Dave Woods - Freelance Web Design Warwickshire

Best practices for email unsubscribe

I go through cycles with my email so every six months or so, I decide to go through all the newsletters I regularly receive and unsubscribe from the ones that I no longer find of interest but this uncovered some difficulties, poor usability and major problems so thought I’d share my experiences.

Difficulty finding the unsubscribe link

I can understand the mentality that goes through people’s minds with this problem but that doesn’t mean to say that their thinking is correct. Businesses seem to believe that if I can’t find an unsubscribe link then I simply won’t bother. This may be true but there’s nothing from stopping me simply marking it as spam in my email client to prevent me from receiving the newsletter. If enough people do this, there’s the likelihood that all emails from the domain will be blacklisted and future email to all users will simply end up in their junk/spam folder.

Therefore, it’s vitally important that despite the negative impact it may have on the quantity of newsletter subscribers, that an unsubscribe link is easy to find. Most newsletters include this as a text link at the footer of the newsletter which is a perfectly fine convention to follow. However, some newsletters don’t underline the text, make it small or make it very difficult to find in amongst other terms and conditions text at the bottom of the page.

All unsubscribe links should be easy to find within a few second of opening an email. The focus of an email newsletter isn’t to make it difficult to unsubscribe but should instead be focused on providing clear and interesting content that the user won’t want to unsubscribe from in the first place.

Forcing users to login to unsubscribe

This was probably my biggest niggle when trying to unsubscribe from newsletters. A lot of the newsletters may have been subscribed to when I bought a product from them years ago and registered an account with them. I may not have bought from them since and certainly don’t remember what password I used. Therefore in order to unsubscribe, I have to go through the whole process of resetting my password just so that I can login and unsubscribe from their newsletter.

There’s no need for a company to make things that difficult for me as they already have my email address so just clicking on a link in an email should be enough to sufficiently authenticate that I’m the user who wants to unsubscribe.

Delay in processing the unsubscribe request

There may be a technical reason why this is the case but I spent an hour one evening unsubscribing from all the emails that I no longer wanted to receive. I thought I may have missed a few so as I received a few more over the next couple of days I also unsubscribed from them. So, you can imagine my confusion when I received the message saying “you’ve already unsubscribed from this newsletter”. Apparently this particular newsletter takes up to 4 working days to process an unsubscribe request and in the meantime, continues to send more unwanted newsletters.

I don’t personally hit the spam/junk button unless absolutely necessary but am sure that many people do in this scenario and I can’t see a reason why a company would do this.

Allow user to adjust delivery frequency

When a user hits the unsubscribe button, all is not lost and there are a couple of things you can try to do in order to keep them subscribed. It may be that a business is simply sending out too many emails so why not offer the user a way of unsubscribing but also the ability to adjust how often they receive emails instead.

Sending out a daily email may be good for some people but others may prefer a weekly summary of the most important information or even monthly. Allowing a user the option to choose how often they receive an email may prevent a company from losing this customer altogether.

Allow users to only receive specific newsletter topics

Another option may be to offer the user the ability to choose which topics they receive. An online retailer may sell DVDs, Blurays, Music and Video Games but the customer may only be interested in buying Blurays so wouldn’t it make most sense to allow them to just receive emails that were tailored to them?

This may not work in all circumstances but having newsletter lists that are specific to the type of content tends to retain newsletter subscribers but also tends to convert into more sales as the content is much less generic and is highly optimised with products and information for that particular person.

Get feedback

If a user is absolutely determined to unsubscribe then a simple form asking them for a reason why they’re unsubscribing usually won’t hurt. If there’s a pattern and all users say it’s no longer relevant or they receive too many then you can hopefully address the problem in future.

Offer alternatives

When a user is unsubscribing, make it easy but also provide them with information that tells them how else they can keep in touch. This may be Twitter or an RSS feed as it may just be that the user receives information via a different means than when they originally subscribed to the newsletter.


Hopefully, these few tips and problems that I encountered while unsubscribing to newsletters will give newsletter designers and marketing managers a few ideas on how better to manage their campaigns in future and help prevent other users experiencing the same problems that I experienced.

2 comments on “Best practices for email unsubscribe

  1. fabian kessler

    Exactly! Me too, if I can’t find the unsubscribe link within seconds, or it forces me to log in (and my browser doesn’t have the login stored), I click the spam button. Newsletter senders must be aware of that, and of the awful consequences for their delivery rate. Thanks for saying it.

  2. Dave Woods Post author

    Absolutely. It seems as though companies think that if they make it difficult then people won’t unsubscribe, which completely misses the point.