Articles > Conversion Optimization Every Touch Point Matters – Optimizing the Email Unsubscribe

Are you ignoring an engagement opportunity?

The way an organization handles a simple email unsubscribe transaction can leave a lasting impression on the audience. It’s a customer engagement opportunity to increase goodwill – and even make a sale.  Think of it as another marketing channel.

[Note: This post is part of my “Every Touch Point Matters” series. See my previous posts on Optimizing Error Messages and Optimizing the Thank You Page.]

“You don’t love me no more…”

Rejection! One of your email newsletter subscribers decides she wants a cleaner, lighter inbox – and that your newsletter is dead weight. Last year, I was that subscriber.

Looking at my email In box, it appeared every online interaction I’ve had since 1995 came with an annoying little brother of a newsletter that has followed me around ever since, waving his hands and yelling, “Watch me! watch me!” Since a swift kick was out of the question, I’ve dealt with the situation by applying filters (as if putting an email in my “To Read” folder made it any more likely that I’d read it) and by hitting the Delete button. And then one day, a particularly irrelevant email triggered an avalanche of stored-up irritation. After calming down, I resolved then and there to tackle the problem at its source:

I would UNSUBSCRIBE.

I unsubscribed from over twenty email newsletters before I ran out of endurance, patience, and caffeine. As you’ll see in the examples below my experiences varied widely.

Why does this matter to companies?

Why does such a minor interaction, far from the glamor and dazzle of the mighty landing page, even deserve a blog post? Why do email unsubscribes matter to companies? There is a one-word answer to this:

Goodwill.

Whatever your subscriber’s motivation for unsubscribing, how you handle this simple request can affect their perception of your company from that moment on. You can either build goodwill or you can burn it.

And another one-word answer:

Opportunity.

Again, whatever the reason for the unsubscribe, the visitor is now ON YOUR SITE (minimally, they’re on your email subscription platform). That’s an opportunity to engage, communicate, and present your brand in a good light. It could even be an opportunity to change their minds or redirect their interest to a different offering.

So!  Let’s look at some guidelines, and then a few examples.

Email Unsubscribe Guidelines

First – Do No Harm

If you do nothing else, make sure your unsubscribe process doesn’t harm your company’s reputation. Make an unsubscribe option available, clear, easy to do, and make sure it works properly.

  • Provide a clearly worded unsubscribe link in the footer of every email.
  • Allow unsubscribes – some platforms I encountered didn’t seem to have this option at all.
  • Remember who they are – have the link pass along their email address. Yes, you’ll need to ask for confirmation, but many visitors have multiple email identities these days – and they probably don’t remember which one they used when they interacted with you.
  • Meet expectations – provide a clear path to the visitors’ indicated goal of unsubscribing from a single newsletter or email list.  Several platforms I encountered wanted me to “Manage” my subscription settings, which I adamantly did not want to do.
  • Provide a clearly worded confirmation once the visitor has been unsubscribed.

Second – Engage

  • Decide what your goal is. Beyond providing the basic unsubscribe service, what is it you want this unsubscribe process to do for you? What actions do you want your unsubscribe visitors to take?
  • Don’t take it personally – as you design the unsubscribe process, keep a positive, respectful attitude. Just because the visitor rejects your newsletter doesn’t necessarily mean they dislike your organization or its products/services. They may still be open to further engagement.
  • Identify yourself – brand all the pages in the process.  This provides reassurance and a consistent experience.
  • Remind visitors BRIEFLY of the benefits your newsletter – they may not know, or have forgotten why they subscribed in the first place.
  • Ask why they’re unsubscribing (but don’t require an answer). This is valuable feedback for you, and gives the visitor a chance to feel heard. Keep the survey short.

Third – Promote

  • The confirmation page is your chance to shine. Without overwhelming or obscuring the confirmation message, include branding and promotional messaging. Keep it simple.
  • Include at least one clear Call to Action such as “Shop Now”
  • Consider forwarding over to an appealing promotional page following the unsubscribe confirmation.

Fourth – Say NO to Temptation

  • Keep your word – Don’t re-subscribe the visitor later! It’s simply short-sighted and disrespectful to not honor a visitor’s clear request.

