Fear & Placement Go Hand In Hand
One of the greatest fears for organizations that have a substantial email program is that of list attrition and stagnated growth in the subscriber base. List attrition happens when subscribers issue a spam complaint, their addresses bounce, or they “naturally” unsubscribe. A “natural” unsubscribe occurs when the subscriber takes the time to find the link, clicks on it, and proceeds with whatever unsubscribe process the company has put into place.
Companies view the unsubscribe as a threat and a failure to the long-term viability of the program. Truth be told, some companies are just plain scared of subscribers leaving their list, because someone in the organization believes that bigger lists are better. Over the years, the common practice by organizations is to place the unsubscribe link at or towards the bottom of the email. Some make it clearly visible while others find ways to hide it, either in the legalese, via a smaller font, or, in the case with a few companies I have seen, by lightly shading the link to blend into the background of the email.
Choosing Between Complaints vs. Ease
As professionals, we all know that the act of a subscriber issuing a spam complaint against the company is far more damaging to the sender’s reputation than a “natural” unsubscribe. I have long thought that if a subscriber wants off your list, you should make it easy for them. Keeping them on and unengaged in your program can lead to reputation issues. Issuing a spam complaint is easier for the subscriber because most, if not all, spam buttons are sometimes easier to find than the small, hidden link at the bottom of the email.
Companies should make it easy for people to “naturally” unsubscribe, which is why I recommend that organizations place their unsubscribe link both at the top and the bottom of their email. Before you, as the reader, haul off into some tirade that I am anti-marketing and what I have just said is email blasphemy, hear me out.
If someone wants off your list, they are going to do one of 3 things: hit the spam button, silently unsubscribe, or click on a link. The first two can hurt an organization in the long run and have potential repercussions across the entire program. When someone leaves your program by clicking a link, they are leaving your program on mutual terms. They get off the list, and they do it on your turf where you then have an opportunity to either save them or learn why. The “natural” unsubscribe may hurt your list size, but it does not damage your reputation.
Some people would argue that it is best to only place an unsubscribe link at the top of an email to combat existing complaint issues and then, once clear of the issues, eliminate it and proceed as normal. I equate that line of thinking to a reckless driver who thinks they can game the system of speeding tickets by driving the limit for the period of time so it doesn’t hurt their state’s “point” system and who, once they are in the clear, begins to drive like a maniac again.
Throughout my career, I have personally witnessed and have heard from colleagues that by placing an unsubscribe at the top and the bottom, both the percentages of spam complaints and “natural” unsubscribes have actually gone down. In fact, I have personally been associated with numbers ranging from 15% – 45% in reduction of spam complaints. However, I have also seen some issues associated with the placement at the top from mobile subscribers where users accidentally click on the unsubscribe link in the pre-header when placed on the left-hand side. The long and short of it is that you need to test placement as well as metrics around placement.
Test. Learn. Test Again.
Implementing an unsubscribe link at the top of an email is not a hard thing to do, but it’s a hard sell to executives. A solid business case centered around reputation sustainability leading to revenue preservation and the reduction of spam complaints must be presented.
In the long run, an unsubscribe is an unsubscribe, and the process by which you make the subscriber unsubscribe is one of the last impressions they have of your email program. Make that experience and impression a good one, even if your organization gets nothing in return.
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