Button Debate: Unsubscribe vs. This is Spam

Stephanie Miller, email marketing expert
By Stephanie Miller
VP, Global Market Development

Many marketers worry that consumers utilize the “this is spam” button indiscriminately – even gleefully – without appreciating the severe negative impact that a high complaint rate has on a sender’s reputation and deliverability. Our Third Annual Holiday Survey offers some consolation – consumers seem to want to use the unsubscribe button more than they use the spam button.

According to our survey, consumers seem to trust the unsubscribe function, and to consider carefully the impact of a complaint (clicking the “this is spam” button). One third (33%) report that they are most likely to use the unsubscribe button first, and 12% say they use the complaint button “as the last resort” after trying other tactics. While half (57%) only use the unsubscribe button if they “know the company or brand” sending the email, 23% say it’s not important to know the sender when using the unsubscribe button.

Two thirds (67%) of subscribers use the unsubscribe button frequently, while only 14% say they use the “this is spam” button all the time. One quarter (24%) of respondents say they “never” used the complaint button. .

We think that’s a pretty nice endorsement of the unsubscribe button. Given that level of trust, consider the impact of having an unsubscribe process fail (your subscriber is likely to immediately click This is Spam) or the risk in sending additional messages after the unsubscribe is confirmed. It’s not illegal to do so – CAN-SPAM still gives us 10 days. But to a subscriber, one more email after the unsubscribe is confirmed is one too many, and may drive complaints.

Interestingly, more than half (54%) go to the trouble of setting up a filter to keep the sender out of their inbox That isn’t trivial. Receiving too much marketing email that is of low or no value has trained consumers to take these steps. Perception is reality. Consumers define “spam” as anything they don’t find interesting. That includes permission email from companies they do business with.

If this was postal mail, we wouldn’t care – there is no penalty (other than low response) for sending irrelevant or poorly targeted direct mail. In email, however, your sender reputation is based on subscriber satisfaction levels. The ISPs and other receivers base most of their decision to block your email on subscriber complaints – readers who click the “this is spam” button. Bottom line: Any email that is not interesting (even if it’s permission email) has a high risk of being reported as spam.

Be sure to offer a visible alternate to the spam button. It’s not personal (or an indictment of your brand) if a subscriber no longer wants to receive your email. Lives change, careers evolve. Make your unsubscribe link prominent and easy to find – and be sure that it works! Never require a password or log-in to unsubscribe from email services.

Better – make your email interesting and relevant! Subscribers in our survey report that the only factor growing in importance this year for why they open one email over another is “prior value” – they has already received an email from you that was relevant. In fact, prior value with email falls just behind brand name in importance, and is more than twice as important as a discount offer.

Check out the full Research Brief here. Also, sign up for our free webinar “The Email ROI Commandment: Honor Thy Subscribers” where I will discuss these findings in more detail, alongside a panel of top-tier email marketers.

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