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Email marketing - best practices for unsubscribing

What should you do when someone clicks an unsubscribe link on your newsletter or marketing communications? Do you just let them unsubscribe without any further hullabaloo or do you grovel and set up other delaying tactics in the hope you'll keep them on your list?

Like most folks, I subscribe to quite a few newsletters and such; and unsubscribe when they are no longer of any interest. I hate having to jump through hoops when unsubscribing and with my own newsletters that I send out, I ensure unsubscribing is a one-click affair.

Others take a different approach - they'll use messages like "are you sure you want to unsubscribe?", which I think many folks find terribly annoying.

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Others will try and make you take a survey asking for reasons why you want to unsubscribe before letting you do so. 

Aside from frustrating the user and leaving a bad impression of your company; in some countries, putting blocks up and making people jump through hoops is just plain illegal. For example, the USA's CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 states:

"You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request."

Something borderline (in my opinion) is where a company has multiple communications, such as email alerts, a newsletter and general promotional material. The person wanting to unsubscribe will be taken to a screen to confirm which communication they want to be unsubscribed from and be offered other options such as changing the frequency of emails. 

This is legal in the USA. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 states: "You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you."

I feel such a screen shouldn't be necessary at that point - if the person has clicked the link to unsubscribe from a company's newsletter, that's the list they want to be removed from. 

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The place to put all this sort of guff is *after* the person has been able to unsubscribe - on the unsubscribe "success" page. However, it means being able to get your message across really quickly as once the job is done, visitors are ready to scoot.

Something else you can put on the unsubscribe "success" page is this message:

"Did you unsubscribe by accident? Click here to re-subscribe." 

It might sound silly - and I thought it was the first time I saw a company use that message - but over the years I've had a bunch of people email me saying they had accidentally unsubscribed from one of my newsletters and they want to be back on the list. 
I've never quite understood how that occurs if the link that triggers the function is plainly labeled "unsubscribe", but it certainly happens and often enough that I wonder how many people make the mistake, but never follow up or resubscribe themselves.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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