The email unsubscribe: Blessing or curse?

The email unsubscribe: Blessing or curse?

Given the considerable time, effort and cost it takes to develop and grow an email marketing list, it can be difficult to bring oneself to include the unsubscribe button at the bottom of every promotional email, as CAN SPAM compliance dictates. However, while the law that requires companies to make it easy for consumers to opt out of receiving marketing mails does pose potential problems and difficulties, there may be hidden benefits to the unsubscribe.

The tale of the silent unsubscribe
Ultimately, few among us would pose the argument that consumers should not be able to opt out of receiving unwanted emails. It's clear that the ability to unsubscribe should be protected – and few email marketers like the idea of sending messages to a host of people who view them as an annoyance.

However, the one-click unsubscribe has made matters complicated for both companies and consumers in the past. According to Biz Report, an enthusiastic subscriber of email tracking solutions firm Litmus sent the company's monthly newsletter to 85 co-workers on his email contact list. Of course, many of those recipients couldn't tell why they had been sent the message and incorrectly believed it to be spam. Accordingly, at least one of them clicked the unsubscribe button – and in doing so, opted out of Litmus' emails on behalf of the co-worker who had originally sent out the newsletter.

This phenomenon is what's known as the silent unsubscribe, according to the news source. CAN SPAM-required opt-out links – which prohibit companies from sending a second email confirming a customer's desire to stop receiving the messages – are connected with the original subscriber, so if he or she forwards a promotional email and that recipient clicks the unsubscribe button, the contact on the company's actual email list will be the one who no longer receives the messages.

Litmus offered an easy fix for the problem on its official blog. A simple piece of code can be applied to any email that makes forwarded versions of the message appear differently. When a subscriber forwards one of your emails, this code should block the unsubscribe button and instead contain a feature that allows the new recipient to subscribe as well.

How the unsubscribe works for you
Despite the loss of email contacts that can result from silent unsubscribes, including an opt-out feature in your emails can actually benefit your overall marketing strategy.

The National Law Review pointed out that the unsubscribe is a way for companies to create more targeted email lists.

"The value of unsubscribe … is that it helps you reach your goal of creating a highly motivated core list of clients and prospects more quickly," the news source wrote, suggesting that emails shouldn't hide the unsubscribe button but rather make it easily visible beside a short description of what those who choose to opt out of your newsletters and promotions will be missing.

Furthermore, companies are learning how to use recipients who unsubscribe to their advantage. A study recently released by Return Path showed that 25 percent of companies now offer unsubscribers different content or the option to receive less frequent emails, compared to 8 percent in 2008. Additionally, 22 percent now solicit feedback when a customer opts out, whereas only 7 percent did likewise five years ago.

While companies are getting smarter, they're also getting more compliant. The Return Path study revealed that 95 percent of companies now stop sending emails within 10 days of the opt-out, as CAN SPAM requires, up from 90 percent in 2008.

If you can learn how to use unsubscribes to your benefit, CAN SPAM becomes no longer just a list of things you're required to do and are prohibited from doing: It can be a marketing tool in itself.

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