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Things I’d Like To See Go Away – Desperate Unsubscribe Pages

by Hank Barnes  |  August 7, 2018  |  3 Comments

Warning: I’m venting.   My mother is getting older and I’ve been helping her out quite a bit lately.   One of the things I wanted to do is make it easier for her to manage her e-mail, to find messages that are important.

Easier said than done.

Her e-mail box was loaded with messages from politicians, stores (many that she maybe bought one thing for a grandchild once), newletters, travel ads, and more.


I think I have unsubscribed her from over 200 different lists.  The experience was quite interesting (note: I added an update example from my personal experience at the end of this post).  Here is my not very scientific (i.e. it is was I remember) summary:

  • 15% – The Unsubscribe button did not work.  The link was either broken, non-existent, or took me to a blank page.  (for these, I e-mailed customer service and usually got off the list–in some cases this was actually more intuitive than the other options.
  • 5% – A truly easy unsubscribe experience, click the button in the e-mail, get a message that you are unsubscribed (from that list, or possibly all for this sender).
  • 15% – Easy, just asked to confirm the unsubscribe.
  • 15% – Somewhat easy but—when asking for the confirmation, they begged and offered lots of other e-mail options (for lists to stay on or get on) that were confusing.
  • 25% – Get to the page and basically get told that I must be there in error and beg me to stay (and tell me there other lists that she won’t be removed from–but did not give me an option to get off them).
  • 25% –  A nightmare of confusing options, begging, obfuscation, and 4 or 5 steps to actually unsubscribe.

For many of these, I  was also told be prepared for a lot more e-mails, it takes a while to process the change.  In what world do they live in?

This was the most ridiculously frustrating thing I had ever experienced.

Think about it, if someone is able to find the unsubscribe button buried in the fine print (don’t believe me, go looking), you can be pretty confident they want to unsubscribe.  In many cases, they probably never wanted to be on the list in the first place–getting tricked or forced to opt-out when ordering (and see this article for why that works–for the vendor (but like I experienced, if done wrong, sucks for the customer).

At that point, the desperate desire to keep them is just idiocy.  But it may be the quest for numbers (and as Den Howlett shared, many value quantity over quality  regardless of the fact that it rarely works).

Its times like these where I am embarrassed to be associated with marketing.   And these are all “best practices” that disgust me.

There has to be a better way.

Update: After drafting this post, I received a message in my Gartner inbox for some list that I don’t remember ever getting on.   I went searching for the unsubscribe button and found it at the bottom of the page (to be fair, it was pretty visible and the print was not tiny.  When I clicked it took me to this page:


Notice how, despite the fact that I had just clicked on unsubscribe, it defaults to “continue to send me email.”  I suspect they were told the best practice of around choice (mentioned in link above) and figure they can trick some people to click update and not actually unsubscribe.

But they couldn’t fool me (if I was rushed and had not done the massive clean up for my mother, they may have).  I chose “Never email me again.” then clicked update.  You think I’d be done.  Nope.  This was the next screen:


Really?!? Do you think we are all stupid?  If we have to result to tactics that frustrate and trick people to keep our numbers high; if these are best practices; then I don’t want to play.

Category: go-to-market  

Tags: demand-generation  e-mail  strategy  unsubscribe  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. His research efforts focus on understanding the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. He then applies that research to explore the implications on vendor strategies, supporting the efforts of product marketing, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and CEOs. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Things I’d Like To See Go Away – Desperate Unsubscribe Pages

  1. Tom Austin says:

    First get a list of all the senders (e.g., sort the archive folder by the from address.)
    Second, ID those senders you WANT to get email from (the desired senders list, DSL)
    Third, open a new email account and send an email to everyone on the DSL notifying them of your new email address. Do this twice.
    Fourth, close the old email account.

  2. Craig Roth says:

    If you don’t plan to do business with them again, block them from your email system instead of unsubscribing. It’s easier and doesn’t let the sender know it’s a live email account, which could result in even MORE spam.

    I wrote ” My optimum level may be to receive 3 marketing emails per year for every purchase I make that year. Go beyond my tolerance and you’ll probably find yourself on my spam list.” in my blog post below. It would be great if, when first asking for your email address, companies would commit to a statement like that.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Another great idea. For both of these though, it requires some sophistication on the receiver’s part. My mother would have no idea how to do either of these approaches. And I suspect many others don’t.

      Meanwhile vendors (and list vendors) will brag about the number of names on their list, calling them qualified. My friend Dave Brock periodically scans the messages his system blocks and regularly finds messages targeted at any names mentioned on their site–including folks listed in memorials. It’s just sad.

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