Unsubscribes – Learning from Love Lost

Email marketers watch unsubscribe rates as closely as open or click through rates, breathing a sigh of relief when the number of opt-outs hold steady or decline. Seeing the numbers stack up can induce panic, although having it increase is not the end of the email world.  Marketers can embrace this as an opportunity to learn if you analyze the past, take action in the present and ultimately make an impact for the future.  Special thanks to Zeta Global Planner, Marta Sloan, for her expertise on the topic.

Analyze the Past

There is a reason for every unsubscribe. And while you can’t go back to your historical records and ask people why they opted-out, you can still learn by:
  • Examining Unsubscribes: Are there commonalities you can find that would speak to a specific ‘unsubscribe profile’?
  • Investigating the Timing: Can you pinpoint a timeframe between signing up and unsubscribing?
  • Reviewing Previous Engagement Behavior: Were consumers opening / clicking through or were they never really engaged with the email program?
  • Purchasing Behavior Patterns: Were they previous buyers who disengaged? Were they never buying? Or, perhaps they continue buying after unsubscribing?

Collect all the information you can glean from past unsubscribes, and let it help you with current ones. Based on the collected information, you can make some assumptions about the reasons for unsubscribes. To further investigate and confirm your predictions, analyze present behavior.

Act in the Present

  • Survey: Create a short unsubscribe survey that includes basic questions that will help uncover the reasons why customers decided to unsubscribe.
  • Analyze Responses: Using a statistically significant number of answers, analyze the stated reasons for unsubscribes and plan changes that will make an impact. Responses may justify a business case to put in place frequency measures, or drive you to revisit segmentation, targeting and messaging if customers tell you the communications they receive are irrelevant.

All the analysis of past unsubscribes and fact-finding actions you take in the present should lead to a better understanding of your customers and to an improved email program moving forward. Once you have the answers, both data-based and customer-provided, there is only one thing to do.

Impact the Future

  • Optimize the Future: Continue to learn from unsubscribes and optimize the process to help make changes that will reduce unsubscribe rates.
  • Provide Opt-Down Options: Consider incorporating an opt-down feature, allowing customers to decide how often they receive emails and/or what topics the emails cover.
  • Maximize Social Channels: Direct customers to social channels or apps on unsubscribe. Email may be a bit too intense and personal. It’s okay to be friend-zoned in other channels.
  • Know Your Customers: Combine customer information provided during sign up with transactional data, browsing patterns and interactions with different channels, to be able to talk to the right customers, at the right time, on the right device, through the right channel, all while focusing on the right message.
  • Welcome Them Back: Let them subscribe again. A customer might just need a short break from your brand. The inbox can be a cluttered and overwhelming place. Welcome them back and rekindle the relationship, getting it right this time.

Whether you make one small change or revamp your entire messaging strategy, most likely you will reduce the number of unsubscribes, but you will not stop them completely. Sometimes the email subscriber relationship is just not going to work. There will always be customers who unsubscribe even from the most personalized, smartly targeted, well-segmented email program.  At the end of the day, that is not a bad thing. Your metrics and engagement will grow from it.  Your reputation will be less likely to be tarnished with spam reports and unsubscribing helps you keep a clean and current database, so every upcoming email will reach the right person.


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