Earlier this year I subscribed to dozens of mailing lists in a quest to learn what value they actually add. Though many were hosted by for-profit companies, they all claimed to be newsletters rather than sales pitches, and most of them were. After several months I ran a test by unsubscribing from all of them. I was curious which ones would remove me immediately, which ones took time (a day or two to a week or more), and which ones continued to flood my inbox with information I no longer wanted.
While more than a dozen did disclaim it would take 3-7 days for me to be removed, most assured me of immediate removal. So, who kept sending me emails on a regular basis? Digestive Health, among other high-traffic sites, removed me from the informational mailings, but not “all” mailings as requested. A few, like Rachelraymag.com, took more than two weeks to stop sending messages.
I’m wondering if some sites out there are shifting subscriptions over to parallel sites as a result of an unsubscribe action. For example, I had subscribed to a highly competitive business card printing site. The day after unsubscribing, I began receiving emails from another site, offering similar deals and nearly identical products.
Who was quick to honor my specific requests? Sites like Cooking.com (I unsubbed from the cooking newsletter only), JC Penney and some pizza joints.
How it Should All Work
Honoring unsubscribe requests is as important as running an email campaign. An unsubscribe doesn’t necessarily translate to a lost customer. Making the process difficult can cause harm because it takes disturbed visitors only seconds to respond accordingly.
Here’s how to avoid falling into the trap of garnering negative posts and feedback when it comes to managing your email lists.
1. Use a system that flags contacts as unsubscribed in real time. This isn’t rocket science. If a system can add an email address to a list in real-time, it should be able to remove one.
2. Don’t make them enter their email addresses. You should use a solution that uses tracking code in the unsubscribe link. The only time one should enter an email address is if he/she reaches an unsubscribe page without a link provided in each newsletter.
People make mistakes, which can result in them never being unsubscribed due to a typo. If you want to include a field, have it pre-populated with the email address so they only need to confirm it.
3. Unless the emails are tied to sensitive accounts, DO NOT make them log in to change their preferences. Mailings pertaining to medical records, investment and banking accounts? I can see why those companies would want to better confirm a user’s identity. Shopping sites, however, have no reason to require a log in to stop receiving newsletters.
If you trust my email account enough to send a password reminder or reset link, you should trust it enough for the unsubscribe action.
4. Always confirm the action. If I unsubscribe from a mailing list, I should see on the screen a confirmation of my action. Sending an email of confirmation is okay as long as the subject clearly states that the request was successful.
5. If you create mailings in advance, don’t queue the send far in advance. With many services, queuing a send prepares it to send to all email addresses subscribed at the time the queue is created. This means when users unsubscribe, they may receive additional mailings because they’re already in the send queue. If you schedule emails in advance, consider re-queuing them as close to send time as possible.
If the system you use claims to actually generate the subscriber send-to list at send time, test it to make sure.
6. Monitor the newsletter’s reply-to address. Whether out of laziness or not seeing the link, some subscribers will reply to a marketing email and ask to be unsubscribed. While this can be frustrating, it takes less time for you to open the email and click the link yourself than it does to reply to the person with an explanation.
Many companies use “no-reply” email addresses to send newsletters. Most shoppers look at the from name; they don’t understand they’re not reaching a real person. It’s best to let all those mail returns flood into a separate mailbox so you can filter out any legitimate replies and take appropriate action.
Unsubscribe requests are part of business. It’s going to happen no matter what you sell. Instead of making it difficult on the user, consider what you can do to minimize the number of removal requests overall.