A few tips for making the unsubscribe process better for all

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The unsubscribe process should be pretty simple. A recipient asks to be removed from your list, and they're removed. End of story. Unfortunately, even with widespread knowledge of CAN-SPAM, this simply isn't the case. Joshua Baer, CTO of Datran Media who is also the chairman of the Email Service Provider Coalition's technology committee, and Gail Goodman, CEO of ESP Constant Contact, provide these best practices to make sure your company's unsubscribe process is a smooth one.

Keep it simple. One of the biggest mistakes people make, Goodman said, is making it too difficult for subscribers to opt out. "They want to unsubscribe but then they have to click a link and go to a site and retype their e-mail address and they have to remember which e-mail address the message came to," she explained. "People give you the privilege of communicating with them, and you should reward that privilege by making unsubscribing easy."

Goodman suggested providing a simple, "Click here to unsubscribe" button, which will do all the heavy lifting for your subscribers. Another option: sending a reply with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

Don't leave your unsubscribe list unattended or accessible. Marketers have to keep a suppression list for compliance, but many create a Web page or spreadsheet to house unsubscribed names. That's a bad move, Baer said. "If it's ever stolen by spammers, you're in trouble, and it happens more than you think." A better option: Keep unsubscribes behind encryption such as that offered by UnsubCentral Inc., another company Baer founded.

Find out why they're leaving. Just because you have to make it easy for people to unsubscribe doesn't mean you can't find out why they are going—or offer them a reason to stay, Goodman said. You can provide a simple form on the page for people to tell you why they no longer want your messages. Even better, ask them if they're willing to stay if you reduce the number of contacts per month or only send them a specific type of message.

"Maybe they want to hear from you monthly rather than weekly," Goodman said. "It's really as simple as segmenting your current list. You don't even have to create a new newsletter. Just pick the best [weekly] one and send that out to your monthly subscribers."

Don't assume errors won't happen in the unsubscribe process. Many marketers assume that their unsubscribe process just happens; it's instantaneous and complete. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. Your own spam system might suppress an unsubscribe request, or your database might not work.

Make sure every e-mail that goes out has an unsubscribe link. If your salesperson sends out an e-mail from your company that contains what could be construed as marketing materials, he or she must include an unsubscribe link—something to get that prospect or customer off their list. But many people don't realize that this is the case, Baer said. "Remind employees that any e-mail sent on behalf of a company is commercial e-mail," he said. "Be vigilant. And remember: Unsubscribes don't expire."

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