Check your unsubscribe process

When was the last time you actually tried to unsubscribe from one of your mailing lists? Have you ever even checked to see that your process works?

For whatever reason, unsubscribe processes don’t always work. Sometimes the problem is on the client end. Sometimes the problem is on the ESP end. But in either case, continuing to mail recipients who have attempted to opt-out from your mail is a recipe for disaster.

I mentioned last week about our new mortgage company that can’t process my unsubscribe. Today I contacted their ESP and pointed out I’d tried to unsub a few times, but was still getting mail. The ESP thanked me, pointed out that was not an ESP managed unsubscribe page and did a little digging. A few hours later their delivery guy told me that he saw my multiple unsubscribe attempts (June, July, 2 in August…) and they were all marked as “trashed.”  But he’s going to make sure I’m not mailed any more and follow up with his customer.

Now, there are a lot of reasons this unsub process could have failed. It could be that the website doesn’t handle my tagged addresses well and this is a bank, it’s very possible security is locked down. But that means they shouldn’t have accepted my tagged address in the first place.

There are a couple things to take away from this story.

  1. If you’re a company using your own unsub process, not your ESPs, make sure it works.
  2. Do the same data verification during address collection signup as you do during unsubscription processing.
  3. Test your unsubscription process.

One of my clients has brought me in to deal with problems in their unsubscribe process. In this case, they are a brick and mortar accepting addresses at point of sale. Unfortunately, there was no data verification in their process and one of their customers gave them an address belonging to someone else. This other person works at a large filtering company. To this person’s credit, her first step was to attempt to unsubscribe from the list. When the unsubscription failed, the sender was added to the filtering company’s main filters. This caused all sorts of delivery issues. The company came to me to advise them on fixing their issues and manage the delisting process.

This client discovered that their unsubscribe process was very broken. They worked with their ESP and thought they fixed the unsub problems. I talked to the filtering company and resolved the issue. Unfortunately, a few weeks later my client attempted to email active users and had the same filtering problems as before. In talking with the filtering company, the address mailed was, again, the address that had been unsubscribed.

There are a couple things to take away from this story.

  1. If you’re a company using your ESPs unsubscribe process, make sure it works.
  2. A click on an unsubscribe link is not the same as a click on another link in the email. Don’t count them the same.
  3. Test your unsubscription process.

I know that unsubscribe pages and data integrity are totally unsexy parts of an email marketing program. They’re not what drives revenue, in fact, they’re things that when done well can lower revenue. But they’re vital to the long term health of any email marketing program. Continuing to mail people who don’t want your mail drives up complaints. More complaints result in more delivery problems. Even worse, people who work at filtering companies get mail to. And “spamming employees, not allowing opt-out” is a valid filtering criteria at most places.

Sign up with a new email address at your list this week. Try to opt-out next week. Does it work?


  1. Phillip Sorenson says

    And if you switch email providers, don’t forget to take your list of unsubscribes with you!

    I see this frequently. There’s no better way to get off to a bad start than to mail all of your previous bounces and unsubs with your new email provider.

  2. Marketing Reading: Memorable and Bad Content | Better Marketing says

    […] Have you tested your email unsubscribe process lately? Do this next week! […]


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