Adventures in unsubscribing

4143515608_b1e023af24_bWhenever I decide to dig into some or other subject matter, I end up being subscribed to several email newsletters, as you often cannot download a piece of content that appears to be interesting (but half of the time turns out not to be – let’s call that the movie-trailer-phenomenon) without submitting your email address. Obviously I could set up a separate email account for this purpose, but I find logging in and out of different email accounts to be more of a hassle than monitoring one single mailbox and deleting (or quite conveniently swiping away) the newsletters.

But at some point the number of incoming newsletters is getting annoyingly high (especially if there are daily newletters) and/or I no longer need new input on the topic, so then I set off on an unsubscribe-sprint. This simply means: going through all of the incoming mails, search for the unsubscribe link in them, and unsubscribe. Sounds pretty easy, right? Unfortunately, those sprints often end up being more of a marathon.

Some of the common obstacles:

  • A 404 error; the email newsletter contains an unsubscribe link, but if you click it, you get the message that the webpage you want to reach does not exist. Nice.
  • The page you are after exists, but has a level of complexity that makes you realize at once that you will need hours to figure out the way to achieve what you want; the most complex I have come across had no fewer than 55 options – yes, I took the time to count them.
  • The unsubscribe page displays a message that “due to a technical error, the page is temporarliy unavailable”. And to please try again later. Either I have the worst timing ever for my repeated attempts, or their definition of temporarily is somewhat different from what I consider it to be.
  • There is no unsubscribe link. This is usually the case with smaller or starting organizations, unaware of the proper modus operandi or unwilling to play the game by the rules (of politeness or privacy policy – depends on the country you live in). Then I reply to the mail with ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject line, and usually also give a 1 sentence reason why I no longer want to receive that particular newsletter. Works fine most of the time. In one particular case, however, it did not. It triggered instead a series of mails from a sales guy attempting to convince me that furhter receiving their newsletter would definitely be to my advantage. I leave it up to your imagination what this did to my motivation to ever do business with that company.
  • The unsubscription seems to be successful (i.e. there was a message starting with ‘You have successfully unsubscribed’) but the emails keep coming. Those are the worst, as they bring more work I am not looking forward to do. That starts with reading very carefully what exactly you are unsubscribing from. Turns out the message confirming the fact that ‘you are now unsubscribed’ continued with something like ‘from THIS newsletter’ or ‘from this CAMPAIGN’. Which means of course that they have a separate mailing list for each of an undefined number of newsletters and/or campaigns. Sometimes there is an option to ‘unsubscribe from all’, but apparently marketers often decide that making your life that easy is a no-go. And giving clues about how much mailing lists there might actually be definitely should be considered as part of ‘making life easy’. Maybe in a next life.

At some point, however, I have started thinking that the people designing the unsubscribe procedures actually have a well developed level of sarcasm. What else could explain that in some cases the final step of the procedure is that… they send you an email to confirm your unsubscription! (And by the way: which list exactly is used to send you that email?)

So, here’s my message to marketers in charge of newsletter subscriptions: believe it or not, but people are not ending up on your unsubscribe page by accident. And more often than not, their attitude towards you(r brand) at that very moment is not 100% positive. So is that really the moment where you want to throw obstacles in their way of reaching the goal they are trying to accomplish?

[For those interested in creative ways to handle unsubscribing: make sure to check out this hilarious TED talk]

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