Email Unsubscribe Links

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become a bit of an unsubscribe connoisseur.  Niche, I know.  Rather than merely archiving unwanted emails as I’m wont to do, I made it my mission to permanently reduce the clutter in my inbox.

The problem is that users and website owners view the unsubscribe link differently.  To the user, it’s a way to give their bloated inbox a much needed reprieve.  The people sending the emails, however, tend to view it as a desperate last chance to retain the user.  These two goals tend to clash.

Unsubscribe Practices I Hate

During my quest to vanquish unwanted newsletters and emails from my inbox, I made a list of things no unsubscribe process should ever do.

  • Don’t send a confirmation email.  There is no reason to send an email confirming the address was unsubscribed.  Users unsubscribe because they want fewer emails, not more.
  • Don’t make the user think.  The user should only have to click the unsubscribe link in the email.  They shouldn’t have to confirm, or select an option in a form.
  • Don’t have too many buttons.  When people see a “call to action”, they tend to click it.  Even if that call to action comes in the form of a giant red “Resubscribe!” button.  People don’t read and they don’t think — they just click the biggest thing on their screen.
  • Don’t make the user log in.  You sent them an email, so you already know their email address.  That’s all you need.  Same goes for unsubscribe pages that make the user enter in their email address.
  • Don’t make the user cancel their account. If a user wants to stop receiving non-critical emails, let them. For example, in order to unsubscribe from the Amazon Student newsletter, you need to cancel your account.
  • Don’t make a user edit their preferences.  Nobody wants to dig through a preferences page so they can uncheck options.  Just unsubscribe them.
  • Don’t use confusing logic.  A user is asking to unsubscribe, so asking them “yes” or “no” is confusing.  Does checking a box mean I want to unsubscribe or that I want to get this email?


How We Now Do It On AMO

AMO’s unsubscribe process needed a refresh.  So, I set out to make it as pain free for the user as possible.  It seems silly to put much thought into a tool that makes it easier for users to leave, however we wanted to get it right.

On every email we send out, there will be a footer that tells you why you’re receiving the email.  For example, “You received this email because an add-on developer replied to one of your reviews”.

You have two options on how you want to unsubscribe.  You can unsubscribe from that particular topic, or you can unsubscribe from all emails from us.  Both options take you to a clutter free page that tells you what topics you were unsubscribed from, and gives you a small link to your preferences page so that you can re-enable anything you mistakenly unsubscribed from.

Here’s some random things about our new unsubscribe:

  • We include a token for each unsubscribe link.  This means you don’t have to be logged in to unsubscribe, however you also don’t have to worry about someone else unsubscribing you.
  • There’s an “unsubscribe from all” link on the preferences page.  We don’t want you tiring out your click finger, now, do we?  You need that finger to download add-ons.
  • Email topics are split into two separate sections — regular users and add-on developers.
  • You can reply to all emails!  Our emails are sent from the appropriate email address, so feel free to hit the reply button.

One thing most sites do wrong is how they manage new topics.  Let’s say you unsubscribe to the five different types of emails we currently send.  Next week, however, we add a new type of email.  Odds are you don’t want to get that, since you’ve already unsubscribed to the rest.  So, we do our best on AMO to not send you emails for new topics if we think you wouldn’t be interested.

Additionally, most users spend mere seconds on their edit profile page and instantly forget it as soon as they leave.  So, we add a “new” indicator to types of emails that are new since the last time the user updated their preferences.

We don’t want you to go; however if you must? Hopefully unsubscribing is so painless you don’t even notice it.

Note: These updates will be rolled out over the next few weeks.  Not all features mentioned here are currently available for all users right away.

10 responses

  1. Ted Mielczarek wrote on :

    Thanks for taking the time to really do a great job with this feature. Your bullet list reminds me of every awful opt-out link I’ve ever followed.

  2. morgamic wrote on :

    Great post Greg — glad we’re doing what’s right for users on AMO.

  3. steve wrote on :

    Thanks,just getting started,sounds like this can be helpful when blogging

  4. Rupert Swarbrick wrote on :

    Hmm, about the confirmation email. What if the user clicked on the button by accident? How/when would he or she know that no more emails would arrive? And what if this is a list without a public archive? Maybe a javascript “Are you really sure?” would help, but I suspect that an email saying goodbye is more helpful (and easily deletable).

    Of course, I reserve a personal circle of hell for those who send emails checking whether you’re really really sure that you want to unsubscribe. They deserve toasty pointy things.

  5. malexis wrote on :

    Somewhat related: I ran into a site that made it mandatory to signup for its newsletter in order to use a specific, totally unrelated feature. Not cool.

    And the whole “give us your email in exchange for a free mp3” is also not cool.

  6. Fred Wenzel wrote on :

    Really good post, Greg. On a side note, it seems like due to legal pressure European companies have a much better unsubscribe process than in other parts of the globe. I am sad that it’s often only by force that such processes are improved, and I am happy that AMO goes the extra mile to do the right thing for users everywhere, regardless of legal context.

    Also, thanks for *actually* unsubscribing people — my biggest pet peeve is having to go through great lengths to hit the unsubscribe function, and then not being unsubscribed for the next few weeks, months, or ever. What do they do, print out the request and wait until the secretary is back from vacation to enter it into the system?

  7. Erik Rose wrote on :

    I dig it, Greg. django-tidings, which manages our subscriptions on, has exactly the same philosophy.

  8. Wil Clouser wrote on :

    My latest “Are you sure you meant to unsubscribe?” email suggested that I may have forwarded their original email on to a friend and my friend had clicked the unsubscribe link.

    A valid scenario, I suppose.

  9. Gregory Koberger wrote on :

    Rupert: I’m of the mind that if they care enough, they’ll find out why they aren’t getting the emails anymore. No point in annoying thousands of users in case one person mistakenly clicks a button.

    Wil: That would be interesting to A/B test. “We sent out 1000 emails confirming unsubscribes, and only 2 people resubscribed” is a pretty easy metric to work with. But like I said above, it seems like we’d be annoying a lot of people for an edge case.

    Erik: I wish I knew about django-tidings!

    Fred: One thing we don’t do (but legally should) is have our physical address and phone number in the email.

  10. Jonson wrote on :

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