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5 ways to improve your unsubscribe process

Wendy S. Roth
5 ways to improve your unsubscribe process Wendy S. Roth

The bad news: Almost a third of the email addresses on your mailing list are going to turn over this year. The good news: Some of those who unsubscribe don't really want to cut off all communication, but if all you offer them a simple unsubscribe form, they'll take it and be gone.

It's a fact that some people are always going to unsubscribe. People's preferences change, others try to rid their inboxes of perceived spam, and personal email accounts tend to go inactive when consumers make changes. However, a rich unsubscribe process can offer the ability to salvage your customer relationships while still providing a speedy exit to those who want out.

In fact, email marketers should look at unsubscribing from a positive point of view rather than negative. It means somebody remembered the relationship they established with you and is engaging in some sort of action, and brands can use this action point to find out more and potentially repair the connection.

Why subscribers leave
People head to the email exits for three general reasons:

You send too much email. You promised one or two emails a week at opt-in, but over time, and maybe under pressure, you've dialed up the frequency so that you are sending an offer almost every day.

You send too much irrelevant or non-targeted email. People who sign up to receive a newsletter on one topic do not necessarily want to get all email from an organization.

Their interests, jobs, or email addresses changed. This is the email version of that classic break-up reason: "It's not you, it's me." People's lives and needs change. Some decide to unsubscribe from everything for a fresh start.

But it's also possible subscribers are leaving not because their interests have changed, but because someone else is meeting their needs better. It's always a good idea to keep tabs on your competitors by subscribing to their email programs.

Look for unsubscribe trends
Track your unsubscribe rate through your list statistics. Look for trends up and down from one campaign to the next, or over the last three, six, and 12 months. Match spikes to the emails you sent out at those times, as these trends may tell you something about your campaign that you can improve.

Did you change editorial directions, like adding unexpected content or increasing the frequency of emails? Maybe you tried some risky list-building tactics such as email append or co-registration with a new or unknown partner. These often bring in bad subscriber matches. 

Add preferences and options to your unsubscribe process
Do you still allow people to unsubscribe via email? If so, consider stopping. It's unreliable and gives you no chance to learn from or salvage the relationship. The same logic applies if you opt-out subscribers immediately after they click a link.

It is true that most countries' email laws, along with best practices, dictate that you honor the unsubscribe request quickly. However, the one-click-and-you're-gone model gives you no chance to offer other options that could retain your subscriber, either in your email marketing program or as a customer you reach via different marketing channels, including social and mobile.

Instead, add a page that both launches the unsubscribe process but also lets subscribers update their preferences, which can include some or all of the following:

1. Change the frequency. Give subscribers options to reduce (or increase) the number of emails from you. For example, a weekly digest of all emails sent in the previous five to seven days.

2. Change the content. List other publications and email marketing content you offer and allow subscribers to sign up for those on that form, or easily point to another page that supports this opt-in. This tactic gives subscribers choices about the content they receive, helps separate offers from editorial copy, and lets subscribers pick what they want.

3. Change the email address. Provide forms to update any personal data subscribers have on file with you, starting with the email address. Since you already have their current email addresses, make sure they're displayed on the form you take them to so they know what address they are currently using.

4. Change the channel. People who want less email in their lives might prefer to get your messages in RSS feeds, postal mail, SMS/text alerts, or on social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Losing the email address does not have to mean losing the customer.

5. State the reason. After processing an unsubscribe, ask consumers to complete a short survey about why they're leaving. Give them a list of reasons to check off, but also offer a comment box. Even if only one of every 20 or 50 unsubscribers responds, you still could learn something useful.

Once you launch your new page, rewrite your text-link descriptor in your email messages to call attention to these new options. Instead of "click here to unsubscribe," say "manage your preferences or unsubscribe here."

Overall, more-friendly unsubscribe processes lead to better list management. Improving your unsubscribe process takes time and effort, but it pays off with fewer spam complaints and a more active list, both of which can enhance not just your delivery but your entire email marketing program.

Wendy Roth is the senior manager of training services for Lyris Technologies.


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