unsubscribe graphic scissors cutting word in half

What happens when you see a important client unsubscribe from your e-newsletter? You think: that's not right. You're sure they wouldn't do that, but looking at your reports it sure seems like they just did. Well, maybe they really didn't.

We all think our email newsletters or e-blasts are awesome and have valuable information our clients and prospects would benefit from. And when a regular customer unsubscribes, we wonder why.

An unsubscribe could have been done automatically, triggered by algorithms...

...without your client's consent. Tighter spam filters could be the culprit, and your client might not have clicked that unsubscribe link in your e-newsletter. Organizations' firewalls and email programs are getting more aggressive with their spam and unsubscribing algorithms. So even though your email reports (see screenshot below) show folks as unsubscribed, that doesn't tell the whole story.

screenshot of unsubscribe report

When someone really unsubscribes

At least in Campaign Monitor (the service we use) folks showing up as unsubscribed are not being falsely reported tha way by Campaign Monitor. They're actually "automated unsubscribes," because email programs being more aggressive in filtering spam.

As you might know, when someone unsubscribes from your emails, a service like Constant Contact or Campaign Monitor tracks those unsubscribes. So even if you accidentally upload an email address for someone who has unsubscribed from your e-newsletter, the service won't send out another e-newsletter to them. What would happen if someone who truly unsubscribed kept receiving your e-newsletters? They'd start marking it as spam, and that's the last thing you want to have happen.

What happens when your e-newsletters are marked as spam? Well, if just 0.5% (that's half a percent) of recipients mark your e-blasts as spam, credible mailing services will no longer send out your emails. And before you can say, "Hey can they really blacklist us?" you already are.

Email rules are the exact opposite of direct mail rules

With direct mail, you can assume someone wants to receive it unless they opt-out. With email, you have to assume they DON'T want it unless the opt-IN. Not adhering to those rules will get your kicked off any credible email service.

What next?

There's two steps to take in order to find out if someone really unsubscribed, and if they didn't, how to get them back on your list.

  1. First, outside of Campaign Monitor (that means using regular email) find the unsubscribed folks in your account (see screenshot above). Ask them if they really unsubscribed, and if not, ask if they want to continue  receiving your e-newsletters.

    If they didn't unsubscribe they'll be confused as to why you're asking them. You'll just have to explain that spam monitoring filters – being more aggressive thanks to the exorbitant amount of spam emails going out these days – automatically unsubscribed them.
  2. Then, those who say they didn't unsubscribe and want to remain on your email list, can safely be added back to "Active" status in your list. That has to be done one at a time. Of course, there's no guarantee those folks won't be automatically unsubscribed the next time you end out an e-newsletter, and you'll have to go through the entire process again.

Increases in unsubscribes are due to the recipients’ mail software security

We hear from Campaign Monitor that these unsubscribes happen when anti-phishing software "opens" the message to view its content and check its links for suspicious activity and content. Some software checks the links and content immediately once it’s received, while some may repeatedly check and open the email which accounts for those high click rates for individuals.

Unfortunately, some systems check the message, and in the process of "testing" the links they also click the unsubscribe link, causing unintended unsubscribes. Note, that all of this happens on the recipients’ side of things.

Mailing services are unable to discern which individuals have willfully unsubscribed, from those who have been unsubscribed unwillingly. Because of that, mailing services (ie:  Campaign Monitor) is legally prohibited by multiple international anti-spam laws, to resubscribe those individuals. You have to re-subscribe them yourself.

A sign of the times

The larger context here is that ransomware, malware, and all kinds of phishing are on the rise, often crippling whole business networks and organizations. The response from the anti-abuse community has been an equally significant increase in its risk prevention. Those automated clicks are the single most effective way for anti-spam providers to prevent a large-scale attack, —which can often be caused by a single click by an organization's employee.

The good news is sometimes,there's a confirmed unsubscribe feature. Enabling this option means that anyone who clicks the Unsubscribe link in your campaign will be taken to a page where they'’re required to click a second link to confirm their unsubscribe. This should prevent automated unsubscribes from your list.

Here's hoping your clients' risk-prevention algorithms aren't automatically unsubscribing them from your email list.