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Why are Email Unsubscribe Options Important?

Email marketing remains one of the most popular and effective forms of online marketing. Email drives an average ROI of $42 for every dollar spent—higher than any other marketing channel.
But, when you’re running email marketing campaigns it’s essential to not only seek permission to begin emailing your contacts, but to also give them clear and simple options for unsubscribing from your list.

Here are some key reasons why email unsubscribe options are important (and required), and how to present them.

Why Email Unsubscribe Options Matter

Of course, you want to keep growing your customer list and don’t want to lose customers. But by making it difficult for customers to unsubscribe from your contact list, that doesn’t mean you’ll keep those customers—it just means you’ll frustrate them with a poor customer experience that will make them more likely to share negative feedback about your brand. And, even more importantly, it also could leave your business liable for severe legal penalties. Let’s consider both reasons in more detail.

Creating a Negative Customer Experience

When a customer is engaged in your marketing funnel, it’s important to optimize their path from one step to the next so that each stage in the process goes as smoothly as possible. For example, if a customer has clicked on a pair of sunglasses on your website, you might send a follow-up email that includes a link to their shopping cart with that item already added, allowing them to check out with a single click. Like it or not, you should create the same smooth processes for customers who no longer want to be customers.

Maybe your offers aren’t relevant for them anymore, or they’ve shifted to a competitor’s brand. You can often identify signs of potential customer churn early in the process, and initiate a winback campaign to re-engage them in your sales cycle—but the time to do that is before they’re ready to unsubscribe.

If they’re past the point of no-return and decide they want to unsubscribe, they should be able to complete the process quickly. If they need to go digging for a way to get off your list, or you take steps that delay the process, they’ll likely become frustrated and develop a negative attitude towards your brand. Now, rather than just losing a customer, you’re still losing a customer who is now angry and could tell their friends and family about their negative experience. If a customer is showing signs of disengagement, you can use re-engagement tactics to get them back in your funnel—but if they’ve already made the decision to unsubscribe, you need to make the experience as seamless as possible.

Staying in Compliance with CAN-SPAM

The CAN-SPAM Act is a federal law that establishes requirements for all commercial email messages and spells out penalties for violating them. Under CAN-SPAM, businesses are required to tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future messages, and must honor all opt-out requests promptly. Under CAN-SPAM, “promptly” means within 10 business days, but keep in mind that most customers will be disgruntled if they continue to receive messages for that long after they’ve unsubscribed. Ideally, you should process the request on the same day you receive it.

Every separate email that violates CAN-SPAM is subject to penalties as high as $43,792. Clearly, it’s essential to follow CAN-SPAM’s guidelines to the letter to avoid such massive financial risks.

There are clear reasons to make your email marketing unsubscribe process as easy as possible. So how do you do it?

Making It Easy to Unsubscribe

You don’t want your customers to get confused during the unsubscribe process. Follow these steps to make it seamless, and take the opportunity to get valuable customer feedback.

Add an Unsubscribe Link in the Header of Your Messages

Rather than requiring customers to scroll down to the footer to find an unsubscribe link there, you should also include a prominent link right in the header of your message.

Offer a Menu of Unsubscribe Options

During the unsubscribe process, you shouldn’t try to force customers to stay, but you can always offer them a range of options for lower-frequency communications. For instance, you can provide the option of moving from daily to weekly messages or allow them to select “promotional emails only” featuring all of your best deals. Make sure you also include the opportunity to unsubscribe from all messages, but some of your customers may realize they just don’t want to hear from you as often rather than stopping the relationship altogether.

Remove Them Instantly

CAN-SPAM may allow up to 10 days for customers to be removed from a list, but continuing to send even a single marketing message after your customers have unsubscribed may lead to a poor customer experience. Make sure that once a customer has opted out, they’re immediately removed from your database.

Ask Them to Fill Out an Optional Survey

When a customer is opting out, it’s a perfect time to learn more about why your communications weren’t working. While a customer is unsubscribing, send them to a page with a brief survey with multiple choice options about why they chose to leave (i.e., too expensive, not relevant, etc.), as well as an open question where they can share their thoughts in more detail. Don’t make it mandatory for the customer to fill out the form to complete the unsubscribe. For those that do respond, their answers will give you good data to help inform your business strategy.


Email marketing is still a crucial part of your business’ marketing strategy—but by ensuring that your customers have simple unsubscribe options, you can focus on helping customers stay connected to your brand through the channels that work best for them.

Some customers may decide they’d rather receive messages via SMS, or communicate within your app. Whatever the case, make sure your customers have simple ways to share their preferences and honor their requests so you can maintain a positive relationship with them—no matter where or how they choose to engage with your brand.

Iterable is a cross-channel marketing platform that powers unified customer experiences and empowers marketers to create, optimize and measure relevant interactions and experiences customers love. Leading brands, like Cinemark, DoorDash, Calm, Madison Reed, and Box, choose Iterable to power world-class customer experiences throughout the entire lifecycle. Discover our growth marketing solutions for personalization, increasing customer engagement, and more. Discover our platform and schedule a demo today.