Jenny Peters

How to handle e-mail opt-out

Written by Jenny Peters Jeffrey Bertoen on

E-mail marketers often measure their success in clicks, but there’s one click nobody likes: the unsubscribe. And yet there is much to be learned from an opt-out: about your target group, your brand image and the quality of your e-mailings. But you can only learn these lessons if you’ve optimized the process behind the click. It won’t cost you much effort, just think the process through thoroughly one time and it will regulate itself.

Reducing opt-out

Opt-out is part of the deal in e-mail marketing, but you certainly can reduce the numbers. For example, don’t unsubscribe a reader at his first click on the hyperlink in your mail but let him confirm that he wants to unsubscribe. He may have clicked the link by accident or to test the landing page (designers and fellow marketers are very curious people). A double opt-out is easily set-up by referring to a landing page with an unsubscribe form. Or send an e-mail confirmation which requires a click to confirm.

This last page or e-mail is also your last chance to change the contact’s mind about unsubscribing. To keep him, you can offer him a temporary opt-out. It may well be that he’s going travelling or just needs a bit of a break from your e-mail flow. A temporary opt-out in a web form is easily settled with a date field.

Learning from opt-out

Why don’t they want your e-mail? Find out by asking. Again, a web form is ideal. Add a question to the form with either multiple choice options or a free text field. Multiple choice will return solid, measurable data on the reasons for opting out and it structures the answers so that they won’t take you much time to analyze (or be filled with offensive language from disgruntled readers).


Nonetheless I recommend a free text field. Your readers will surprise you with their feedback and the improvements they can offer your newsletter. Just think: if they have reasons to opt-out that you can think of yourself, than you should have done more to prevent them by improving the e-mail itself. So accept the incidental grouch and ‘listen’ to your ex-readers.

A bonus of free text: it gives the contact the feeling that he can tell what he thinks and that you’re listening, which positively affects his residual feelings towards your brand. Consider it a friendly farewell.

Automatic processing of opt-out

So how do you process unsubscriptions? Because aside from having to read the contact’s motivations, the process is quite easily automated. Most easily through a hyperlink in the e-mail. Make sure that this link is simple and visible to readers, so that they press it instead of a ‘this-is-spam’-button*.

We’ve mentioned web forms a few times now, since they have  the most flexibility in the opt-out process. A web form can be placed on your regular website and linked directly to your contact database. Since this is also where you send your e-mails from, the web form can recognize who is accessing the webpage and prefill personal data for that contact. And when that person unsubscribes, the form will be directly processed by your database according to your settings. No manual data entries for you! Plus you can add and change the web form’s data fields and check data of users as you like.


Alternately, you can add a follow-up action to a hyperlink in your e-mail document. Use a ‘thank you for unsubscribing’-page to land the hyperlink on and tell the e-mail system to change the contact’s data when he clicks that link. For example you could use a follow-up action to send a confirmation e-mail to his address.

As an extra option I recommend adding an unsubscribe header to every e-mail. This is a piece of HTML coding which will be transformed by Hotmail, Gmail and other programs into an opt-out link. This link is displayed in the style of the browser instead of inside your e-mail. It looks trustworthy to your contact, even if he does not trust you enough to click inside your e-mail. A click on an unsubscribe link can be automatically registered by your system and used to unsubscribe the reader. Don’t use it instead of a regular unsubscribe link, because not all e-mail clients display it!

*Why do we always place this button at the bottom of e-mails? Why not at the top next to the webversion. It’ll be close to the spam button and hard to overlook, preventing spam-reports on your address.