How Not to Manage Email Unsubscribes [4 Awful Examples]

Unsubscribing should be easy!

Let’s face it, email is convenient, but sometimes email marketing sucks. Today’s business buyers are flooded with email they do not want and it seems cannot get rid of.

The problem is, publishers and marketers rely heavily on email. In order to keep their subscriber counts high and continue getting their message out through email, they make unsubscribing an ardous process.

Here are four examples of unsubscribe process that tell your audience you don’t care what they want, as long as they stay on your email list.

1. Forced Email Subscriptions

The Center for Media Research email list, which regularly promotes their $495 research reports (well out of my budget), is a required part of my MediaPost membership. This is the message I get when I click unsubscribe.

Center for Media Research Unsubscribe

Note these highlights:
“Your MediaPost Membership and associated benefits will be terminated.” One of the member benefits listed is “allowing you to comment on any story we publish.”

Yes, if you want to comment at MediaPost, you cannot opt out of these promotional emails.

2. One At A Time

Chain Store Age offers a number of newsletters and email communications. In fact, searching my inbox, it appears that I’m on at least 4 of their lists.

Chain Store Age Unsubscribe Process

I cannot unsubscribe from multiple lists, instead I’m simply unsubscribed from an unspecified ‘group.’ I will still continue to receive a number of other newsletter from Chain Store Age and I will need to unsubcribe to each one individually.

Just to add a touch of humor, note the postal address in the footer of their email.

3. CAPTCHA Protected Unsubscribe

This one from TMCnet floored me. Really, a CAPTCHA to ensure unsubscribes are not automated? Have you ever heard of a major problem with networks of unsubscribe bots reaking havoc on subscriber files?

CAPTCHA in Unsubscribe Process from TMCnet (screenshot)

Notably, there is no CAPTCHA or similar barrier to signing up for TMC’s newsletters. TMC has made it easier to subscribe than unsubscribe, it should be the other way around.

4. Hidden Unsubscribe

This recent example from Wine Enthusiast stood out. Scolling down to find the unsubscribe link, I just found a blank gray space instead.

Links for the privacy policy and to unsubscribe, as well as contact information were hidden in a single large footer image that wasn’t displayed by default in my email client and likely in others. This is the single image used as the email footer (cropped somewhat to display here).

Wine Enthusiast Email Footer

You can see the full email, as originally rendered, here.

In Summary

Yes, email continues to be a core driver for businesses, but do you really want to be emailing people that are trying to get off your email list?

Beyond the potential damage to your email sender reputation from encouraging the use of the Report Spam button, is this how you want to treat the people that once asked to receive your email?

Your Turn

Do you have a favorite unsubscribe worst practice? Share it in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake)!

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Your email address will not be shared or sold. I hate spam too.

  • Jud

    The violators are not interested in making it easy to unsubscribe and are not busy reading articles like this. 

  • James Sutherland

    Back in 2009, I hit an even more infuriating one with McAfee, thanks to their change of name from NAI. Their messages all contained a promising-looking header field: List-Unsubscribe: . Snag: their mail server was configured only to access mail to – even though they dropped the NAI name five years before that. CAPTCHAs are one of my biggest pet hates, but unsubscribing by telnetting to port 25 and talking SMTP manually (they’d changed the DNS entry, but not the mail server configuration, so neither address worked directly) surely beats that!

    I hope McAfee have fixed their list server by now – though now they’ve been bought by Intel, maybe they’ve repeated the mistake…

    • Yikes! I never would have figured that one out. That is horrific, thanks for adding it to the examples here!

  • The one that drives me ape-shit is the little trick of placing a “resubscribe” button exactly where a normal “confirm” button would go. If I just clicked unsubscribe to get to this page, what makes you actually think I would want to “resubscribe”?

    • Yes, or the button that says “update”, following multiple selection options explained in verbose paragraphs of 8 pt font.

      If Canadian-style privacy laws move to the US, it will be interesting to see what happens. Then we might only need to unsubscribe from email lists we actually subscribed to!

  • The ones who make you “sign in” (to the account you don’t even remember creating once, months ago) before being able to “update your subscription” preferences are the WORST, especially when they required that you make your password x characters long, including a number and a capital letter, etc etc etc. Of COURSE I can’t unsubscribe if I can’t remember my password to sign in!

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  • Curious

    Hi Eric, I just “unsubscribed” from a newsletter from a skin clinic which had the following message (written exactly as received), “We have added you to our “blacklist” which means that our newsletter system will refuse to send you any other e-mail, without manual intervention by our administrator”. I thought the use of the term blacklist was inappropriate in this case. Am i right?

    • LOL. To be blacklisted, personally, by a marketer? Definitely seems inappropriate to me!

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