UNSUBSCRIBE ME….Yes….really…please…

As part of my New Year’s resolution, I have embarked on a new project – unsubscribing from all newsletters, offers and company emails. I started out with the intent of unsubscribing only from the ones I haven’t read in months, but I decided to wipe them all out and start over fresh, only subscribing to relevant and interesting newsletters. It’s not that I hate email marketing, in fact I still find it effective, but over the last 12 years in PR, apparently I’ve not been very judicious about subscribing, nor good about unsubscribing once I am not getting value from them, and my guess is neither have many of you.

This has been a very interesting project for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the shock of finding out I subscribed to more than 200 newsletters that I was just deleting every day. Being in the marketing/PR field, what I found even more interesting was the way that organizations handle unsubscribes. Some have you email them, some are quick one-clicks, some want to ask you once or twice if you are really sure, some bury the unsubscribe on the page you click to, others actually ask you to log in with your password.

I decided to check on the rules for opt-out – I looked at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protections CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business, and I also found a link to the explanation of the latest CAN-SPAM act, an excerpt of which is:

1.     Opt-Out page:

An opt-out link in an email must lead directly to an opt-out removal form.  A login preference method is not permitted for unsubscribes under the new CAN-SPAM 2008 provisions.

2.     No complicated pages or persuasive advertising

The opt-out link must lead to a single landing page and not to a complicated set of navigation pages or require additional links to get to the final opt-out page.  The opt-out landing page must not contain any persuasive text to keep the user opted-in.

3.     Simple email address entry only

All unsubscribe / opt-out mechanisms must require only the user enter their email address for removal.  No additional information may be requested or required on this opt-out form for removal.

Throughout the last few days I have found many organizations that do not follow these rules. I have been asked to enter log in information, I have been asked if I was sure many times, I have encountered many forms of persuasion, and I have been asked for my address, phone number and much more before being allowed to unsubscribe. In fact there are still a few from which I have not been able to unsubscribe as of yet. Most surprising though is that the sites that are making the opt-out most complicated are not random small businesses; many are well respected publications and organizations that really should know better.

There has been a lot of debate whether “email is dead” and personally I find that ridiculous or at least pre-mature, but I do believe that email overload caused by the inability to easily unsubscribe from email lists is making that a more likely reality as people become more overloaded and frustrated. I understand that marketers are under a lot of pressure to have large lists, but marketing to hostages stuck on your email list isn’t going to get you the results you need.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this and on how you handle unsubscribes? Also if there is one e-mail/newsletter that you think I should subscribe to, what should it be?

Also, as a reward for reading my entire post, here is a link to the best post-unsubscribe I have seen yet: thanks for the laugh Groupon: http://www.groupon.com/unsubscribe

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