Why don’t people trust “Unsubscribe” links?

Every time we send out one of our lead generation campaigns, a handful of recipients unsubscribe. Some will do this by replying “Please unsubscribe me from this list” or simply “STOP”. Why don’t they just use the link which is included for this purpose?  

The law

Every marketer’s favourite package of legislation, the General Data Protection Regulations, or GDPR, focused heavily on recipients’ consent to be contacted. The shorthand version is that “it should be as easy to withdraw consent as to give it.” Any email sent to recipients inside the European Union, it is now a legal requirement to include a working “unsubscribe” link.  

It’s worth noting that you don’t have to use the word “unsubscribe”, the link just has to be clearly visible. Something like “Tell us what emails you’d like to receive” is compliant with the law (at the time of writing).  

The bad news

Sometimes it’s worth just stating the obvious; criminals don’t care about the law! Security software firm Sophos has an entire blog post about “unsubscribe” links in spam email. The article points out that clicking on a link demonstrates the account is valid and in use. In addition, opening a link in a spam email will show a scammer your IP address, which identifies your location. Although this way of determining a location is not always 100% accurate. You will also share what browser and operating system you are using with the site that you visit.  

Until spam emails stop coming, these articles have a point. If you send completely cold emails, before your recipient has interacted with you in any way, you are indistinguishable from junk email. This is why we advocate starting all your lead generation activity with website or social profile engagement.  

The cure  

If a recipient will only engage with emails from people who they know well, then no clever tactics are going to swing them.  

The best way forward for email marketing is to not let distrust get this bad. Ensure that it’s clear who you are when you email, with a sensible domain and an appropriate Sender Alias. Make sure that your subject lines set accurate expectations. Write emails which offer something of use. Lay out your email in a professional way. Avoid all-caps and don’t use more exclamation marks than necessary.  

It’s incumbent on all marketers to do what they can to improve the industry’s reputation. Whichever way a contact asks you to unsubscribe them, do it promptly and unquestioningly. We sometimes debate whether we should reply to an “unsubscribe” email. We think it’s better not to, unless they specifically ask for confirmation.  

The biggest change we’ve seen from GDPR is an awareness from email recipients about their rights around opting in or out. We took the decision to process data under Legitimate Interest rather than Confirmed Opt-In.  

The good news

Say it with me; Unsubscribes are not a bad thing! Not completely, anyway.  

In several ways, unsubscribes are valuable data. A jump in unsubscribes will tell you if when a certain campaign has not hit the mark. Contacts who do not engage with your emails at all are a pointer that you’re not saying the right thing, at the right time. Unsubscribes tell you when you’ve really gone wrong. This is literally the case when contact email you instead of clicking “Unsubscribe”. “This isn’t my department” is a useful corrective to which job titles you target. “Too many emails!” should prompt you to look at your overall calendar of emails and see if there are overlaps.  

By removing themselves from the data pot, contacts who unsubscribe mean you can see your engaged contacts more clearly. Unsubscribes very rarely come from contacts who were previously engaging positively with your sends. Your engagement rate should therefore improve as the pots shrink. 

Don’t panic 

While it feels rubbish when someone doesn’t want to read your email, it’s not the end of the world. Our friends at Smart Insights have found that the average unsubscribe rate is 0.49%.  

If you are really keen to stop people emailing you their unsubscribe requests, experiment with the appearance of your unsubscribe link. While you don’t want it to be the main Call-To-Action, make it clearly visible. The clearer it is, the more it will be the tool of choice for contacts who just don’t want to listen to you. 


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