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Direct Marketing Commission - Enforcing Higher Industry Standards

How companies can improve their email unsubscribe process

4th January, 2012 at 11:14am

Healthy direct marketing depends on our willingness to respect the public’s preferences. If we do not want to find ourselves in an opt-in world the opt-out approach has to work and work well. Hanging on to those who have decided not to stay engaged – and who have said so is not about being resolute but about being irresponsible. We believe it should be as easy to unsubscribe from an e-mail relationship as it was to subscribe in the first place.

We have summarised our expectations of the industry we support through regulation saying they should be responsible, respectful and reliable.  When it comes to e-mail marketing this means ensuring unsubscribe links are easy to find, simple to use and without technical barriers, and fast and effective in stopping the unwanted messages. Responding in this way to consumer wishes is to meet the fair and reasonable standard in the DMA Code of Practice.

We recognise there are situations where people may want to stop e-mails to a particular address rather than opt-out totally from information and offers they value. Markets are totally in their rights testing this and dealing with situations as seems fit. This is not the same as seeking to hang on to prospects that have said clearly that they want to stop receiving e-mails. (George Kidd, DMC Chief Commissioner)

Eight ways to improve your email unsubscribe process (by Guy Hanson, Return Path)

1. Make sure that the unsubscribe link works
A broken unsubscribe process is an instant guarantee for upping the red mist quotient. It also contravenes email marketing law. Make sure that this forms part of the testing process for each and every campaign that you send out.

2. Make the unsubscribe link highly visible
It’s no good burying it in the email footer in a 6 point font in the hope that your disengaged subscribers won’t see it. People want to see it, and if they can’t, they are going to hit their spam complaint button instead. Put the unsubscribe link in the email header instead. This may sound counter-intuitive, but my personal experience is that if the opt out mechanism is more visible spam complaints reduce materially as a direct consequence.

3. Don’t set up your unsubscribe link as an image
The recipient that wants to unsubscribe has typically got to a point where they are disengaged with your email programme. That means that they are not that likely to be enabling the images that have been disabled by default. They are therefore not that likely to find the unsubscribe link, if it has been set up as an image! Make it a text-based link, so that it will always be seen.

4. Don’t assume disengagement – ask the question
In fairness, there is also a flip-side to the disengagement coin. It may be that the reason that I am going through the process is simply that I have a new email address. I don’t necessarily want to leave the programme, but I do want to stop it sending emails to my old address. Make this easy for me by asking the question – “Are you unsubscribing because you have a new email address? If so, would you like to tell us what it is so that you can continue receiving our great offers?”

5. Make the unsubscribe process simple
However, don’t try to cover all the bases and then end up with a process that is unnecessarily difficult to use. I don’t want to have to go and update my preferences. I definitely don’t want to have to log in to an account that I have in all likelihood forgotten the login details for. In fact, in the US Can-Spam specifically legislates against requiring a user name and password to unsubscribe, so it becomes a matter of law – not just best practice. If the process is going to be that hard, then it’s going to be much simpler for me to junk you instead. Rather make the unsubscribe process as simple as possible – ideally one click should do the trick.

6. Action the unsubscribe immediately
Once I’ve actually hit the button, don’t go and sour the mood by telling me that it may take up to 28 days for my request to be actioned. Most email broadcasting platforms are capable of applying an unsubscribe request in real time, and there’s certainly no excuse for not being able to achieve this within 24 hours. Consumers know this – if they are still receiving emails seven days later from a programme that they’ve already unsubscribed from, they’re going to resort to the nuclear option instead!

7. Pre-empt unsubscribe problems
It is also a good idea to explain to your subscribers that there may be valid reasons to explain why unsubscribing from the email won’t work.
For example, that you originally registered using a different address, but which your exchange server is still auto-forwarding to you. Or that the registration was made using a generic email address (“sales@”, “info@”, etc) for which you form part of a distribution list.

8. Avoid follow-up emails
Finally, I’ve seen several programmes which have sent a follow-up email to confirm the unsubscribe request. Some might argue that this is a nice CRM touch.

However, to me it smells more like an attempt to second-guess the subscriber – along the lines of “we know that you’ve told us that you want to leave our email programme, but we’re sure that you didn’t really mean it!” While confirmation emails are generally regarded as a good thing in email marketing, I’d argue that this case represents a valid exception to the rule!

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