Why we should love our newsletter unsubscribers

Yes, that sounds a bit strange at first; after all, at some point we spent (a lot of) money on the individual contact. And yes, everyone would like to have a large newsletter distribution list because it can possibly lead to a large number of sales. And yet, I maintain that an unsubscription can be a positive thing. At least if you know how to use them properly.

But first, let’s take a step back: why do unsubscriptions occur in the first place?

1. The frequency is not right

The newsletter comes too frequently or too infrequently for the recipient. Basically, it depends on the business model whether frequent sending may make sense. On the other hand, if you send too infrequently, you may be forgotten and risk people unsubscribing. Therefore, it can help to ask the recipients in a small survey about their desired frequency, possibly even directly during the registration process. However, keep in mind: Only ask if the desired frequency can actually be implemented in practice afterwards.

2. The content does not match the expectations of the recipients

If the newsletter recipients are not segmented, the content may no longer be suitable. This may be because interests have changed or someone only subscribed because of a one-off purchase (e.g. a gift). This can also lead to an increased unsubscribe rate if the content is constantly repeated or does not match the set expectations.

3. Layout and design are not appealing

A newsletter should be clearly designed and error-free on all end devices. In addition to a responsive email design, it is, therefore, particularly important that the recipient can quickly find the information that is of interest to them.

4. The email ends up in the spam folder

Trust is also important when sending emails. If a newsletter lands in the spam folder, this can lead to the recipient unsubscribing from it to protect themselves from possible fraud.


In addition, the following reasons are still possible for cancellations:

  • The content of the newsletter change too frequently. No common thread is discernible.
  • The recipients’ mailbox is full and they want to clear it up to have more space.
  • The recipient did not subscribe or no longer remembers doing so.
  • The reader does not have time to read the emails and, therefore, unsubscribes.
  • The content is repeated on different channels. The newsletter offers no added value.

It is important to know that unsubscriptions are not considered a negative criterion by mailbox providers in terms of reputation. They, therefore, have no influence on deliverability, provided they are processed cleanly (which I’m assuming is the case).

The situation is different, however, with clicks on a spam button. This is clearly seen as a negative reputation criterion and can reduce deliverability.

In the past, I have heard often enough that some senders make their unsubscribe button as small as possible to avoid unsubscriptions. Well, that may work. But if, in the reverse conclusion, more people click on SPAM, you have not only lost the one recipient, but also risk that other recipients will no longer receive the newsletter in the future.

Therefore, I would encourage all senders to be more responsive to unsubscribers. On the one hand, this means allowing unsubscriptions and offering a simple unsubscribe process. (If you want to know more, you can find information in our white paper on the topic of One-Click List-Unsubscribe). On the other hand, we should not ignore the people who give feedback this way, but accept it and learn from them.

Far too rarely do people look at unsubscriptions at regular intervals. And here, from my point of view, it is enough to do it once or twice a year. One should then look at what the unsubscriptions have in common:

  • Is there a particular newsletter type that causes the most unsubscriptions?
  • Do the recipients have a criterion in common (e.g. gender, buyer/non-buyer)?
  • When and how did the recipients get into the distribution list?
  • Are there connections to other online channels?

With this knowledge, senders can then adapt their mailing practices – and that without sending out surveys that are answered far too rarely anyway.

If you then want to go a step further, you can contact your email service provider (ESP) and ask for the spam complaint rate collected by the CSA and additionally put data from the feedback loops into perspective. It is very likely that there is a correlation between unsubscribe rates and increased spam complaints. So those who then use this knowledge can reduce unsubscriptions in the long term. But much more important with regard to the delivery of one’s own newsletters is the increase of the mailing reputation. Those who have a low unsubscription rate will probably also have a low number of spam complaints, and consequently better deliverability in the long run.

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