Fifth – Learn

  • Review your unsubscribe reasons feedback. Are visitors indicating anything you could change, such as the frequency of your emails?
  • Measure your unsubscribe stats, and analyze for trends and correlations. Does any content in particular seem to trigger unsubscribes? How about the frequency, or the day or time they’re sent?
  • Measure conversions. If you provide a call to action on (or after) the confirmation page, track its success metrics just as you would on any other conversion page.

OK, with those guidelines in mind, onwards to some examples culled from the 20 or so I experienced on that infamous day…

Good Email Unsubscribe Examples

#1:  Nordstrom.com

This was a very simple but good email unsubscribe process. Here’s step 1, take a look and then I have some comments:

nordstrom-unsubscribe-1-sm1

Nordstrom Step 1 – Things to notice:

  • Branding elements are present, but they don’t overwhelm.
  • The tone of the copy is in keeping with the brand.
  • My email address was captured & transmitted to this page
  • The page is easy to scan.
  • The available actions are clearly labeled and explained
  • Notice how 2 of the 3 actions allow the email contact to continue. The first option lets me reduce the frequency, and the third lets me change my mind entirely and remain a subscriber.

nordstrom-unsubscribe-2-sm

Nordstrom Step 2 – Things to Notice:

  • The confirmation page is short, but does its job. It explains what just happened and sets expectations for what’s next.
  • A clear link to Start Shopping is provided. Here’s a company that doesn’t assume I hate them just because I don’t want their emails.

#2:  1-800-Flowers.com

This is quite different from Nordstrom’s approach, with a stronger promotional aspect. Here’s step 1:

1800flowers-unsubscribe-1-sm

1-800-Flowers.com Step 1 – Things to Notice:

  • Good branding, with no distracting elements.
  • Clear page title
  • My email address was sent along to the page
  • It’s very clear what action is available – there’s only 1 button.

1800flowers-unsubscribe-2-sm

1-800-Flowers.com Step 2 – Things to Notice:

  • A short, 2-question survey is inserted here.  A long survey might be ignored, but this looks simple and easy to do.

1800flowers-unsubscribe-3-sm

1-800-Flowers.com Step 3 – Things to Notice:

  • Clearly confirms that I’ve completed my task of unsubscribing.
  • Politely thanks me for taking the survey, even though I kind of had to do it, in order to unsubscribe.

1800flowers-unsubscribe-4-sm

1-800-Flowers.com Step 4 – Things to Notice:

  • I was forwarded to this page after about 15 seconds on the unsubscribe confirmation page.
  • This is a custom landing page, NOT the site’s home page.  The company is essentially treating their email unsubscribe path as if it were just another marketing channel.
  • The URL (not shown) was tagged to allow tracking, so 1-800-Flowers can measure how successful this email unsubscribe landing page is.

#3:  Costco.com

This is an example of a very minimal email unsubscribe process – only 1 step, and all I had to do was click a link. Here’s the one step, then I have some comments:

costco-unsubscribe-1-sm

Costco Step 1 – Things to Notice:

  • From my standpoint as an irritated visitor, this single-click unsubscribe was perfect. From a marketing standpoint, however, it doesn’t give visitors enough time to absorb where they are and who they’re dealing with. Adding one more step would allow time and opportunity for engagement.
  • Well-branded, but the page uses the standard site header and footer. Better to create a custom landing experience.

Mildly Irritating Examples

Now that we’ve seen some positive ways to leverage the email unsubscribe process, let’s take a look at some that don’t do as good a job.

#4: ToysRus.com

There were many unsubscribe processes that irritated me. What surprised me was the variety of irritating things they do. Take the following example:

toysrus-unsubscribe-1-sm

Toys R Us Step 1A – Things to Notice:

  • It appears I’m being asked to enter my email address. Since I have quite a few, it’s just silly to ask me to remember which one I used. Especially when it’s so easy for the company to just pass it along.

toysrus-unsubscribe-2-sm

Toys R Us Step 1B – Things to Notice:

  • After a long pause to (I suppose) access their database, a very odd email address appeared in the email field. It looks like an anonymized Google Checkout email address. Confusing. Good thing they passed that on, I’d NEVER have remembered it.

toysrus-unsubscribe-3-sm

Toys R Us Step 2 – Things to Notice:

  • Clearly confirms that I’ve completed my task of unsubscribing.
  • Does a poor job of promoting. The call to action is weak and not in line with my task, and no interesting offers are made at all.

