Email Marketing

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: The Top 6 Reasons for Email Unsubscribes

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Most marketers agree that email list growth is a top priority for their brand.  

Much time, planning, and development goes into creating an acquisition strategy that effectively attracts prospective subscribers.  

As marketers work to increase their subscriber base, they should be ask themselves one question: Are my acquisition efforts going to waste?  

Keeping your existing subscribers happy is equally as important as list growth, so it’s crucial to avoid the email marketing pitfalls that can lead to unsubscribes.  

What are email unsubscribes?

The unsubscribe rate is an often misunderstood metric. Even seasoned marketers may not know that unsubscribes are far preferable to other, more damaging forms of engagement, like spam complaints.  

Let’s review the good, the bad, and the ugly on email unsubscribes.  

The good: Unsubscribes are not harmful to your email program’s reputation with mailbox providers. In the world of email engagement metrics, unsubscribes are considered neutral, meaning they won’t harm your email deliverability—your ability to reach subscribers’ inboxes instead of being filtered to their spam folders.

Spam complaints on the other hand can devastate a sender’s deliverability and reputation. Complaints are recorded and taken seriously by mailbox providers. Often, a high spam complaint rate can cause your emails to land in the junk folder. In short, the email ecosystem judges spam complaints harshly, but won’t hold unsubscribes against you.  

The bad: While mailbox providers don’t judge unsubscribe rates, marketers sure doand with good reason. Though unsubscribes are “healthier” than spam complaints, marketers know that opt-outs decrease list size. A high unsubscribe rate can decrease opportunities for conversions, negatively impacting your brand’s ROI. Spam complaints and unsubscribes are alike in one way: both actions remove a subscriber from your list.   

The ugly: If senders fail to understand the reasons why subscribers opt out or don’t proactively work to improve their email program, senders may face serious long-term implications such as low engagement, subscriber dissatisfaction with the brand, and gradually diminishing ROI from the email channel.  

Top six reasons subscribers choose to opt out

Now that we understand how unsubscribing fits into the email ecosystem and how unsubscribes can have a major impact on your business, let’s dive into the top six reasons subscribers choose to opt out (and how you can avoid them).  

Reason #1: They never meant to opt in in the first place

Solution: Use a confirmed opt-in (COI) registration method and avoid pre-checked boxes.  

Too often, brands fail to attain appropriate consent from their subscribers. From companies that purchase email lists or scrape the internet for list acquisition, to more innocuous circumstances like post-purchase communications, many consumers find themselves receiving emails they didn’t expect or didn’t ask for. Unsolicited marketing messages are a key driver of unsubscribes.  

Marketers should obtain express consent from their subscribers before they’re eligible to receive email communications. One of the most effective ways to achieve this level of consent is through a confirmed opt-in (COI) registration method.

COI is an email registration method in which a subscriber takes a single action, such as selecting a checkbox, to subscribe to your email. The subscriber is then sent a confirmation email, which requires them to verify their subscription. If the subscriber fails to verify, they are not added to your active list. Period. Many marketers (particularly in the United States) are wary of the extra step required for COI, and fear subscribers simply won’t confirm consent. However, COI programs yield higher engagement rates than single opt-in (SOI) programs and are (unsurprisingly) much healthier than purchased lists.  

In other cases, subscribers may have intentionally made a purchase, but fail to notice a pre-checked box enrolling their email address to receive promotional emails. As a result, subscribers become frustrated and opt out. Pre-checked boxes of any kind are against best practices and will not impress your new customers.  

Reason #2: You’re sending too much mail

Solution: Set frequency expectations and allow subscribers to adjust to their preferences.  

‘Too much email’ is cited as a major reason for unsubscribing in almost every survey or study you’ll find on this topic. Subscribers who express a genuine interest in your marketing communications can become easily annoyed by programs that bombard their mailboxes with promotions. If subscribers perceive your email frequency as intrusive or overwhelming, do not be surprised if they opt out.  

