Top 12 best practices for email unsubscribe

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Email marketing is a lot like dating. 

Building a strong relationship is key. But so is knowing when to let someone go when they’re tired of hearing from you. 

It happens. 

Making sure that your customers can opt out of your email communication is important for your brand (and it’s mandatory by law). Just like you can’t stalk your ex… you can’t bombard someone’s inbox with emails that they don’t want. 

The good news is that making it easy for customers to unsubscribe can actually benefit your company.

How can it be strategic for your business to make it easy (and pleasant) for customers to unsubscribe from your emails? 

Well, the better the experience you provide your customers, the more likely they are to remain loyal — even if they don’t want your emails. Just like if you respect your ex’s wishes, they might invite you to their wedding one day. 

Conversely, if you make it difficult for recipients to unsubscribe, they will associate your brand with the frustration of having yet another unwanted message cluttering their inbox. 

It boils down to this — You should only want to send emails to people who want to receive them. This is also how you get higher deliverability and keep your messages from being marked as spam.

Just like breakups, having customers unsubscribe is a normal part of email marketing. A healthy unsubscribe rate for an average email hovers around 2%, although this number may be higher for newer email lists. 

That said, there are several best practices for unsubscribe options — ways to retain the most recipients possible with communication that adds value while keeping a good relationship with those who do opt out.

1. Make it easy to unsubscribe 

Your unsubscribe link should be visible and easy to find in your email content. Full stop. 

Ideally, place it at the top or bottom of your email, where customers can see it without scrolling. And use clear and concise language to explain what will happen when they click the link, such as “Unsubscribe from this list” or “Stop receiving emails from us.”

By making it easy to find and use, you avoid frustrating your customers and reduce your spam complaints.

Some marketers (not you) try to hide the unsubscribe link in their emails, either by making it very small or by placing it in an inconspicuous location. 

Needless to say, this isn’t a good strategy. Hiding the unsubscribe link can backfire and lead to more people marking your emails as spam. According to a survey by Litmus, 54% of email recipients said they mark emails as spam because they couldn’t easily find the unsubscribe link. 

By law, every commercial email must include an unsubscribe link, so there’s no point in trying to hide it. Instead, make the link easy to find and prominently displayed. Most people who want to unsubscribe will look for it, so it’s better to make it easy for them to do so… and make sure they’re not livid by the time they do find it. 

2. Enable single-click unsubscribe

To make the process of unsubscribing even simpler, enable single-click unsubscribe. 

That means that customers can opt out of your emails with just one click. 

This makes it easy for them to stop receiving your emails, and it shows that you respect their choice. Think back to the relationship we mentioned at the start of this blog post — a single-click breakup is way better than a zillion text messages and a mixtape with sad R&B songs. 

According to a study by HubSpot, the most common reasons why people unsubscribe from emails is that they received too many (78%), followed by irrelevant content (56%) and frequency (50%). 

When you make it easy to unsubscribe, you avoid these issues and focus on delivering the right content to the right people.

3. Honour unsubscribes quickly

When someone clicks the unsubscribe link in your email, honour their request quickly. 

Remove them from your mailing list within a few days at most. Continuing to send them emails after they’ve unsubscribed is not only annoying, it’s also illegal. You could face fines and legal action if you don’t comply with email regulations. 

Not to mention how it makes your brand look — lazy, disrespectful, confused, and messy. You get the idea. 

One way to make sure you’re honouring unsubscribes quickly is to use an email service provider (ESP) that automatically removes unsubscribes from your list. Most ESPs offer this feature, so it’s just a matter of making sure it’s set up correctly.

4. Include a confirmation page

Once a customer clicks on the unsubscribe link, include a confirmation page that will allow them to reconsider their decision. 

We’re talking about a landing page or a pop-up, not a confirmation email. One more email from you might only irritate them further. Instead, provide them with a clear message that their request to unsubscribe has been processed.

Once customers click the unsubscribe link, direct them to a page where they can confirm their decision with a single click. This page shouldn’t require them to log in, fill out a form, or give any personal information. 

If you make it too difficult or time-consuming for customers to unsubscribe, they may simply mark your email as spam, damaging your deliverability and reputation.