#5: Fathead.com

I like Fathead.com because they’ve made me a star with my basketball-loving nephew. But I took issue with their email unsubscribe process. See for yourself:

fathead-unsubscribe-1-sm

Fathead.com Step 1 – Things to Notice:

  • Ouch! They’re asking me for my subscribed email address!
  • The page title, “Contact Preferences” doesn’t align well with my understanding of the task. I wanted to unsubscribe, not adjust my contact preferences.
  • My irritation is tempered somewhat by the lightly humorous tone of the text.

#6: Tenrox.com

This process was clearly designed by some techies. It works, but that’s about it. Check it out:

tenrox-unsubscribe-1-sm

Tenrox Step 1 – Things to Notice:

  • This is super-confusing! Since I clicked on a link that said “unsubscribe”, I shouldn’t have to select that option here. I also shouldn’t have to pick in what format I don’t want to receive emails.
  • The “Thank You” is a bit premature.

tenrox-unsubscribe-2-sm

Tenrox Step 2 – Things to Notice:

  • Polite, but slightly confusing use of language. Whoa – I’ve been removed… from what?
  • Worst possible call to action, “Click Here”. Completely missed promotional opportunity here.

#7: Dell.com

Dell is a behemoth with many divisions. Evidently I purchased my old tower computer through their “Large Business” division, and as my reward I’m forced to deal with their Enterprise-level unsubscribe process. Lord have mercy.

dell-unsubscribe-1-sm

Dell Step 1 – Things to Notice:

  • Lots of options. I’m impressed and annoyed.
  • It’s difficult to find the button or link I need. More annoyance.

dell-unsubscribe-2-sm1

Dell Step 2 – Things to Notice:

  • Yikes! What did I do?  All the red text grabs my attention, but looks like a gigantic, Enterprise-level error message.
  • Nothing promotional other than the standard site header & navigation, nothing targeted at me as a potential purchaser. This is a missed opportunity.

#8: Guidestar.org

Nonprofits send out emails too, and many could use some help with their unsubscribe process. Here’s one example:

guidestar-unsubscribe1-sm

GuideStar.org Step 1 – Things to Notice:

  • Even though I’m sent into a “Subscription Management” area, the next steps for my task are quite clear. So far, so good.
  • Well branded.

guidestar-unsubscribe2-sm

GuideStar.org Step 2 – Things to Notice:

  • This extra step isn’t too difficult, but misses an opportunity to mention the benefits of the newsletter, or give me an alternative to completely unsubscribing.

guidestar-unsubscribe3-sm

GuideStar.org Step 3 – Things to Notice:

  • Here’s where things went sideways.
  • The call to action (“Back to subscription page”) doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t really remember ever being ON the subscription page before.

Nearly Hopeless Examples

Then there are the ones that sent me out into the garage to kick the heavy hanging bag. Here’s the first one:

#9: Hosting.com

hosting-com-unsubscribe-onemail-1-sm

Hosting.com Step 1 – Things to Notice:

  • The title of the page is “Subscribe” – the exact opposite of what I want to do.
  • Not branded. I’m not even sure I’m in the right place. There’s a person’s name and address (why?), but no company identity.
  • Again, I have to remember which email address I used with these guys.
  • Options are confusing, since the form is trying to do double-duty as both a Subscribe and Unsubscribe interaction.

hosting-com-unsubscribe-onemail-2-sm

Hosting.com Step 2 – Things to Notice:

  • Wow. The nonexistent branding was replaced by yet another anonymous look and feel.
  • No promotional messages at all. No branding. I’m definitely not feeling engaged at this moment.

#10: Nameless

This company had an email unsubscribe process that did not work at ALL, and they send out newsletters almost every day. I thought about trashing them, but decided they don’t deserve even a mention.

Unsubscribe This!

That’s it for this post, but if you have email unsubscribe horror stories or good examples to share, I’d love to hear about them. Post them in the comments.