12 best practices when dealing with email unsubscribes

Having people unsubscribing from their content is an unavoidable part of the business – you can’t please everyone all the time. You can’t stop people from losing interest in your offers either. But no one likes seeing unsubscribe messages… When did it go wrong?

You might not believe it, but that email unsubscribes prompts might be a good thing for your business. Think of unsubscribing as a form of email list self-cleaning. Instead of having a dead weight around, you are focusing your money, and effort on people who are interested in your content.

Why is it important?

Low-quality list not only makes you waste money (you are spending time and money on sending emails to people who don’t even want them) but also hurts your sender reputation (which might give a blow to your deliverability rates and your conversion rates).

If your unsubscribe rate is below 1% it isn’t a reason for concern but what if it’s higher or it spiked in the last days? Then it’s time to take action.

What is an unsubscribe rate?

Simply speaking, your unsubscribe rate is the percentage of subscribers who decided to opt out of your mailing list by either using the unsubscribe button or by sending an email to you with the information they don’t want to receive any more messages. There is plenty of reason why they do that:

  • They are getting way too many emails from you
  • They can’t view your email on a mobile device.
  • Your email doesn’t look professional (because it’s cluttered, have errors in it, or it sounds “spammy”)
  • The content isn’t relevant to them.
  • You are only using the newsletter to persuade customers to buy your products.

Whatever the reason, your customer is looking for a way to tell you he’s no longer interested in getting emails from you. But that doesn’t mean the customer is a lost cause!

How can I  turn customers back?

While it’s impossible to persuade all people who wish to stop getting messages from you to change their mind,  there are some tricks to lower the number of people who will leave. First, you need to learn the reason for the high unsubscribes rate – your customer getting too many emails, are they unsatisfied with email content or maybe they don’t remember signing for your newsletter in the first place. After finding out what is the main pain point of your customers, it’s time for action!

To make it easier for you, here are 12 tips on how to convince the wavering customers to stay with you and how to graciously say “Goodbye” to those who really want to leave.

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Don’t send emails without customers consent

If the reason for your sudden spike in unsubscribes is claimed to be “I never signed for the email”, have a closer look at your email list and your website. Are you sending emails to whoever is on your list, without bothering from where you got the email address? Increasing your subscriptions number by using a bought email list, through email scraping or by “automatically” signing all your followers or shoppers to your email newsletter it’s not only unethical but also against the law.  

Even if you think your newsletter will be useful for your customers, for them you are yet another spammer. So only add to your mailing list customers who gave you their permission to mail them by opt-ing on your page. It’s especially important with GDPR law in effect – sending marketing emails to a customer who didn’t clearly agree to get such messages is a violation of GDPR law and might get you into serious legal and financial trouble.  

Keep the unsubscribe link visible and easy to use

No one wants subscribers to opt-out of their email newsletter, that’s obvious. So while technically companies are bound by law to provide a way for customers to stop receiving their newsletters, many go out of their way to make the unsubscribe process as complicated as possible. Some are hiding the unsubscribe link by using a tiny font, others hope people won’t bother to read their terms of conditions to find the unsubscribe link, and another group asks for logging in to the account to be able to unsubscribe.

If a customer can’t find a way to unsubscribe, he’ll mark the message as spam – and that will severely hurt your reputation and delivery rates. So keep the opt-out link visible in the footer.

Don’t change the word “Unsubscribe” either – most customers are only skimming the text to look for things they need, and anything other than “Unsubscribe” in the footer might confuse them. You don’t want your customers to hit the “Mark as spam” button just because they didn’t know where did you hid the unsubscribe link!

Don’t ask customers to log – in to unsubscribe

Some companies (less and less, fortunately) give an extra effort to make the unsubscribe process difficult for their subscribers and demand the customer log-in to their account before they will be “allowed” to unsubscribe. If the customer made the account, for example, two years ago, he most likely remembers neither the username nor the password.  

Companies using this method hope the customers won’t want to go through “Forgot my password” procedure and logging in with a new password to unsubscribe so they will stay as subscribers. And they are right, customers won’t have time to do that – they will mark the email as spam.

Also, if you are sending marketing emails to people living in the USA, have in mind that you are legally obliged to give those customers an “Unsubscribe” link in your email, asking them to log-in before unsubscribing is a violation of  the Can-Spam act

Make your emails work on mobile devices

According to Email Client Market Share Trends, emails opened on portable devices accounted for 46% of all emails. 81% uses a smartphone for regularly checking their emails. That’s a big part of your customers base!

