Opt-out is an important part of opt-in

4 minute read

Opting out is a legal requirement of any email marketing strategy, and although the eventuality of your new subscriber leaving you may not be high on your starting out agenda, it’s right and polite that you make it clear that if that’s what’s wanted then that is what will happen.

Time to go

The legality

First the legal bit. Offering an opt-out at the point of data collection, and on every subsequent communication is a mandatory legal requirement. You must have it, be seen to have it and if push comes to shove be able to demonstrate that your unsubscribe offer has an effective process in place behind it. It should be a clear, affirmative action which is quick and easy to complete.

Opted out subscribers should be added to your DNC (Do Not Contact) list – most ESPs, including Sign-Up.to will do this for you once an opt out has been requested. The DNC list acts as a final level filter for any email delivery, so no matter how many lists your subscriber may be on they will always be detected and removed before your email is sent. By the way – this is why you should never delete or (rarely) edit your DNC list, and if you switch ESPs you should look to bring your previous DNC data with you.

Best practice

Then there’s the polite part. In reality there just comes a time in the permission marketing process when unsubscribing is in everyone’s best interests. For your subscriber, continuing to receive information which is no longer wanted or relevant is time consuming and frustrating and a distraction from the communications which now matter more. For us as email marketers maintaining a database of essentially disengaged subscribers is wasteful and expensive (most ESPs charge in relation to the data held in a system). Sending to disengaged subscribers also has negative implications for future campaign delivery so removal by mutual consent is probably a good option.

Nonetheless, at some previous time this person cared enough to opt-in, so it’s only right that you make it as quick, simple and painless to opt-out as possible. To selectively manage unsubscribes, many go for a staged opt-out, a preference centre, where subscribers can select which type of communications they do and don’t wish to receive. If you have multiple, segmented data this can be a nice way to manage your subscribers’ expectation and satisfaction. And if full DNC is truly wanted then make this easy and effective – no webpage redirect, no login, just a simple confirmation and perhaps a collection of why it has come to this.

By the way – accepted wisdom (and the results from large scale benchmarking analysis) is that unsubscribes for any given campaign should be less than around 0.5 to 1%. Unsubscribe rates higher than this, especially either significantly higher as a one-off, or high as a longer term trend, should be investigated in order to find the underlying cause.


We all hate to lose subscribers but ultimately unsubscribe is a fundamental part, and indeed a requirement, of the whole permission process. Do it well. The time may not be right now but there’s always tomorrow.