Unsubscribe...just let me go!

Ian Gotts

What’s the most efficient way of unsubscribing?

We all get unsolicited emails. Spam accounts for 78% of all email traffic according to Wikipedia. But now GoogleMail and companies like MessageLabs are pretty good at filtering out the obvious junk and downright offensive and inappropriate. It is a long time since I was offered the chance of having larger breasts or helping a Nigerian deposit millions that he had inherited.

But that leaves the remaining mail that gets through, which could be considered relevant, most of which claims that I somehow subscribed to their list. And hidden in teeny weeny text is the unsubscribe link sometimes saying which of my email addresses was used.

Please, please stop sending me stuff I don't want!!

Did I really subscribe?

So how did I get on their list in the first place?

  • Maybe in a weak moment I did subscribe expecting something valuable to drop into my mailbox rather than their clumsy marketing dross
  • Perhaps I wanted to a free download forgetting that nothing is free. I gave up my email for that content.
  • Many of the emails I get are clearly because my email had been bought as one of millions on a list. Ironically the most unsolicited emails I get are from companies offering to sell me lists of email addresses. Often they are offering me lists of users of TIBCO software. But I work for TIBCO and you sent the email to my TIBCO email address. I can get that list pretty easily!!!
  • My email is harvested every time I visit a website, purchase something or post on Facebook. That "don’t send me stuff" check box on the website is somehow not connected to their emailing app or CRM system.

And finally we need to accept that despite the mailing rules, many companies choose to ignore it or flaunt it feigning ignorance. To be fair, MailChimp an email program is very clear about the rules and encourages their users to play fair.

Strategies to get off "that list"

What are the strategies for getting off these lists to stop receiving the emails? Which are the most time efficient?

#1: You could simply delete the email and ignore it- The risk is that you are on the list and will get more emails or follow up emails reminding you that you didn’t respond to the first offer, or their second, or their third… You get the idea. This seems to be a problem mostly with offers of tickets to events and offshore software developers asking for meetings.

#2: You could mark the email as spam so your email software deals with it– The downside is that this then fills up your spam folder, which every so often you need to check for real emails that inadvertently got siphoned out of your inbox. Plus if that junk mail has a different email address next time it won’t be considered as junk.

#3: You could reply to the email with "unsubscribe" or some have some standard "Thanks but no longer interested" text- This could work, but often it encourages the person at the other end to strike up an email conversation. "Are you really sure?" "You may be the wrong person, but can you direct me to the correct person" and so on."

#4: You click the unsubscribe link hidden at the bottom of the email somewhere- Do they somehow think that if you can’t find the unsubscribe link, that you will decide - "Oh, go on, then I guess I’ll buy it anyway". But clicking on that link often opens up a whole world of pain. However, in the long run this is probably the right strategy.

#5: An alternative approach that I will come to later.

Unsubscribe at your peril

What happens when you click on that link varies massively. Starting from the best running down to the worst of the worst:

The best case is a single click unsubscribes you and you never hear from them again.

Next is you are taken to a webpage where your email address which was used is listed and you have to click a button to unsubscribe. Sometimes on that page you also have to say why you are unsubscribing.

You unsubscribe and they helpfully send you another email to tell you that you have unsubscribed adding to the dross in your inbox.

You have a link that takes you to a website where you are asked to enter the email address you want to unsubscribe. How do I know? You need to hunt back in the original junk email to work out which email address of yours they used. And then you go through the unsubscribe process.

Some marketers out there want to be really sure that you really want to leave their list. So they helpfully force you through a webpage with questions about why you want to leave – and then send you a confirmation email with another link that you need to click on to finally unsubscribe. REALLY??? REALLY??

Unsubscribing is like searching for treasure

My absolute favourite is the unsubscribe link that takes the most time. But you don’t know how time consuming it will be because each step reveals another. Like in the film National Treasure where each clue leads them to another.

It goes something like this:

  • find the link in the junk email and click on it
  • it takes you to a webpage
  • where they want you to enter your email address
  • and then you have to explain why you want to leave
  • they make you type an indecipherable CAPTCHA character string to check you are a human being
  • you get a confirmation email which you need to click the link to say you really want to leave.
  • And they send you an email confirming you have left, but giving you the option to get back on their list

Having done all of this, you know in your heart of hearts that they are the sort of cowboys that will ignore your request, or have such poor email list management, you will be back on the list for next month’s run of email vomit.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It could be BRILLIANT.

There is too little humour in business. We all spend too much time at work and surely we should be able to smile once in a while or have our spirits lifted.

The best we can hope for is that a single click unsubscribes you and you never hear from them again. That’s all we want.

Or even better this example from Hubspot. When you unsubscribe you are taken to this webpage. Yes, you are unsubscribed, but you are treated to a short video (you can watch the video below).

Brilliant. I almost wanted to resubscribe!

An alternative mindset

I promised an alterative strategy. The reverse pitch. I get a great deal of junk email from marketing, event management and conference companies. I am a non-exec director of a software company offering cloud based social app for event management – LessEventAdmin.com. So I have some standard text which goes along the lines of:

"Sorry your email is not relevant because of ‘x, y and z’. On a different, but related note. I am a non-exec of a UK company that has launched a cloud-based app designed to make event planning and management more social - and hence easier to coordinate all the different parties; venue, sponsors, speakers, etc. Result - less stress and better control of costs. It is FREE as we are looking for feedback. Perhaps you could take a look or pass it onto your event or marketing team"

Now I don’t see these emails as junk, but business development. Yay!