That’s why one of your priorities should be not only making your email look great on desktops but also making sure your emails can be viewed on smartphones or tablets. The emails don’t have to be flashy – the simpler and easier to read, the better.

If you go with multiple colours, lots of images and complicated fonts, the mail might turn out to be a jumbled mess when a customer opens it on their device, and that definitely won’t make a good impression. Don’t also forget to make the links and buttons bigger and clearer – human fingers are much less precise than a mouse cursor!    

Check your email frequency

The biggest reason why people unsubscribe from newsletters is the mail frequency – 78% of customers unsubscribe from emails because companies were sending them too many emails. If you are getting many spam complaints or have a high unsubscribe rate, it’s time to have a look aren’t you overwhelming your customers with messages.  

So how often is too often and how often is just right? The optimal frequency varies depending on the industry and the company –  without doing A/B testing or asking your customers, it’s hard to get it right. While you don’t want to annoy your customers with too many emails, you don’t want to send them too few emails either, or you are risking they will forget about you.

Opt-down, not opt-out

If a  customer clicks on a unsubscribe link, you are close to losing him definitely (at least for now). But maybe all they need is to get different types of messages, less frequently, not stopping all communications with you?

This type of approach is called “Opt-down” – it’s similar to a preference centre, where your customers can decide how often they want to receive messages from you and what type of content they want to read. Maybe it’s not that they want to stop getting messages from you altogether, but they want to get a different kind of messages?

Using Opt-down approach instead of Opt-out not only helps with turning your customers back from leaving, but it also helps with building a much better relationship with your subscribers!

Ask your customers

One of the best ways to learn how often your customer want to get your messages or what kind of messages are right for them is to let them choose. Many companies already have a preference centre set in the user account and on the unsubscribe pages, where customers can pick how often they want to receive messages, what kind of topics they are interested in and on some websites they can even “pause”  getting all newsletters for a set time period. Think about it – if you are preparing a new email campaign, it would be good to know which customers will be interested in it and which won’t right?

Giving your customers way to choose what kind of topics they are interested not only gives them feeling they are more in control (and thus makes them happier and less likely to unsubscribe entirely) but also helps with giving them tailored content, fitting their needs.  

Give your customers an easy way to change their email address

Some customers unsubscribe because they will be no longer using this email address or they created a new account, and now they want to update their data. Sounds simple?

Yet many companies didn’t even think about giving their subscribers an easy way to change their address, forcing them to unsubscribe from one address and then subscribe using another. If it’s one or two newsletters, it’s okay but what if a customer has several subscriptions?

Make it easier and more convenient for them by giving them an option to update their data – either in the profile if they have an account or by adding a “Update my email preferences” link in the footer of your emails. Just remember to keep both the “Unsubscribe” and “Update” links separated, to not confuse your customers.

Add a survey after customer unsubscribes

No matter what you do, some customers will still unsubscribe from your newsletter. This is a great moment to ask them to give their opinion on your email newsletter and why they decided to unsubscribe. By using this insight, you can learn where it went wrong and how can you improve your newsletter. But make it short – customers are unlikely to be interested in filling a long survey form, two-three questions are more than enough.

Promote your social media accounts on your unsubscribe page

Even if a customer decides to leave your newsletter, they might still be interested in hearing from you on different channels – for example by following your social media channels. Most people unsubscribe from newsletters to clean their inboxes and are still interested in getting offers or learning about new products. Why not give them a way to do so by including links to your social media accounts?

Even if they aren’t following your newsletter anymore, they are still showing interest in your company and your offers –  you haven’t lost them as customers!

Give the option to resubscribe

Plenty of things can happen – maybe a customer clicked the unsubscribe link by mistake (the links on mobile websites are so small!). Perhaps he just wanted to change their email address. Whatever the reason was, they want to subscribe again. Make it easier for them by giving them a way to re-subscribe – for example by using a re-subscribe link. But don’t be pushy – sending a re-subscribe link immediately after a customer clicks the “unsubscribe” button is only going to make him irritated.    

Unsubscribe immediately

When customer requests to get his email removed from the mailing list, he expects you will do it immediately. Technically CAN-Spam and CASL acts give you 10 days for unsubscribing a customer. Generally, taking more than 24 hours to remove someone off your list is unacceptable. If somebody’s unsubscribed from your email list, it means they don’t want to get even one more email from your company and might mark your emails as spam.

If you use these tips smartly and offer your customers the content they need, you’ll not only have less unsubscribes and happier customers, you’ll also stay away from the anti-spam laws. Remember, just because someone clicked the unsubscribe link in your emails doesn’t mean they are gone for good!

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