5. Provide alternative options

While some customers may want to unsubscribe completely from your email list, others may prefer to receive fewer emails or different types of content. 

Offer alternative unsubscribe options such as:

  • Change email address: Let customers update their email addresses and receive your emails on a different account.
  • Change the frequency: Allow customers to choose how often they want to receive your emails, such as daily, weekly, or monthly.
  • Change the content: Let customers choose the content they want to receive, such as promotions, news, or events.

With these options, you show customers that you care about their preferences and want to create a personalised experience that meets their needs.

6. Offer a pause option

Customers may not want to unsubscribe completely, but they may need a break from your communication for a while.

Give them the option to pause their communication for a set period, such as a month. This way, they can revisit your communication when they feel like it.

7. Ask them why

When customers unsubscribe from your emails, it’s important to know why. Sometimes it’s just them. But other times it’s something that you can change to win back that customer and retain others. 

Include a quick survey on the unsubscribe confirmation page that asks them why they are unsubscribing. Keep the survey as short as possible and include multiple-choice questions with an option for comments. 

The more information you have, the better you can improve your messaging and retain customers.

8. Re-engage inactive subscribers

If you have subscribers who have not engaged with your emails in a while, send them a re-engagement email. Note that this isn’t for email recipients who have already unsubscribed. 

This email should be personalised and include a discount or other incentive to encourage them to return to your brand. 

If this doesn’t work, send an automatic unsubscribe email. This allows recipients who are no longer interested in your communication to unsubscribe, which will ultimately boost your click and engagement rates.

9. Be friendly and professional

When customers unsubscribe, leave them a positive goodbye message. This shows that you care about their experience and appreciate their time. 

While it’s never fun to see people unsubscribe from your emails, you can use humour to lighten the mood and make the experience a little less painful. 

For example, you could include a funny image or GIF on the unsubscribe page, or you could write a lighthearted message thanking them for their time and wishing them well.

Here’s an example of a humorous unsubscribe message from Dollar Shave Club:

“We’re sorry to see you go. If you’re leaving because of our overuse of the phrase ‘shave time, shave money,’ we apologise. We just really like wordplay. Either way, you’re now officially unshaved and poor. Best of luck out there.”

Humour won’t work for every brand or every audience, but if it fits with your brand voice and tone, it can be a great way to leave a positive impression even when someone is unsubscribing.

10. Personalise the unsubscribe experience

Personalization is a key aspect of modern marketing, and the unsubscribe experience shouldn’t be an exception. 

When someone clicks the unsubscribe link, it’s an opportunity to learn more about their preferences and improve future communication. Use the unsubscribe page as a way to ask questions and gather feedback about why they are leaving, which helps you tailor your messaging to better meet their needs in the future.

One way to personalise the experience is to use their name in the unsubscribe confirmation message. 

For example, instead of a generic message saying “You have successfully unsubscribed,” you could say “John, we’re sorry to see you go. You have successfully unsubscribed.” 

This simple change can make the experience feel more human and less automated.

11. Continuously review and improve

The best way to keep subscribers from unsubscribing is to send high-quality, valuable content that they want to receive. If your emails are boring, irrelevant, or too frequent, people will unsubscribe no matter how easy or difficult it is to do so.

Continuously improve your email content based on feedback from subscribers and your own analytics. 

Take a look at your open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates to see what’s working and what’s not. Experiment with different types of content, subject lines, and sending frequencies to see what resonates best with your audience.

12. Monitor and analyse unsubscribe trends

It’s essential to monitor and analyse your unsubscribe trends to understand what’s working and what’s not. If you notice a sudden spike in unsubscribes, it’s important to investigate and determine the root cause. 

You may find that a specific campaign or messaging isn’t resonating with your audience or that your frequency is too high. 

By analysing your unsubscribe trends, you can make informed decisions about your email marketing strategy, improve engagement, and reduce churn.

Remember, it’s not about keeping every subscriber at all costs, but about fostering a positive customer experience that drives long-term loyalty and growth.

Email marketing can be a highly effective way to reach and engage with your customers, but it’s essential to make the unsubscribe process easy and seamless. By following these best practices, you can improve engagement, reduce churn, and build strong customer relationships that last.