don’t just end up marking your email as spam.

16. Work to Make it So Subscribers Are Less Likely to Unsubscribe in the First Place. While sending more relevant email is no small task, doing so will not only decrease your unsubscribe rate, but also increase positive email engagement with higher open, click and conversion rates. Use triggered messaging as well as available data points (opens, clicks, web browsing, location, preference centers, etc.) to work to provide more relevant content.

17. Include a Survey. Despite all of the above tactics, you will still have subscribers opting out of your email program. When they do, provide them the opportunity to give feedback on your email program and use these insights to refine and improve your email program and keep more of your hard-earned subscribers on your list and begging for more. This survey from Lands’ End provides the ability for subscribers to select multiple options from a list or provide feedback in a text box.


18. Provide the opportunity to resubscribe. We all make mistakes. By including a link to resubscribe, you are making it easy for your subscribers to correct any potential mistakes when it comes to the unsubscribe process. After unsubscribing, JustFab provides users the option opt-in again.


What else would you include in this list?

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