When building email preference centers, what should marketers keep in mind?

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In the U.S., we don't have to ask permission to send an email to a particular person, but we do have to allow that person to unsubscribe. As a result, many marketers have focused on minimizing unsubscribe and maximizing response rates rather than encouraging opt-ins. Ironically, those with opt-in lists have greater response rates, less attrition and better reputations.

How do you get started building your own preference center?

Define your audience. If you have not yet been through an exercise of creating “personas,” this is a good reason to do it. Your preference center needs to reflect the needs of your audience, and having personas will help you be sure you're not overlooking any key segments.

Start with your customers. They'll likely be more receptive and more honest with you. If you have a customer council, ask them to provide feedback about the options you offer.

Keep it simple. It's easy to think you should have a communication track for several key verticals, titles or products, but that's a lot of content to create on a regular basis. Rather than providing an option that you can't deliver consistently, keep the choices simple to start.

Focus on content. Are you offering research, tips and tricks, or special promotional coupons? Basing your opt-in program on a prior action or interest—for instance, attending a recent event—will help you keep the content relevant.

If possible, allow subscribers to choose how often they will receive content. If you can't do that reliably, at least set an expectation of the frequency with which you will send messages.

Show subscribers a sample before they sign up and send the first email or confirmation immediately—you'll reduce the opt-outs later.

In your email footer, include both “Manage Subscription Preferences” and “Unsubscribe” links. Some recipients will choose to manage their settings rather than opt out completely.

Ed Thompson is director of demand generation for the Pedowitz Group (, a demand generation agency.

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