For as long as I can remember, I’ve been receiving an email from an organisation I will not name, but which appears to be utterly fixated on ensuring that I cannot unsubscribe from their mailings.

I can only assume it is their life’s work (to annoy me, that is). Every time their email drops into my inbox (it does so, daily), I furiously hunt around for any sign of an ‘unsubscribe’ link. But it’s never there. Ever.

Take a look for yourself. Here’s the header:


Perhaps they’ve hidden it in the within the endless footer text?

Nope, it isn’t there either, is it? And trust me, I’ve read and re-read that text so many times, just in case I’m missing something.

I’ve even tried replying to the email using all the tricks in the book (i.e. placing ’Unsubscribe’ in both the subject and body) but to no avail.

This is an extreme example of complete disregard for the subscriber, but there are still numerous examples of poor practice when it comes to unsubscribe options in email marketing. It should never be painful but, too often, the process we have to go through to remove ourselves from newsletter lists is intentionally drawn-out and tiresome.

Using such tactics is entirely counter-intuitive, because senders will, sooner rather than later, simply get fed up and report the email as spam (as I have done with our friends above). And, as we all know, the more spam reports you get, the higher the chance of being blacklisted and effectively cut-off from the outside world your marketing arm becomes.

To illustrate both the problem and how it can be rectified, I’ve decided to delve into my inbox and pick out six emails. Three demonstrate great unsubscribe behaviour, while the other three leave an awful lot to be desired. Each one teaches us a valuable marketing lesson.

Great example no.1

Simplicity is a brilliant thing in email marketing, and the above example neatly demonstrates how a tidy, uncluttered footer goes a long way when it comes to helping people unsubscribe.

Despite what you may have been told, you don’t have to plaster your footer with terms, conditions, addresses and company numbers – keep it simple and give the unsubscribe link some space.

Poor example no.1

This one makes the naughty list because it makes a hugely frustrating error. At first glance, recipients who want rid of such communications will be delighted when they note the word ‘unsubscribe’ in the header pre-text. Alas, there is no link – just an instruction to scroll down to the bottom of the email.

Seconds last a lifetime in digital marketing and by this point, many people simply won’t bother to scroll down. Those that do may then take even longer to find the real unsubscribe link and get frustrated while doing so. Either way, that’s not a great outcome for anyone.

If you’re going to mention the unsubscribe option within the pre-text, make sure the link is present!

Great example no.2

Often, it’s what happens after you click ‘unsubscribe’ that hurts. Being guided through multiple landing pages with various tick boxes is as bad as not having the option at all, so it’s nice to see this email offering true one-click unsubscribes (the best kind).

Poor example no.2

A simple one, this. There’s way too much text in that footer, and the unsubscribe link is buried within it, thanks to a rather stealthy link colour. There also appears to be multiple ways to unsubscribe. Why? Simplicity should rule, every time.

Great example no.3

We’ll save the best for last. The email marketers who are brave enough to put the unsubscribe link within the header pre-text should be applauded. While it may feel counter-intuitive, it’s the most pleasing result for people who want to unsubscribe and, providing it offers true one-click unsubscribing thereafter, this is the most ethical way to do it.

Poor example no.3

Another example of a text-heavy footer, but the real issue here is that, while the links are nice and prominent, none of them read ’unsubscribe’.

If people are looking for a specific word, you need to provide the least resistance to finding it.

Wrap up

Do all you can to avoid being on the naughty list above. Make unsubscribes as simple as possible in your email campaigns and your friends will quickly outnumber your enemies.