Step Away from the Spam Button: The Unsubscribe Opportunity

Here at Return Path, we’re great advocates of transparency and believe that trying to hide your opt-out link somewhere deep in your email, or behind a login page usually means that you’re frustrating your subscribers. Frustrated subscribers leads to more complaints and more complaints leads to email landing in the junk folder.

Recently we heard that Gmail have been listening to their users, understanding their frustrations and have recently made a change to their interface to help them. All recipients of promotional email will now see an unsubscribe link next to the sender information:


This is not just good for subscribers, it’s great for Gmail because it’s going to cut down on the amount of graymail that gets reported as spam, this in turn means that their spam filtering algorithms will improve because they’ll be training themselves on much cleaner data. This is also great for subscribers because they always know where the unsubscribe link is going to be. Logically it means that this must be better for you as a marketer because your email program will have less unengaged users that just can’t be bothered to unsubscribe and this should lead to better deliverability.

OK, so it’s not always that black and white but Gmail in particular filter emails at an individual level meaning that if a subscriber isn’t interacting with your email, it’s probably going to end up in the spam folder anyway.

I want to use this blog post to talk about the opportunity that marketers have, even at the point of unsubscribe for to retain customers and I’m staggered at how many marketers are not making the most of it, probably losing money as a result.

Firstly we should look at those senders who put barriers in the way of unsubscribing. Tesco for example have an unsubscribe link at the footer of their emails:


When you click in the link you get presented with a login screen:


I’m sorry but the last time I ordered from Tesco was about six months ago, I can’t remember my password and I want to stop these emails so I’m going to hit that spam button.

I’m amazed at how often I see this situation and whilst I understand that there are often legacy technical reasons that require people to login I’m afraid that it really isn’t good enough anymore and mailbox providers like Gmail aren’t going to wait for you to catch up.

There are of course various ways to acknowledge an unsubscribe request, here’s what I saw when unsubscribing from comparison website Pocket Friendly Compare:


Well, at least I know I have been unsubscribed! It left me feeling unloved though, like I’d just been sent to my room without supper!

Pleasingly, there are plenty of businesses that recognise that even at this stage of the subscriber lifecycle, all is not lost. Let’s take a look at another comparison website, “bespoke offers” from Barclaycard:


In order to improve the overall marketing program, questions are being asked about how the service could be improved for subscribers. This might not stop the current subscriber from leaving but it might help shape future retention efforts.

Let’s take a look at who direct subscribers straight to a preference centre where they can choose to opt out of certain emails or all emails. It also shows subscribers what they’re missing, the inclusion of a preview button is a great idea to get someone interested in receiving different emails. It may just provide the opportunity they need to hold onto that valuable subscriber and re-invigorate their interest:


What I hope to have demonstrated in this blog is that yes, you can get upset about people unsubscribing and just ignore the reasons why they might want to stop receiving email from you. Or you can make the most of what is actually a good opportunity to get feedback and keep your subscribers engaged with your brand. Don’t forget that there may be many more touch points an individual has with your brand, whether that’s through social media, online stores or physical stores and it’s really important to not necessarily see the loss of an email address as the loss of a customer. So leave them with a warm feeling. Show them what they’re missing and wave goodbye, don’t just kick them out.

My colleague Julia Peavy has written a great blog on optimising your unsubscribe process so I suggest you have a read whilst you’re here and in my next blog I’ll be taking a look at what some marketers are doing that annoys subscribers.



minute read

Popular stories



BriteVerify email verification ensures that an email address actually exists in real-time


The #1 global data quality tool used by thousands of Salesforce admins


Insights and deliverability guidance from the only all-in-one email marketing solution

GridBuddy Cloud

Transform how you interact with your data through the versatility of grids.

Return Path

World-class deliverability applications to optimize email marketing programs

Trust Assessments

A revolutionary new solution for assessing Salesforce data quality


Validity for Email

Increase inbox placement and maximize subscriber reach with clean and actionable data

Validity for Data Management

Simplify data management with solutions that improve data quality and increase CRM adoption

Validity for Sales Productivity

Give your sales team back hours per day with tools designed to increase productivity and mitigate pipeline risks in real-time