The Metric We Love to Hate

Of course, we all dread “This is spam” clicks but there’s one other “click through” you hope your customers never click: the unsubscribe link. While any email marketer would agree that minimizing unsubscribes is in their best interest, it’s probably the last metric you check. There are so many other sexier metrics to track, such as deliverability, opens, and conversions. But the cumulative effect of even minor reductions in your unsubscribe rate can have a significant impact on your file and revenues over time. And digging deeper to examine the root causes of subscriber defections can provide valuable insights into your email program as a whole.

Beyond the Basics

Common sense dictates that in order to preserve a healthy subscriber list, your emails have to add value. They must pass the basic “sniff test” in regard to the following criteria:

  • Relevancy: Is your content of interest to your subscribers? Is it timely, informative, or educational? In the case of retailers, do your offers and promotions resonate with recipients?
  • Frequency: If your subscribers feel inundated with messages, even the timeliest, most valuable content could be ignored. On the other hand, if you are waiting too long between touch points, you might be doing yourself a disservice. Testing and segmentation are your best bets to determine how often to message.

Taking it a step further, you can employ several more sophisticated techniques to keep your unsubscribes low:

  • Provide a Sample Newsletter: If your subscribers can see a sample newsletter before signing up, they will know what to expect when your communications start to arrive.
  • Specify Sending Frequency Upfront: Don’t you just hate signing up for a newsletter only to find you then start receiving multiple emails a day? Set expectations up front – before they subscribe – and you will have fewer disenchanted subscribers on the back end.
  • Offer Subscription Options: Better yet, offer a variety of subscription options (e.g. discount offers only, specific content-related information, new product announcements, warranty and recall information, offerings from your trusted partners, etc.). Personalizing their selections on the front end will help ensure that the content that reaches them is relevant and of interest, thereby reducing the chance of a significant drop-off down the road. Be sure to keep it simple – industry research is clear that subscribers don’t like to jump through hoops simply to get your email communications.
  • Include a Preference Center: Place a Preference Center on your unsubscribe page where your members can alter their desired frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) and subscription options. Allow them to select (or de-select) specific mailings, to tailor your future messaging to their preferences. People’s interests and needs evolve over time, and your program should be flexible enough to accommodate these changes.
  • Don’t Make it All or Nothing: Even if you don’t go so far as to incorporate a Preference Center, be sure to allow members to “selectively opt out” of specific mailings rather than simply offering a universal unsubscribe button. Perhaps they are only interested in sale announcements or, in the case of nonprofits, critical calls to action. More granular choices allow for customization – providing your recipients the chance to play “Goldilocks” – as they find the option that’s “just right” for their individual needs.
  • Provide an ECOA Link: As your recipients are likely to change email addresses over time due to normal life changes (e.g. new jobs, schools, ISPs, etc.), provide them with the option to change the address at which you reach them. Recipients might wish to unsubscribe from their work address, but move their subscription over to their personal account. Make it easy for them to make this choice by including an ECOA link at the bottom of your emails.
  • Honor Their Wishes: Although it goes without saying, we should emphasize the need to respect subscribers’ (and unsubscribers’) choices. Failure to do so can result in escalating complaint rates, which can have a devastating effect on your entire email program. Prompt implementation of unsubscribe requests is also critical to brand equity, as negative word-of-mouth can prove to be far more costly than a losing a handful of names from your list.

Information is Power

Even after you’ve done all you can to minimize your unsubscribe rate, you’ll inevitably have at least a few defectors each month. Use unsubscribes as a learning opportunity to improve the quality of your program as a whole. Some pointers to get you started:

  • Ask Why: Gather feedback as to why your subscribers are leaving you, using a drop-down menu on your unsubscribe page. Perhaps they’re opting out for reasons beyond your control (e.g. unsubscribing from a dating service after meeting their ideal mate). Or perhaps it’s something more alarming – like a decline in the quality of your content or product/service offering. Be sure to include a comment box for any additional insights. Information is power – you don’t need to divine the reason behind your unsubscribes when your readers will often be glad to willingly provide this to you.
  • Examine Trends: Look at your unsubscribe rate over time. Identify trends to determine how current rates compare with historical levels. Investigate any spikes to find opportunities to improve or revise your approach. Are your unsubscribes coming predominantly from a single acquisition source? If so, examine the gains from that acquisition source to ensure you are achieving your desired returns.

Make it Part of Your Routine

Keep a watchful eye on your unsubscribe rate. Offering details to prospective subscribers on your sending frequency and sample content will enable them to provide you with their preferences. Investing some time and energy in designing your entire program upfront, including a well-thought-out subscription (and unsub) process, can help keep your list strong, which will pay off in growing bottom line returns for years to come.

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