Email Unsubscribes: Creative Ways To Manage Unsubscribe Messaging

Melanie Balke
February 24, 2022

I know that everyone hates this topic. I do, too!

A photo of dense traffic outside of Los Angeles, California. Overlaid header text reads, “Email Unsubscribes: Creative Ways to Manage Unsubscribe Messaging.”

Nobody likes to see their hard work being wasted, and lost customers are a sore spot for every business.

However, if you’re going to start dabbling in the amazing world of email marketing, then you need to know about unsubscribes.

That’s why today’s blog post is dedicated to this prickly email marketing topic. I’ll be discussing what these numbers mean, how you can use them, how you can improve them, and — as the title implies — different ways to include appropriate links.

What Are Unsubscribes and What Do They Mean?

Let’s start the lesson with a quick overview of the topic.

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What are unsubscribes, and why should businesses care about them?

Well, for starters, your unsubscribe rate is one of the best ways for a marketing team to figure out how successful its email campaigns are.

Most email service providers automatically provide your unsubscribe rate when you check in on your campaign monitor, but you can also calculate it manually. Like many other key performance indicators, this metric has a fairly simple formula. If you’re feeling bored, you can calculate your unsubscribe rate by dividing the number of unsubscribes by the total number of emails sent. Multiplying this number by 100 will yield your answer!

What to Know About the Unsubscribe Rate

Many marketers — particularly newer ones — see the unsubscribe rate as their enemy. After all, you’ve spent so much time perfecting your messages, and the idea that people aren’t interested in them is heartbreaking.

A photo of downtown Los Angeles with overlaid header text, reading, “What to Know About the Unsubscribe Rate.”

I get it!

Having been on every side of the marketing equation, I know how tough it is to see people walking away from your campaigns.

Here’s an Email Marketing Secret…

But guess what?

You actually want to have people unsubscribing. There is such a thing as a healthy unsubscribe rate!

“Wait, Melanie,” you may be saying. “How could my email marketing strategy benefit from reaching less people?”

That’s a fantastic question, and the answer is pretty interesting.

… It’s All About Maintaining a Healthy List

Every company wants a big email list. Everyone wants to have a massive audience, but not many people think about what happens when they reach that goal.

A photo of a stethoscope.

Ultimately, there will always be subscribers on your list who simply aren’t that interested in what you’re saying. These customers are actively hurting your statistics, because they’re tainting your campaign monitor with their disinterest.

But You Still Want to Keep Things Low

Before you get too comfortable, I need to burst the bubble again!

A shareable infographic with a colorized photo of an open door. Overlaid text is in the center of the image. The header reads, “Unsubscribes: What to Know.” Below this is smaller body text: “There is such a thing as a healthy unsubscribe rate. Generally, brands should aim for an unsubscribe rate of 2%. This number provides enough of a flow to keep your audience fresh without losing too many users.”

Yes, there is such a thing as a healthy email unsubscribe rate. However, there is also such a thing as having too many disinterested customers. That’s right! Your unsubscribe rates can be both too high and too low.

Confusing, right?

Actually, it’s fairly simple! A high unsubscribe rate will provide valuable insight to your marketing team. It shows you that something is wrong, and it’s a great sign that it’s time for your team to rethink your email content.

Good email marketing will generally have a 2% unsubscribe rate! This number shows that that subscribers are actively paying attention, and it’s a bit like your subscriber list’s self-cleaning cycle.

How to Minimize Your Unsubscribe Rate

“Great! I want the rate to be low, — but not too low! — and I need to watch out for a huge spike in unsubscribes.” If that’s your thought process right now, you’re absolutely correct!

But the lesson isn’t over yet!

A photo of Los Angeles with overlaid header text, which says, “How to Minimize Your Unsubscribe Rate.”

I still have some practical tips to hand out, so don’t start to pack your bags yet! Pay attention! This is where things get interesting.

On your journey to engage more subscribers, you’ll want to start with some basics.

(Yes, I know that I promised to give you practical tips, but we’re not quite there yet!)

Email Marketing 101: Unsubscribes

I’ll keep this short! I promise!

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Before you even begin to investigate your unsubscribe rate, there are some things you should know about the metric. Your campaign monitor is a handy reporter, but it doesn’t always give you all the facts.

Email Service Providers Require an Unsubscribe Link

Before I go any further, I need to stress this point.

Your emails must have a link for users to unsubscribe from your campaigns.

This is a legal requirement, and there’s no way around it. However, as I’ve highlighted, it’s not the end of the world. Aside from the basic courtesy of giving users a way to opt out, these links are a self-cleaning service for your subscriber list.

So, now that I’ve established that fact, let’s briefly investigate what your unsubscribe rates are telling you.

Check Your Email Campaigns

One of the key points to consider as you investigate your unsubscribe rate — particularly if it’s on the high end — is that the metric is a key indicator. Think of it as the first few sniffles of a wintertime cold. A wonky rate — one that’s wildly outside of your average unsubscribe rate — is a symptom.

There are plenty of different diagnoses. Honestly, there are far too many for me to name! (Perhaps that’s a topic for another day.)

Combine Data From Your Campaign Monitor

If you find yourself facing anything other than a good unsubscribe rate, then it’s time to play Doctor House!

You’ll want to take a good look at all of your data to find exactly what went wrong.

Different combos mean different things. For example, a high unsubscribe rate with an abnormal bounce rate may point to a poor subject line. However, if you’re experiencing an unsubscribe spike alongside a low conversion rate, it may indicate that your links are wrong or your landing pages are incorrect.

All of your data is connected!

Your email unsubscribe rates will generally be paired with another symptom, and understanding how these KPIs play off of one another will ultimately help you pinpoint the error in your email marketing strategy.

