The highest quality e-mail database you can build is one where your subscribers have purchased from you and have opted-in to your list. These people are ripe to become repeat customers—as long as you don’t chase them away.

I do a lot of online shopping and I like getting e-mails with specials, discounts and new product information from the companies I buy from. But (and this is an important “but”) I don’t want to receive those e-mails every day and if I decide to unsubscribe from the merchant’s list, I want it to be effective immediately.

In the past few weeks, I’ve unsubscribed from several retailers’ lists because I am tired of daily emails trying to sell me items that I purchase once a month at most and usually far less frequently. And as a response to my unsubscribe request, more than one said it could take up to 10 days to process and I’m still receiving emails from them! Yes, I’m annoyed.

What are the key lessons here?

1. Offer your subscribers frequency options. Ask them how often they want to hear from you, then e-mail them on that schedule. Ask the question when they first subscribe and then periodically in your messages. (If you send out just one or two messages every month like I do, this doesn’t apply; but if you blast out e-mails on a daily basis, this is critical.) And be sure every email you send includes clear information on how they can manage their subscription.  

2. Make breaking up easy to do. If people don’t want to hear from you any more, make it easy for them to get off your list.

Let’s look at it from the customer’s perspective. Maybe she bought one item from you last year and doesn’t need anything else you have to offer. Maybe he landed on your site and subscribed, but is now realizing that you don’t have anything he wants (or he subscribed by mistake). Or maybe she’s just trying to cut down on the number of e-mails she receives and she’ll visit your site without prompting when she’s ready to buy. Whatever the situation is, if someone wants to be taken off your list, don’t throw up roadblocks. In the real world, when you continue to try to communicate with someone who has told you he’s not interested, it’s called stalking. Don’t be an online stalker with your e-mail.

Some specific tips:

• Make your subscription management and unsubscribe links easy to find. They don’t have to be the most prominent thing on the page, but the reader should be able to locate them quickly.

• Keep the unsubscribe steps to a minimum. If someone is coming to your list management page from a link in your email, don’t force them to enter their e-mail address to get off your list. Your system should know what their address is. Many people have multiple addresses that come to the same inbox; don’t make them have to figure out which address they used for your company.

• Process the request promptly. Don’t wait days and send more e-mails after an unsub request has been made. Not only can that result in spam complaints, it can result in negative comments made about your company both on- and off-line. I’m in the process of going through this with TravelSmith. I’ve unsubscribed four times and the e-mails just keep coming. I “liked” the company on Facebook just long enough to write a complaint on its wall. And now I’m telling everyone on my mailing list that TravelSmith doesn’t have the technical savvy or the customer concern to manage its own list. Do you want those kinds of comments floating around out there about your company?

Remember, when it comes to lists, it’s quality not quantity that counts. And a quality list does not include anyone who has asked to be removed.


Jacquelyn Lynn
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