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How to Resolve the Broken Unsubscribe Process

06/26/18 | Dana LaRieal Morales

The unsubscribe process has always been one that has irritated me as a consumer, but with the introduction of GDPR - General Data Protection Regulation, businesses are now beginning to have a much-needed conversation about unsubscribe links and being transparent regarding how consumer information is being used. Now don't get me wrong, as a business owner I fully understand the frustration and disappointment you experience when someone unsubscribes from your mailing list, but there could be many reasons why someone no longer wants to receive your information.  In some cases, it is because you didn't provide any alternatives.  That is what I want to talk about today, the ways to identify if you have a broken unsubscribe process that could get you an invitation to the email blacklist.

Is Your Process Following the Law?

For those of you who didn't know, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 established the first national standards for sending commercial e-mail.  It has a number of requirements that I encourage you to read, but the sections I want to bring your attention to today are 15 U.S.C. § 7704(3) Inclusion of return address or comparable mechanism in commercial electronic mail and 15 U.S.C. § 7704(5) - Inclusion of identifier, opt-out and physical address in commerical electronic mail.  In summary, a few key things you need to provide are:
  • A clear identification that the message is an advertisement or solicitation, however this does not apply if the recipient has given prior affirmative consent to receive the message;
  • A notice of the opportunity to decline further messages from the sender - there is a lot of specific details related to this; and
  • a valid physical postal address of the sender.

My Personal Experience with Bad Unsubscribe Links

In attempting to unsubscribe from an email, I experience a lot of frustration when I come across broken unsubscribe links. My normal process as a consumer is to first use the unsubscribe link or to reply to the email requesting that the sender unsubscribe me from their list.  As stated above, providing this ability is the law.  Well, today when I went to unsubscribe, the company's unsubscribe link didn't work. What was I supposed to do?  In this case, most people do one of two things, they either try to respond to the email or they just mark it as spam or junk mail. Assuming, of course, that it isn't a no reply email. If it had been, it would have technically been against the law since the unsubscribe link didn't work. Obviously, as a business owner, you don't want your clients or potential clients marking your emails as spam or junk mail as it sends up red flags in the internet world.  This could cause your emails to skip the inboxes of your recipients and end up in the junk folder or worse yet on the email blacklist.

What Process Changes Do You Need to Make?Spam Mailbox | The Happiness Bucket

No one wants to end up in the junk folder or on the spam or email blacklist.  That means you aren't getting through to your potential customers.  So in light of this, I want to share a few things that you want to avoid:
  1. You don't provide a way for the recipient to unsubscribe - this first of all is against the CAN-SPAM law and if you have an internet business with potential EU customers this is against GDPR as well.  You should always provide a way for people to unsubscribe from your list.  Even if your direction is to reply with unsubscribe in the subject. Albeit the latter method isn't the most efficient or preferred way but works as long as you remove people manually who send those emails.
  2. Your link requires the individual to enter an email address - this is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to the unsubscribing process.  Explain to me why I must enter my email address to unsubscribe from an email that you just sent me?  You should code the link to populate that information.  A recipient should just need to confirm it.  On your end, it may be innocent, but to the recipient, it is suspect behavior.  What is the purpose of asking me to supply an email? I am trying to get off your list.  I see this type of link more times than not when a person is using a simplified mailing system. The system is too simplified or they just aren't familiar with the inner workings of it.  Ask your support team of your mailing system how to do it if you don't know.
  3. You only provide an all or nothing path - You provide an unsubscribe link, but maybe the person just doesn't want to hear about the baby topics you send out but want to know about the meal planning info you send out.  Give your recipients a choice if you offer different types of content.  This is something that may seem to be a limitation of your mailing system, but most can give you a workaround if you just ask them.  By having options (Unsubscribe from this topic, unsubscribe from the company or provide a suppression list) you raise the possibility of retaining valuable clients or potential clients that may just not be interested in the baby content you send out.

Identification of your Subsidiaries, Associated programs or Alternate Lists

Something I am beginning to see with the passing of the GDPR deadline is that many companies are burying an unsubscribe from this and all subsidiaries link in their privacy policy.  A much better way to handle this is to offer one unsubscribe page.  On it show the individual's email address and everywhere you use it.  This allows the person to pick and choose what they want to receive.  Since GDPR just passed in May 2018, I suspect that many mailing services are going to be introducing new options for unsubscribing from their lists as a way to combat this issue. One other thing to think about is when consumers want to unsubscribe from a topic or division of your company. This happens when a special program or email is sent under a different division of your company or a different header.  Because the company provides this information, some will change their mind about unsubscribing from everything and instead ensure they are subscribed for what interests them.  If the choices aren't given as options they weigh which is more important, what they want or what they don't want. So, be clear about your associated programs and divisions. When people are unsubscribing, consider offering a resubscribe link in case they made a mistake. Finally, I encourage you to walk through your email process to determine what your customer is actually experiencing.  Set up a testing email account and walk through the process from subscribing through to the unsubscribe process.  You want to see what your customers will experience.  You can also ask someone else to walk through the process for you and provide feedback. By taking these precautions and thinking about your consumer's process, you will be more apt to stay off the blacklist.