Unsubscribe me (let me go): making email opt-outs easy

Have a little respect for your users: don’t get in their way when they want to leave.

Because of what we do at Sticky Content, we often sign up to email newsletters for background research. Then, when the job is done and we no longer need the email, we unsubscribe – or at least, that’s the theory. 

In fact, it’s amazing how difficult some companies make it to unsubscribe from emails. Many demand long-forgotten user names and passwords to access unsubscribe links – as if that’s critical private information that must be protected – and some are even more obscure. 

One that I got regularly (and I mean regularly – the company sometimes sends out 2 a day) seemed almost impossible to unsubscribe from. There was no unsubscribe link and the Contact Us page didn’t have a link to subscriptions. It’s as if the authors believed that no one could possibly want to unsubscribe from their brilliant newsletter. But I did! 

Then, one day in the spirit of experimentation, I clicked on what looked like a long string of code at the bottom of the landing page and – hey presto! – I was unsubscribed. But what if I hadn’t wanted to unsubscribe and had clicked on this unlabelled link? How annoying would that have been? 

Unsubscribing: it’s not me, it’s you 

Apart from being irritating, this difficulty in unsubscribing must lull companies into a false sense of security – “people must really want our emails because they’re not telling us they don’t.” But some of us are trying really, really hard to do just that. 

The way that sites respond when you say you want to go is revealing too. 

Retailer Promod, for instance, said:
You will no longer receive the newsletter! See you soon on promod.com!

A touch to many “!”s here perhaps, but this is a friendly, no-hard-feelings approach, with a brief reminder of the website and an invitation to keep in touch, whatever your level of involvement. 

Intelligence Group’s Trendcentral newsletter prominently displays on the front page: “To Subscribe/Unsubscribe to trendcentral®” The process is seamless and, neatly, you’re reminded that it’s just as easy to subscribe again as it is to unsubscribe now. 

The BBC similarly points to other emails you might want to sign up for, but with no hard sell. As if to say: “Please yourself, but just a thought: we’ve loads of other great content.” Google Alerts are the best of all, the action almost instant. 

But too many organisations find it very hard to let go. 

One coaching company made me go to its website and email an individual query. Friends Reunited (this was a while ago) wanted me to go through and individually de-select email alerts for each school, workplace or other group I was signed up for. 

One writers’ newsletter offered no way of unsubscribing at all. So I sent a personal email to which I received the following reply:

Reason: Restricted access to list. Error occured handling mailing list account. Error processing special format.

Others just sound hurt. One techie newsletter replied:

We are sorry to hear that you no longer wish to receive our weekly newsletter. Our staff spends countless hours each and every week assembling the best technical information to present to our readers.

Other ways to make it harder for people to unsubscribe include: 

  • weaselly phrases like “manage your account” or “review your profile preferences”
  • giving the unsubscribe email address but not making it a live link (you can be sure the “To subscribe” address is live) 

But really. Come on. We sign up for hundreds of things and we can’t remember all our passwords. If I want to unsubscribe, don’t make me have to log in and hunt for my password. I’m already receiving your emails so I’ve already opted in – I shouldn’t have to log in again if I choose to opt out. 

We subscribe to things for all sorts of motives and reasons, many of which are transient. An email newsletter that I joined to research a white paper may cease to be relevant once the paper’s published; a wedding ezine ceases to interest once I’m married. It’s not necessarily personal; it could just mean I’m not your target audience any more. In which case, why do you need me? 

If someone wants to leave, the best thing you can do is make it as easy as possible for them to go. Point to other content and services, sure, but don’t get clingy. 

We all have butterfly minds and rapidly changing requirements. Make it easy for us to flit out and we’re so much more likely to flit back. But grab at us as we leave – getting all antsy about your traffic numbers – and all you’ll do is leave a negative final impression. 

So someone doesn’t want to subscribe to you any more – suck it up. Respect their decision. Facilitate it. They’ll like you better for it, maybe even think twice about leaving – and have no qualms about coming back.

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