Email Unsubscribers: Keep the Bad Out – and the Good In

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Most marketers tend to equate email unsubscribes with failure. While this is understandable (unsubscribing is a form of rejection, and nobody wants to see their list get smaller), continuing to send email to someone who has lost interest is generally not a good idea. As a matter of fact, continuing to send email to someone who has taken the express action of unsubscribing is illegal in most countries, including the US.

Unsubscribes do not have a negative effect on your email sending reputation. In a sense, they’re a type of list cleaning, as unengaged people are being taken off your list – they are no longer going to ignore your emails. However, there are ways, and things you can do, to keep your recipients engaged and minimize your unsubscribe rate. And you should be glad and thankful that those unsubscribes didn’t come in the form of putting your email in the junk folder, which ISPs note as a spam complaint.

It is required by the CAN-SPAM Act that all commercial messages received by recipients in the US must include the option for recipients to opt out of receiving email and this offer must be clear and conspicuous. Trying to hide your opt-out link is always a bad idea; if someone wants to unsubscribe and can’t find it, it’s really likely your email will get marked as junk.

What’s a good email unsubscribe rate?

Just like every other email metric, a “good” unsubscribe rate varies by industry and list quality. But according to various email marketing benchmark reports and data I’ve seen over the years from my own clients, unsubscribe rates generally average below .5%.

If your email unsubscribe rate is over .5%, then you may need to keep an eye on your spam complaint rate. These two metrics tend to be positively correlated, meaning if one increases, the other also increases. For the same reason, when your spam complaints exceed the industry-acceptable rate of .1%, it is recommended that you add an unsubscribe link to the header of your email to help turn any complaints that may be filed against you into those neutral unsubscribes.

All marketers should aim for the least amount of unsubscribes possible, but at the same time, you need to let the recipients go without feeling bad. But what if they really just lost interest? Anyone would hate to see a potential customer unsubscribe due to any reason other than losing interest.

Keep the “right people” from unsubscribing

Here are a few tips to help you keep the people who really should be on your list from unsubscribing:

  • Relevancy: Lack of relevancy is usually the #1 reason people unsubscribe. Keeping your content relevant requires collecting segmentation data for personalization prior to sending so you can put your best foot forward and make a good impression. It is, and will always be, one of the most significant challenges to effective email marketing.
  • Subscription management: Sometimes instead of figuring out what your recipients might be interested in with limited profile data, letting them tell you what they like is the smarter way to go. A good subscription management feature (like Act-On’s, yes) takes out all the guesswork and enables recipients to select the types of email they want to receive and/or their email frequency preference. This gives them the option to choose for themselves what’s relevant to them, or to opt down rather than completely opt out. This potentially saves you time and money, while keeping this prospect in your orbit – on their own terms.
  • Agency model: If you have several businesses sharing and sending from the same account, you could be losing out on major opportunities. The reason being that every email unsubscribe is account-wide and not specific to the sender that deploys the message.

Let’s use a simple B2C story as an example. Let’s say you manufacture hats that you sell directly to consumers.

  • Business A sells hats directly to women.
  • Business B sells hats directly to men.
  • Business C is hats for children.

The three businesses have completely different branding and three different websites. But they share overhead: The same manufacturing facility, the same warehouse, the same packing and shipping staff, the same email account. You might be sending very targeted emails to each type of buyer, but if Jane Doe opts out of Business A’s list (women’s hats), she will also be opted out of Business B (men’s hats) and Business C (children’s hats). Jane has six children, so for Business C, this is a genuine potential buyer being lost.

The solution is a cost-effective solution for managing multiple sub-accounts under one parent account in a way that’s streamlined and easy, so each business can have its own opt-out list. This effectively has the benefits of separate accounts, but the maintenance and management ease of one. (Yes, Act-On has an agency model that works just this way.)

  • Re-engagement campaigns: Continuing to send to inactive and disinterested recipients not only increases the risk of spam complaints but also lowers your engagement rates and deliverability. We strongly recommend keeping track of your list inactivity and taking actions to win back – or let go of – those unengaged contacts. One of the most effective ways is to implement a targeted re-engagement campaign for long-term inactives (six months of no activity is a good benchmark for “inactive”) to reconfirm their interest, or let them go gracefully. Doing this will spike the number of “good” unsubscribes and go a long way toward increasing deliverability.

For more tips and tricks to increase your email deliverability, download Act-On’s eBook “Best Practices in Email Deliverability.” This eBook will help you manage the critical factors that affect the deliverability of your email messages.

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