I just went through changing my email on many email newsletters—from an old email address that had been overtaken by spam to a new one that filters the spam a bit better. That meant interacting with every email newsletter I’d ever subscribed to… I suppose I could have just left some alone, allowing them to head to spam, but I like to be thorough.

So I had the opportunity to experience the email unsubscribe experience and the update email preferences experience for about 100 different organizations.

The unsubscribe process is clearly broken for most email services. And the result is that getting off someone’s list or even just changing to a new email creates a memorably bad experience—probably one that replaces any good will someone has for the business they’re trying to interact with.

Unsubscribes are not a bad thing…

First let’s get one thing clear: if someone no longer wants to receive your email, making it easy for them to get off your list is a win for you and them. You are no longer counting them as a real prospect and you get to focus on the people who are genuinely interested in your product or service. And they don’t have to put up with getting emails they no longer want—or to an email address they no longer want use.

That means understanding how to create a great update and/or unsubscribe process is very important to leaving people feeling great about your business.

The Unsubscribe Experience

I thought by now everyone had a single click unsubscribe experience. Boy, was I wrong. And, in fact, single click isn’t always so great… I actually accidently unsubscribed to a few because on so many it’s a multi-click experience and I just assumed that would be true.

Here’s how my favorite goes:

Click unsubscribe at the bottom of the email.

I am taken to a web page that says: You’re now completely unsubscribed! (or some equivalent phrase).

That web page also says: If you clicked this by mistake, just click here to continue your subscription. They may instead send a follow up email asking if you really meant to unsubscribe. Either one of these felt good to me.

That process made it so easy, I felt really good about the businesses that offered that process.

Here’s how my least favorite looks:

Click unsubscribe at the bottom of the email.

I am taken to a web page that says: You’re now completely unsubscribed! (or some equivalent phrase).

And nothing ever changes.

Months go by, I still get their email at the same email address. I click unsubscribe again, same thing. These are reputable businesses—not scammers or anything. Some are consulting companies, some are retailers, some are nonprofits… Terrible. I never want to have anything to do with them again.

And here’s an array of examples of less than stellar email unsubscribe processes:

  1. Unsubscribe takes me to a page where I have to enter the email address to get unsubscribed – super old technology or just an obstacle to my removal, either way they earn my dislike for their business.
  2. I not only have to enter my email, I have to then choose exactly which types of emails I want to unsubscribe from—in some cases, nothing is pre-checked. Guess they’re hoping that provides an obstacle to my removal and I stay on their list in an ongoing adversarial relationship!
  3. I have to read a web page with a sob story about how I should stay on their list; then click the correct very teeny tiny button at the bottom underneath the very large button that says: Stay Subscribed. The leaves me with the impression that I’m finally seeing them for who they really are: a business that wants to trick me into being a customer. Oh boy.
  4. No unsubscribe option at all. Instead, I’m supposed to send them a reply email. That’s not happening. Instead, I’m going to use this opportunity to mark them as spam and wreck their deliverability (yes, that happens when you mark an email as spam).

Moral to the story: Offer a great experience all the way through to the end. You may find they become a customer again when the need arises. At the very least, you won’t create a bad review for your business.

The Update Email Preferences Experience

Now, the update experience. This was fraught with peril. So few email service providers actually seem to offer the ability to update your email. In addition, some businesses for some reason don’t choose to offer the service provider’s update option (!).

I only found 2 email service providers to reliably offer simple updating your preferences options (including your email address): Constant Contact and MailChimp. The marketing automation tools seem to be all over the map with how their customers have setup the update experience—some are good, others are just awful, same automation companies.

The fact that large businesses, especially B2B businesses, are making it difficult to change your email address is unbelievable. People change jobs every few years, and so their business email changes. Most of these companies want your business email, and yet are not really allowing or encouraging you to keep it up to date as you move from company to company. Idiocy.

The Profile Email Address Change Challenge

I encountered a 3rd type of situation: where I have a login to the site and I had to change my email address for my profile, thereby changing my email for any info they want to send me, including newsletters.

Getting this change to actually happen is almost impossible with many sites. Here are some of the problems:

  1. Your email is your login and they say they just can’t change it. You’ll have to create a new account.
  2. Your email is your login and they can change your email address, but not your login.
  3. Your profile email is changeable by you, but this isn’t the same as the newsletter emails. In some cases, they make that clear and offer an option to change; in others they don’t make it clear at all; and in a few they say they cannot change all places your old email is because it’s not under their control (that’s really bad).
  4. Your email is changeable, but you have to call them.
  5. Your email is changeable, but you have to come in person to do it (!).

I have various accounts in various conditions at this point – at least one from each of these 5 above. So, I still have emails going to my old email address and therefore going directly into spam. You’d think these businesses would want to change that…

In Conclusion…

In conclusion, really think about the experience you’re creating. You can choose email service providers that offer great options. And you can also influence the one you already use to offer a better option—do that. Better unsubscribe and updates are good for them as well as you—it’ll cut down on the number of people who mark emails as spam which reflects back on your email service providers servers!

Also, really take a close look at the process for any login capability you have on your site. If someone’s email address changes, how easy is it for them to update their account on your site? And does that propagate automatically to your marketing emails to them? If not, fix it. No one wants to have your marketing emails go the email they just went a whole lot of trouble to change on their account—you’ll just be making them mad.

Bottom line: email is a great tool. Text marketing hasn’t replaced it…yet. You can differentiate yourself in a positive way by making all aspects of the experience delightful for everyone who ends up on your email list.

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