Does Your Unsubscribe Process Follow These 5 Best Practices?

The news last week that Yesmail was fined a little over $50,000 for violating the CAN-SPAM opt-out provision reminded us that all too often, it’s too hard to unsubscribe from promotional email programs. Certainly the letter of the law is important, but it’s the spirit of making your unsubscribe process easy to find and follow that protects your brand, improves customer satisfaction and reduces ISP complaints which can lead to low deliverability.

When is the last time you actually tested your unsubscribe process? I heard from three clients this week some variation of, “I think Steve in IT checks that…” Like all programming code, unsubscribe processes can break, and apparently the FTC really is watching. But it’s a best practice for another reason too: your customers will measure your brand integrity in part by how easy you make it to stop email that is no longer wanted.

Unsubscribe is not the enemy. In fact, subscribers who bother to unsubscribe are doing you a favor – letting you know that they prefer something different, have a life or career change which affects their interest level or just switched to a new email account. Annoy customers who want to do the right thing by you and you’ll drive them into the arms of the “this is spam” button – which can quickly destroy your sender reputation and depress inbox deliverability.

We sign up and unsubscribe from a lot of email programs here at Return Path, and unfortunately, we find that many marketers haven’t been checking, or just plain don’t care how hard it is to get off their marketing files. Consider these hurdles and opportunities as your check your program and improve where necessary.

  1. Make it a direct link. Don’t require a password or log in to unsubscribe. Avoid forcing the subscriber to remember what email address was used to sign up.
  2. Allow the reply email. Even if you state that you don’t check the email replyto: address, some subscribers will reply. Be sure to check that address – and take a lesson from Yesmail that you may be held responsible for requests sent to you in any form.
  3. Make it fast. While having a variety of choices is an important best practice, be sure to also offer a universal opt-out option. Not doing so can lead to confusion around future email that technically is different but is not distinguishable to the subscriber. Our consumer data strongly suggests that people who think the unsubscribe function didn’t work will use the spam button instead.
  4. Put it in the footer. And then some. We are constantly surprised at how often we have to hunt to find an opt-out link. Follow industry conventions here – use the words and placements that the audience is most familiar with. Ideally you should have unsubscribe links in a number of prominent locations. Hiding it doesn’t keep good customers on your list – it leads to frustrated complainers. In practice, you want the unsubscribe link to be just as easy to find as the “this is spam” button.
  5. Be straight with subscribers. Fancy marketing language on the unsubscribe page doesn’t work. No, I think I can live without getting your sale notices, thank you. Keep it simple and make the link easy to find. Put alternate offers on the side or under the main unsubscribe link, or on the confirmation page.

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