Why an Unsubscribe Is Better Than Being Marked as Spam


BY  KAYLA LEWKOWICZ This message from iOS 10’s Mail app sends shivers down any email marketer’s spine:


This message from iOS 10’s Mail app sends shivers down any email marketer’s spine:

But it shouldn’t, and here’s why: Unsubscribes can be a good thing. The alternative, being marked as spam, is much worse. While it may be satisfying to have an expansive email list, it’s difficult to determine the subscribers that matter. Are you really delivering an ultra-relevant message to hundreds of thousands?
Here’s why an unsubscribe isn’t the end of the world—but can actually be a good thing for your email marketing program:


“Spam” used to imply malicious bots or spammers intent on stealing money from innocent people. While that definition still holds true, we’ve found that consumers have shifted their definition of spam to include any unwanted email.
43% of consumers often or or very frequently junk emails, according to our Adapting to Consumers’ New Definition of Spam report. And with the “Mark as spam” button prominently displayed on many email clients, frustrated subscribers may opt to junk your email rather than take the time to unsubscribe.
The more spam complaints you receive, the lower your sender reputation, and the increased likelihood that you’ll be blocked by spam filters and labelled as a spammer. That’s an email marketer’s worst nightmare!


50% of consumers marked an email as spam because of a confusing or painful unsubscribe process. As painful as it can be to see subscribers leave you, making it too hard to opt out can lead to deliverability problems that hurt you much more.
Ensure it’s easy for your subscribers to say goodbye by:
  • Making the unsubscribe link clear and prominent in your email. While most include a link in the footer, we also recommend adding a second unsubscribe link somewhere else in your email, especially in a re-engagement or permissioning campaign.
  • Use an unsubscribe process that takes no more than two clicks. Keep it down to the bare minimum and make sure subscribers can unsubscribe from all your emails on the same page, not just that specific newsletter.
  • Don’t require a login to unsubscribe.
  • Enable native unsubscribe links provided by inbox providers by adding list-unsubscribe functionality to the of your emails.

Lowering the barrier to unsubscribing makes sure your email lists stay more engaged and helps you avoid spam complaints, boosting your deliverability.


To really leverage the power of email, you need to send to an engaged list (and not just for deliverability purposes). That’s why HubSpot unsubscribed 250,000 people from their email lists, and why you should consider doing the same.
When you build a brand, you’re building a community, and some people lose interest over time. That’s ok! Your brand and content won’t always please everyone. Instead, focus on pleasing the people who matter—the subscribers who do care about what you have to say. To figure out who those people are, start with a re-engagement campaign.


While your now-inactive subscriber may have signed up excited to receive discounts or after a conference, that relationship may change over time. Maybe they’re not wowed by your product, or are bored after receiving the same discounts over and over. Or it could be that their role has changed and they are no longer as interested in the topics your brand covers. For whatever reason, they may not be “that into you” anymore.
To figure out who to re-engage, you need to define a timeframe of inactivity and lack of engagement. This differs across industries and companies, so you need to consider these factors:
  • Subscriber behavior: How your subscribers engage with your brand, whether that’s in email or otherwise, can help determine who you need to talk to. Take a look at your data. Are they engaging with your email campaigns? Do they even open your email? If they’re not engaging with your email or you can see that they haven’t visited your site in a while, maybe they’re not that interested in what you do or what you have to say. It’s time to give them a nudge.
  • Send frequency: When figuring out what length of inactivity should trigger a re-engagement effort, consider your send frequency. If you send daily deals, then you should shorten your time frame, but if you’re sending a monthly newsletter, you need more data to make a decision (like 6 months to a year).
  • Customer lifecycle: How often would someone make a purchase from your site? If it’s retail, then it might be every few months or even more often; in B2B, maybe only once a year or less frequently. This affects both the length of inactivity you should look at and the subscriber behavior data that makes sense.
Once you’ve defined a timeframe, you can start to look at your subscriber history and determine who has been inactive. Once you do, it’s time to send a message, like this one from Chipotle:

This approach is direct and clear for the subscriber: Do you want my emails? Yes or no. More likely, though, you’ll need to send a series of re-permission emails, perhaps reminding them of why they signed up in the first place, like this one from JetBlue (see more great examples from our friends at Emma):

Make sure in your series, you also make it clear that the subscriber will be removed if they don’t respond, at least by the final email, if not before. Take this example from Bed Bath & Beyond:

Or this one from Spoon University:

Either way, if they aren’t interested, let them go. Honor their unsubscribe or remove them from the list if they don’t respond and take solace in the fact that you have a much cleaner list and may have avoided a spam complaint down the road.


Once you know who’s really interested based on your re-engagement campaign, experiment with segmentation to see if you can deliver a more relevant message to that once-inactive subscriber. Capitalize on their renewed interest—the choice of “yes” to receive emails once more—to deliver a relevant and personal message.
Take a look at what kind of data your company collects about your customers and subscribers to build segments, either by demographics, geolocation, or other information you may have learned about them, like the products they have on a wishlist. Use this data to create segments and send out more specific campaigns to increase engagement.
If you don’t have that data, ask your subscribers! Have them choose preferences during the signup or onboarding process, or use progressive profiling to refine what you know about them. Let them decide what they’re interested in and use that data to deliver a better subscriber experience.


Get your email scanned by every major spam filter before you send with Litmus’ Spam Filter Testing.



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#DIGITAL: Why an Unsubscribe Is Better Than Being Marked as Spam
Why an Unsubscribe Is Better Than Being Marked as Spam
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