Marketers should not just view the unsubscribe as a CAN-SPAM mandate, but rather see it as an opportunity to improve marketing campaigns and let go of those recipients that just don't want to be a client. No marketer wants to lose a potential client for any reason, but when a recipient is deleting emails without taking action, or worse yet, marking messages as spam, accept that these recipients are not the best potential clients anymore.
Processing an unsubscribe correctly and quickly builds brand reputation and improves email delivery. From a branding standpoint, if you continue to send emails to customers that no longer wish to receive them they will, at the very least, view your brand poorly. From a delivery point-of-view, processing an unsubscribe helps you ensure that you do not get blocked by various ISPs.
Building ISP-friendly relations
When you fail to process your unsubscribe, the ISP processes the emails that are sent to addresses that no longer exist or to users that no longer wish to receive the messages, tagging on a cost to the ISP courtesy of your email campaign. If you think this is not costing your marketing campaign money, think again. While the cost does not affect you immediately, it will hit your pocketbook in the end when the ISP grows weary of your bad sending habits and either temporarily holds your messages or completely blocks them from getting to your customers.
To ensure you are not sending to invalid email addresses, utilize bounce thresholds within your email system. If your current solution does not have this capability, start looking for an ESP that does. There are no hard and fast rules on bounce thresholds, but be realistic for your sending habits. It does not make sense to set up a bounce threshold of three bounces in a two-week period if you are only sending one message every Monday (no email addresses would ever be marked as bad with this setup).
Now that you have your bounce thresholds set up, think about best processing methods for user-initiated unsubscribe requests.
No, just say it once
You don't want to say "no" more than once to a telemarketer that calls, so don't expect your customers to want to provide you more than one "no" when they choose to unsubscribe. Utilize the one-click unsubscribe to accomplish your goal of keeping your database clean and your customers happy. Don't require customers to log in to a password-protected opt-out screen, change user preferences on their account page or conduct a mandatory exit survey. From a marketing point-of-view it may make sense, but this will more likely upset them and negatively affect your reputation.
Beyond the unsubscribe
Now know that just because you offer the one-click unsubscribe, it doesn't mean that all recipients will use it. If a user decides that unsubscribing from an email is too difficult or they just don't take a minute to look for the option, there is a chance your recipient will hit the "This is Spam" button in their email client. Over the years a number of ISPs have actually told users to do this because unsubscribe links were considered to be ineffective; a study by the FTC has since proved this concept incorrect. While the results should be the same for the end user -- no longer receiving your message -- the adverse effect could be far worse for you when ISPs look at the number of "bad" email addresses that each marketer sends to and investigates the ratio of spam complaints as compared to the number of total emails sent. Avoid repeated complaints by processing your complaints with the same regularity you process your unsubscribe requests.
Keep in mind that the two largest ISPs that have implemented the processing of spam complaints, or feedback loops, are AOL and MSN/Hotmail. Microsoft's solution just recently started sending 100 percent of all complaints to senders to ensure correct processing and ISPs including Roadrunner and United Online have similar processes in place. As more and more ISPs talk about creating feedback loops, the more important it will be for your company to process spam complaints automatically.
Show a little respect for recipients and the impression they have for your company by acknowledging the blessing that the unsubscribe truly brings. Let the recipients go in the one-click method, process your unsubscribe requests, regularly, and who knows-- they might just come back.
Spencer Kollas is Director of Deliverability Services, Premiere Global Services. Read full bio.