Time to move the unsubscribe link?

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report spam buttonSo we know that a lot of people hit the "report spam" button as an alternative to using the unsubscribe link in your email. Why is this?

One reason is trust. Or rather a lack of it.

Not believing that an unsubscribe link will be honored. Or that using the link simply confirms the existence of an email address with an active user behind it, leading to more "spam."

Another reason is an inability to find the unsubscribe link. Or laziness. Why scroll down searching for the link when you can click "this is junk" and achieve the same effect?

This problem is recognized implicitly when experts urge you to make your unsubscribe link prominent. Except they usually say, "ensure you have a prominent unsubscribe link at the bottom of your email." Which is an oxymoron, surely?

So why not put an unsubscribe link right up the top of your emails?

It's not a new concept. Writing in 2006, Stephanie Miller noted that "...in practice, you want the unsubscribe link to be just as easy to find as the "this is spam" button." And I get a couple of newsletters that already do it.

But perhaps it's an idea whose time has now come...

If it's there in the preview pane, then more people are likely to use it instead of reporting you as spam. Less spam reports means a better sender reputation and less chance of ending up on a blacklist.

Plus - if people use that unsubscribe link, then you have a chance to present them with alternatives at the destination page. Given the choice, they may actually prefer to reduce the email frequency, or switch to a different content offering, rather than simply unsubscribe.

Improved deliverability and more retained subscribers are two good arguments for the move.

But what are the downsides?

Here are the objections I've come across before...

1. Putting an unsubscribe link up top simply encourages people to unsubscribe who might otherwise have stayed on your list.

Hmmm...if people are so disinterested in your emails that the mere sight of an unsubscribe link causes them to leave your list, the loss should be welcomed. Objection denied!

2. People are used to finding unsubscribe information at the bottom of emails.

So have a link at the bottom, too. Objection denied!

3. The prominence of the unsubscribe link suggests we have no confidence in the quality of our emails.

Interesting. What is the psychological impact of a more prominent unsubscribe link?

Does it suggest insecurity about the email's value?

Or does it suggest confidence in this value? As in "we make it easy to unsubscribe because we know you won't want to."

Any thoughts?

4. It takes up valuable real estate.

As attention spans shrink across the world's inboxes, those first few lines in your email grow in value. Together with the from and subject headers, they are the nectar, the hook, the mesmerizing light that grabs the viewer and draws them into reading on or taking action.

Do we want to clutter this space further with a link that serves administrative purposes only?

That will depend. Will an unsubscribe link do that much damage to your design? I'm sure in many cases the answer is no.

What we may find is the very tops of emails becoming a menu of three links preceded by a snippet of promotional text:

Snippet | Mobile-friendly version | Web version | Unsubscribe

Possibly with the addition of a "change preferences" link too. Or is that too much? Any other objections? Or thoughts on the best positioning for that unsubscribe link?

(P.S. Of course, the best way to reduce spam reports is to send email that people want to stay subscribed too. An obvious, somewhat facetious point, but one that sometimes gets lost in the debate.)

Update: Check out my results from adding an unsubscribe link up top.

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Permalink | April 02, 2008 | 16 comment(s)
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Re: #4 - Interesting timing Mark, the email newsletter I reviewed today on our blog actually had an "Email Preferences" link right with the site navigation links.

Re: #3 - that is a funny argument, isn't it? I wonder if marketers who say that also refuse to offer a money-back guarantee on their products...
By Anonymous Justin Premick, on 03 April, 2008  

Great article, absolutely believe the unsub should be at the top. Check out http://triggermail.net - they do a great job of managing the whole email thing for websites and encourage unsubs at the top.
By Blogger N, on 03 April, 2008  

Hi Mark

Re your objection number 1: - in the very early days of our business we had a couple of clients that thought like that.

They thought that somehow if they did the bare moral (there were no Australian spam laws then) minimum in the most understated way they would prevent unsubscribes.

I remember one client in particular who was quite progressive marketing wise but insisted that the unsubscribe link must not be hyperlinked so that people had to copy and paste it to make it that little bit more difficult to unsubscribe!
By Anonymous Kevin Garber, on 03 April, 2008  

I started adding an unsubscribe link to the top of our e-mails a few months back.