Best Practices for Managing Your Unsubscribe Rate


Now it’s time for the practical tricks!

Bust out your notes and dust off your email campaign plans, because this is the real nitty-gritty of this blog post.

A photo of seagulls on a beach. Overlaid and centered header text says, “Best Practices for Managing Your Unsubscribe Rate.”

There are plenty of ways to tackle the issue of lost subscribers, but not all of them are necessarily good. That’s why the email marketing industry has a few unofficial rules surrounding the topic, and maintaining a good unsubscribe rate depends on following the guidelines.

These are the standards that customers are used to, which means that stepping outside of the boundaries will generally cause confusion.

Start With a Simple Link

I’ve already mentioned how a simple link to your unsubscribe page is a legal requirement, but it honestly cannot be stressed enough. You do not want to be the company with the annoying emails. If you are, you’ll just be sending more stuff to trash bins.

A shareable infographic with a photo of a Californian beach. Overlaid text is on the image. The header reads, “Unsubscribes 101: Best Practices.” Below this is smaller body text: “As disheartening as it is to see people leaving your list, you must include an unsubscribe link. This goes deeper than offering people a basic courtesy. You are legally required to include a simple unsubscribe link in every marketing email.”

Instead, give customers a simple way to leave. One click should be enough to unsubscribe from your list. Anything more is an annoyance.

Ditch the Guilt Traps…

It was once common to reduce the unsubscribe rate by laying on the guilt. The site page would often say something along the lines of, “We’re sorry to see you go!” Persistent brands would even send emails with the exact same message. Everyone remembers that, right?

Well, here’s something everyone may not be aware of: those guilt-tripping pages aren’t in style anymore! Many consumers find those pages annoying, and an audience based on emotional manipulation isn’t good for any relationship.

These days, it’s perfectly understandable to want to pare down your email list. Everyone gets far too many emails, so cutting a brand or two out is a surefire way to regain some inbox control.

… And Consider Offering Sales Codes!

This brings me to the first of today’s tips.

Consider adding a discount code to your site for when users unsubscribe! This is a fun and unique way to keep your list fresh and maintain an active audience. In fact, most brands now have a simple website page for leaving a list.

Think of it this way: at this point in the relationship, your customer has already decided what to do. They opted out the moment they clicked that link, and trying to dissuade them from this is a waste of time and resources.

However, leaving a list isn’t the same as refusing to patronize a business. Brands can create an amazing open-ended relationship by sending emails with a unique discount code when a user unsubscribes.

Atlas Obscura, a unique travel website, has a perfect example of a relevant and guilt-free unsubscribe email.

An example email from Atlas Obscure. The subject line says, “Safe Travels.” There are two CTAs: “Subscribe to Weekly” and “Resubscribe.”

This is a no-fuss message, and it tells users that Atlas Obscure respects them. They won’t spam you with any more stuff, but you can always opt into different lists. Emails like this are a great way for your business to keep the lines of communication open with your audience.

Give Them More Management Tools

If you’re trying to reduce your unsubscribe rates, however, then you’ll need a bit more to work with than one tip!

Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered!

Creating user preference dashboards is a great way to get ahead of the curve. When someone unsubscribes, they can be sent an email that prompts them to consider changing their preferences instead. However, for true effectiveness, you’ll want to have these dashboards ready when users receive their welcome email.

A sample email from Brightly, which encourages subscribers to set their preferences on the website.

Like this Brightly example, your business can boost engagement rates and guarantee that your audience receives relevant content by giving them the tools to filter their own email marketing.

Obviously, you’ll want to consult with your marketing team before you create any preference form. Consider what your key segments are and build the form to fit your audience.

Giving subscribers access to these tools is also a handy way to make personalized emails even easier! After all, you’re letting your subscribers tell you what they want to receive. This means that your team gains access to all of the in-depth stats for your email list, and you don’t need to waste time testing your audience.

Sometimes… You Want People to Unsubscribe

Regardless of what your unsubscribe rate may be, there will come a time when your email list is swimming with inactive users.

There are plenty of reasons for this. You may find that a few things just aren’t working, or you may realize that your marketing emails aren’t reaching the right audience. Regardless of what the root reasoning may be, the bottom line is that you need to get your messages out of spam filters and into actual inboxes.

A photo of an exit message painted on the asphalt of a parking garage. Overlaid and centered header text says, “A Quick Word on Re-Engagement Campaigns.”

This is when you need to cause an artificial spike in your own unsubscribe rate.

(Crazy, right?)

Bring in the Re-Engagement Campaigns!

Generic emails just won’t do for this job. You need to bring in the big boys, and their names are “Re-Engagement” and “Campaign!”

I won’t be going into the full explanation of these campaigns, but we have time for a brief discussion. At their core, re-engagement campaigns are meant to boot your average open rates. By reducing your inactive users, you reset your audience stats.

As a result, you get to see better engagement and (hopefully) more sales. And, for their time, your inactive subscribers get to receive less spam. At the same time, your active users get to enjoy plenty of relevant content!

How to Amplify Your Email Marketing

Aaaand we’re done!

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The lesson’s over, and you can feel free to pack up and leave the room. However, before you depart, I have one last little tip for you.

If you’ve been struggling to manage your email marketing lately, then it’s time to boost the number of emails delivered and reduce how many messages you’re funneling into spam boxes. It’s time to refine your visuals and make sure everything is as gorgeous on mobile devices as it is on your desktop.

There are plenty of ways to get the help you need, and one of them is to keep browsing this blog! I’m always updating the website with more tips, tricks, and information about marketing. You can also reach out to me, and we can discuss ways to maximize the impact of your next email campaign!