Why You Shouldn’t Fear the Email Marketing Unsubscribe by Kevin Deseuste @KevinDeseuste

Why You Shouldn’t Fear the Unsubscribe (If You Maintain the Health of Your List!) by Kevin Deseuste @KevinDeseuste

Why You Shouldn’t Fear the Email Marketing Unsubscribe (If You Maintain the Health of Your List!)

As an acquisition email ad exchange, we get asked a lot of questions. One of the ones we hear frequently is, “Is my unsubscribe rate an acceptable one?”

There’s a short answer and a long answer to that question.

Short Answer: Done right, acquisition email should have an unsubscribe rate on par with retention email. You read that correctly. At ividence the unsubscribe rate for campaigns we send is currently sitting below 0.1%.

Long answer: List owners have long been conditioned to fear unsubscribes, whether because of concern about email list growth goals, customer attrition, or effect on conversion rates. That’s understandable.

Nevertheless, that fear speaks to a potential misunderstanding of the reasons people unsubscribe and their potential alternatives. ExactTarget has released an appropriately holiday-themed report with information on those exact topics: The Social Media Break-Up.

Why do people unsubscribe? And what can you do about it?


Courtesy of ExactTarget’s Social Media Break-Up


While the ExactTarget report includes a number of responses, the top reasons break down into two basic categories:

  1. Email Overload– The right frequency can vary depending on the list and the subscriber. Email marketers should maintain a consistent schedule that matches the expectations they set for subscribers. For retention email, you may be able to overcome this by offering subscribers an easy way to access their preference center and change the frequency with which they are emailed. –>What it means for acquisition email – This comes back to the concept of control. If you maintain control of your list, you can set the best frequency of emailing for your subscribers.
  2. Relevance – Subscribers’ circumstances change, your email content might no longer meet their needs, or there may be a disconnect between what they expected and what you offer. You may not be able to bridge the gap if a subscriber’s needs have changed, but you can enhance relevance by targeting your content to specific segments of your list, surveying subscribers to find out what topics most interest them, and setting expectations clearly when they subscribe. –>What it means for acquisition email – Advertisers’ offers must always be of value to subscribers. Because email is such a trackable channel, behavioral targeting is an extremely effective way to do this. That way, subscribers’ responses help determine what they receive in the future.

As long as you follow best practices for both acquisition and retention emailing, you don’t need to fear unsubscribes. Enabling people to leave the list easily will result in a list of subscribers who want to receive your emails.

What other ways can subscribers disengage from email and why don’t I want them to?

While ExactTarget found that most people click ‘unsubscribe’ when they are no longer interested in receiving a company’s emails, some respond in ways that are more damaging to your email program.

Courtesy of ExactTarget’s Social Media Break-Up


  • Deleting, ignoring, or filtering – This may not sound terrible. Someone might still decide to open one of your emails this way, right? However, subscribers who drop out of your list rather than opting out lower engagement rates, making it harder to get into the inbox. –> What it means for acquisition email – If subscribers are consistently not responding to offers, they likely don’t want third-party emails. If you work with an acquisition email partner, make sure that subscriber response is being taken into account for future campaigns. At ividence, this is a core part of our model.
  • Clicking the ‘spam’ button– Though this makes up only a small portion of those surveyed (6%), it’s important to avoid because complaints can quickly tank deliverability. A simple way to minimize complaints is to include an unsubscribe link at the top of your emails to make it easy to find. –> What it means for acquisition email – Make sure it’s clear who the email is from, what’s in the email, why the subscriber is getting emails, and how they can stop receiving them. Being straightforward will reduce complaints and keep your list strong.
  • What you have to do on the techie side – Implement FBL (feedback loops). ISPs can provide you with the addresses that clicked on the spam button.Treat these immediately as unsubscribes. If you don’t do it, ISPs will hate you, and your sender reputation will quickly decrease.  Mequoda has a really helpful article on this topic.

It’s important to monitor unsubscribe and spam complaint rates to ensure that your list remains as healthy and happy as possible, but unsubscribes are not a bad thing in and of themselves because they leave you with a list that is interested in receiving your emails. If you have questions about how best to monitor and respond to these rates or how ividence does this, we’re happy to speak with you. Please contact us.

One last point, perhaps the most important one … a very bad practice in acquisition email is to respect the law (CAN-SPAM) but only the law… not the end-user.

The law requires that an advertiser unsubscribe link and postal address appear in each email. Because the law (in the USA) does not enforce an unsubscribe link from the publisher (the one who collected the email and that sends the advertisement email) too many publishers don’t include their name because they fear the unsubscribe rate they will get.  However, to maintain a strong list and to get the most out of an acquisition campaign, publishers and advertisers should keep these guidelines in mind:

Publishers: Don’t fool end-users. Everyone hates a phone call from someone who isn’t up front about who they are, right? You know it’s a sales rep trying to sell you something, and you won’t take the call. Remind your end-users of your publisher name and the fact that they agreed to receive email, and offer them an easy-to-use unsubscribe link (from the list, in addition to the advertiser unsubscribe link).

Yes, you will get a higher unsubscribe rate for your first acquisition campaigns, but the remaining subscribers will open and click (for both your campaigns and third-party emails). And your sender reputation will be much higher. In the end, it creates greater long-term and recurring revenue.

Advertisers: If you are proud of your brand (and of course you are!) check that all the publisher lists to which you send acquisition email respect this best practice. If not, your brand will be associated with poor behavior, and you will get unsubscribes. Not just people who no longer want your advertisement, but the ones that don’t want to be part of the publisher’s list, too.  And your sender reputation for your newsletter will also be impacted!

What have you found to be the best ways to maintain a healthy unsubscribe rate? And what have your challenges been in achieving that?

Takeaway: Unsubscribe rates, though important to monitor, are just a part of the picture of how your subscribers engage with (or disengage from) your brand and your emails. If you focus instead on delivering a positive and pain-free experience for subscribers, you’ll boost deliverability and grow a list of customers who love to hear from your brand.

Meet the author:

Kevin Deseuste

Kevin Deseuste

Kevin Deseuste joined the ividence team at the beginning of 2011 and directs the implementation and evaluation of advertiser campaigns and publisher lists for the U.S. market. He brings to the team an expertise in monitoring and enhancing deliverability and response rates from both the publisher and advertiser perspective. Prior to joining ividence, Kevin worked in Business Development at technology solutions provider SCC.

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