The reason we did this is that the service my company uses to send our bulk e-mails tracks the amount of "spam" complaints from most of the major web-mail clients.

It's became obvious over time that users were using the "report as spam" button instead of unsubscribing.

I've noticed a drop in the amount of Spam Complaints since doing this. So in our case, it's been working as far as I can tell.
By Blogger gjhead, on 03 April, 2008  

Justin: the money-back guarantee is an excellent parallel - good call!

Kevin: ouch! I think in the early days there was this myth that any subscriber was a good subscriber.

gjhead - thanks for sharing. Interesting (and reassuring) to see that the theory works in practice.
By Blogger Mark Brownlow - Email Marketing Reports, on 03 April, 2008  

Absolutely agree with this and actually wrote about it a while back. I guess what you have to remember is that we live in a convenience driven society, and should always consider this for every aspect of a campaign; even the unsubscribe link.
By Anonymous Alex Fenwick, on 03 April, 2008  

I like Alex's suggestion in the linked post to consider where the report spam buttons appear in webmail interfaces when positioning the link. If you're segmenting by recipient domain, this might be another design element to customize.
By Blogger Mark Brownlow - Email Marketing Reports, on 03 April, 2008  

Mark -

Kimberly and I did a "BrontoFire" on this topic earlier this week called "Don't Hide That Unsubscribe". Our last paragraph touches on the possibility of moving the unsub to the top (top AND bottom). I guess you know where I stand....

dj at bronto
By Blogger DJ Waldow, on 04 April, 2008  

Many of the unsubscribe links I click require me to login to the site to unsubscribe. In most cases, I had to sign up to get to whatever it was I wanted at the time and have long since forgotten my account details. At this point, I have no way to get off the mailing list so my only option is to keep reporting it as spam, every time I get a message. If you don't provide a one-click unsubscribe today, you deserve to be reported as spam!
By Anonymous Graham, on 05 April, 2008  

DJ - great blog post, thanks for sharing.

Graham - thanks. You demonstrate exactly why it makes no sense to put barriers in the way of those wishing to leave your list.
By Blogger Mark Brownlow - Email Marketing Reports, on 06 April, 2008  

I am--or was--one of those who didn't want to put unsub links at the top of our enewsletters. It was, as noted, the conventional wisdom. But a light bulb went off today, probably also influenced by that recent study. So no more--it makes perfect sense to me to put a clear link on top, as well as in the footer.

I instituted an unsub flip page ("Are you sure you want to unsub? If so just click here..."). This page had an optional comment box asking for reason why unsubbing. While this functionality required two clicks to unsub, the comments were really useful.
By Anonymous Anonymous, on 08 April, 2008  

Another convert! I wonder if many of us put our unsubscribe links down the bottom simply because that's where you found them. Habit and tradition rather than a deliberate policy.
By Blogger Mark Brownlow - Email Marketing Reports, on 08 April, 2008  

I think discretion should be applied before positioning any element for email marketing. While the move to place the 'unsubscribe' link at the top may discourage Gmail users from using the 'Report Spam' button, it should be noted that in the 'mailbox view', Gmail also displays the first line or so of your email.

If you are NOT sending to an unsolicited list (everyone in a particular list was double-opt-in), then if your content is relevant, the rate of your 'unsubscribe' link being pressed is also reduced. You should use the opportunity to use that top line to aid your subject line (since subject line is so important).

Also, besides saying 'unsubscribed', other proactive phrases like 'modify your subscription' or 'I think this stuff is irrelevant' may make you look less like a server and more like a person.

By Anonymous Mark Claudius Png, on 20 April, 2008  

Good point Mark. Can you not combine the two though? A snippet text followed by the unsubscribe or "subscription preferences" link?
By Blogger Mark Brownlow - Email Marketing Reports, on 20 April, 2008  

This can be very affective with certain audiences, I saw this a while back in an article from Darren Fell (Founder of Pure)
By Blogger captaininbox, on 22 August, 2008  

Very nice article
I found this article through lyris HQ as one of must to read articles
I agree. Is better to unsubscribe than the "this is spam" buttton

I recommend also to our clients through our website
By Anonymous Seo in Greece, on 25 March, 2010  

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