Frequency expectations should be set as soon as a subscriber opts in. Best-in-class email programs leverage welcome emails to thank the subscriber for joining, reiterate value, and let your subscribers know how often they’ll hear from the brand.  

Additionally, allow subscribers to choose their desired frequency via your preference center. Providing frequency controls both endears your brand to subscribers and reduces unsubscribes.  

Reason #3: Your email’s images don’t render correctly

Solution: Render test using tools like Validity Everest before deployment. 

Consider how disappointing it would be to pique subscriber interest with an eye-catching subject line, only for them to open and find the email indecipherable. If your images fail to render appropriately or if the email isn’t responsive, subscribers are unlikely to engage. If rendering issues become a pattern, subscribers will simply opt out.  

It’s critical to test how your emails render across top mail clients and devices. Using a tool like Everest’s Design and Content module allows brands to rest assured that their subscribers can view messages with ease and clarity. 

In addition to basic rendering, it’s simply not acceptable for your email campaigns to fail accessibility standards in 2023. Everest can help your team visualize how email renders for subscribers with color deficiencies and ensure your links and images have descriptive alt text. It’s also wise to ensure text and backgrounds are of sufficient color contrast and that calls to action (CTAs) are large enough to be easily clicked.  

Reason #4: Your email program has lost relevancy

Solution: Personalize your campaigns with zero-party data. 

Subscribers may opt in to your email program to receive a specific promotion, coupon, or deal. Once they’ve been entered into your regular email stream, sending batch-and-blast email campaigns won’t be sufficient to maintain relevancy for each and every subscriber. More and more, subscribers expect brands to treat them as individuals, so sending promotions that don’t meet your customer’s unique needs can result in unsubscribes.  

Personalization has a major positive impact on campaign relevancy. For example, allowing subscribers to choose their favorite color, scent, ingredient, etc., and incorporating these preferences into marketing communications helps to boost positive email engagement (like clicks) and elevate the relationship between your brand and subscribers.  

Reason #5: Your emails have spammy characteristic

Solution: Maintain consistent branding and avoid spam-like elements.  

Recognizable Friendly-From names, clear and consistent branding, and professional subject lines are just a few elements that work together to legitimize your emails in the eyes of your subscribers (and mailbox providers). Senders that vary Friendly-From names often, brand inconsistently, or use other spammy characteristics like all caps subject lines or alternative subject line fonts may appear spammy to your subscriber base. What some marketers may believe to be attention-grabbing may actually come off across as spam.  

Subscribers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential risks of scam or spam emails as it pertains to their data privacy and security, and are likely to opt out of emails that they deem to be risky. Maintaining consistency and following appropriate best practices in terms of content and brand recognition will increase the trustworthiness of your email communications and reduce unsubscribes.  

Reason #6: Subscribers fail to find value in your email program

Solution: Send non-promotional campaigns to maintain subscriber interest and build brand trust. 

Nobody wants to be “that person” who only reaches out when they need something. Often, marketers are faced with significant KPIs goals and send repetitive, salesfocused promotional campaigns to achieve ROI targets. If your brand’s only mission is to make a sale, subscribers will quickly lose interest and fail to find value in your email program. Subscribers want to feel a connection with the brands they subscribe to. If you’re treating your subscribers as mere dollar signs, expect unsubscribes.  

Newsletters, milestone emails, and highlighting your company’s ethos or charitable partnerships through email communications can help subscribers feel a true bond with your brand. Between sales pitches, consider sending value-based messaging to maintain visibility in crowded mailboxes.  

Find the “why” behind the unsubscribe

Every marketing program will see some level of unsubscribes, and it’s important to understand why subscribers are choosing to end their relationship with your brand. Asking for feedback on the optout landing page is a great way to better understand the needs of your audience and work toward a more effective email strategy.  

How effective are your sending skills? Are you making simple mistakes that could be driving your subscribers out the door? Put your sending skills to the test and find out how you can improve by taking our quick Email Marketing IQ Quiz!