Why Do People Unsubscribe From Emails? The Top 4 Reasons Why People Unsubscribe

Melanie Balke
June 7, 2023

You’ve spent months honing your craft. You’ve researched, tested, and trialed your email marketing campaigns. Finally! It’s time to send emails!

You wait, you watch, and you’re horrified to see people unsubscribe from your email list!


What could you have done wrong, and how can you fix it?

Both of these questions have complex answers, so get ready for a bit of a read.

Today’s blog post is dedicated to optimizing your email marketing and reducing your unsubscribe rates. Keep reading and dive into the complex world of customers, preferences, and metrics with me!

What Is an Unsubscribe?

Workers build a highway in June of 1942. Overlaid text reads, "The Basics: What Is an Unsubscribe?"

Some people say that an unsubscribe is a temporary break. Others consider it a permanent failure to connect with consumers. However, the true answer is somewhere in between.

Regardless of your overall unsubscribe rates, each individual instance of an unsubscribe is a lapsed customer. It’s a consumer who has — for some reason — decided to stop receiving your email marketing.

Sometimes, that person is taking a break! They may be overwhelmed, or their inbox may be too cluttered for their liking. However, they ultimately plan to resubscribe to your content.

Alternatively, you may have a customer who simply isn’t interested in your content anymore.

It’s your job as an email marketer to determine which description fits and if there’s a reasonable solution.

Don’t See Every Unsubscribe as a Failure

An 1894 newspaper clipping. Overlaid text reads, "The Good News: Unsubscribes Are Not Your Enemy."

Take a second to reread that last paragraph.

You’ll notice that I never say anything overtly negative. Yes, it sucks that you’ve lost a valuable customer, but it’s not always bad! In fact, many large mailing lists maintain healthy but consistent unsubscribe rates of around 2%.

In truth, you shouldn’t worry unless you see a massive shift in your key performance indicators.

An Unsubscribe Link Is a Legal Requirement

A modern courtroom. "It's the Law! You must include a link for users to unsubscribe in every email."

For starters, all marketing emails should include one or more valid unsubscribe links.

This requirement is functionally true in every territory, although North America and the European Union have explicit legislation to address the issue. In North America, brands must follow the national CAN-SPAM Act, California Consumer Privacy Act, and all relevant Canadian laws. The European equivalent is the massive General Data Protection Regulation.

Moreover, each territory has its own limits on how an unsubscribe should work.

The most efficient approach abides by the strictest applicable law. For example, if a business plans to operate globally, it should comply with the GDPR. Conversely, if a business only plans to operate within North America, it can safely abide by the CCPA.

Unsubscribe Rates Are Great Metrics

Scattered tarot cards. "Predictions: Unsubscribe spikes are often the first signs of trouble."

Aside from their legal framework, properly implemented unsubscribes give marketers a quick way to measure their campaign performance.

A consistently low unsubscribe rate is ideal. In this situation, your brand is effectively capturing and retaining new leads.

An unexpected spike in your unsubscribe rate signals the opposite. These events are good indicators that something has gone awry in your marketing department.

A Healthy Unsubscribe Rate Improves Your Data’s Accuracy

A neon bullseye. "Accuracy: Unengaged users use up resources and skew your metrics."

Finally, let’s think about things objectively.

Anyone looking to unsubscribe from an email list has lost interest in the content. There are so many reasons why this may be true, but the bottom line is that they don’t want to engage with your email marketing. And, more often than not, these consumers haven’t been engaging with your campaigns!

When these consumers leave, they no longer clog your metrics with their disinterest. Open rates and engagement rates are just some of the numbers that may improve when a lapsed customer leaves your list. Moreover, unsubscribes free up resources, which may translate to slightly lower marketing costs.

Why Do People Unsubscribe From Email Marketing?

A catalog card for a print of an astronomical chart. Overlaid text reads, "The Reasons: Why Do People Unsubscribe?"

However, you still want to know why people unsubscribe!

You can’t improve if you don’t know the source of the problem. Or, more accurately, you can’t plug a leak if you can’t find it.

In this case, your customers are leaking from your funnel. Each unsubscribe is lost customer engagement, and you don’t want to lose too many subscribers. So, how can you prevent people from visiting that unsubscribe page?

Well, you start by figuring out why they left.

1. Are You Sending Too Many Emails?

Litter scattered on a sandy beach. "1. Frequency. Are You Sending Too Many Emails?"

One of the most common reasons people unsubscribe from email lists is frequency.

You should never drown your customers in content. Nobody wants to wade through mounds of irrelevant content to find an important email. Heck, even the most valuable information can become a nuisance!

Think about it for a minute and follow me on a quick little exercise.

I want you to open your personal email right now.

How many new messages do you have? 100? 200? 300? Maybe you’re pushing 1,000! The bottom line is that you’re likely seeing a lot of email marketing every day. How much of it will you read, and how much is irrelevant content?

Now, add your brand’s hypothetical email campaigns to the mix.

If your first instinct is to think that you’d be more overwhelmed than you already are, there’s a problem.

Not Sending Enough Emails Is Just as Bad!

A storm cloud. "Keep Them Updated: Don't send too many emails, and don't avoid sending emails."

Here’s another shocker, although it makes sense when you think about it: You can also have excessively sparse email marketing.

Yup! In addition to over-sending, you can under-send. Confusing, right?

Well, not exactly.

Let’s break it down.

Your email marketing campaigns are a vessel for awareness. Every message you send sparks a customer’s memory. Surely, you’ve forgotten something and been reminded by a simple email.

Now, extend that logic to your email marketing campaigns.

If you don’t send enough emails, you become irrelevant. Your campaigns and company news blend into the static of everyday life, relegating you to the dustiest corners of the inbox.

How to Master Your Email Marketing Frequency

A large astronomical clock. "1. Frequency. How to Find the Sweet Spot."

Obviously, you want to avoid that outcome.

Most major companies find one email every two weeks to be the perfect number. But that doesn’t mean it’s your ideal figure. Your email marketing campaigns may need to go out weekly, and a very small number of brands find daily messaging to be the best solution.

Summarily, you must balance constant contact and drip marketing with how your subscribers feel.

Ask Questions and Let Your Subscribers Decide

A survey worker in a pond. "Ask Questions: Let customers tell you what they want to see."

I’ll preface this first note by saying a fully customizable email list is hard to maintain.

Unlike traditional automated marketing, this approach requires a team of pros to maintain the requisite infrastructure. However, as noted by Forbes, not everyone wants to see every sales pitch.

Giving your customers the ability to create their own experience allows you to optimize your email strategy. You get better results with fewer emails; customers get a robust email preference center and targeted campaigns.

Another option — which can be used alone or with the customizable preferences idea — is to send periodic surveys. Ask your customers how they feel about your content, and keep that valuable feedback on file! Common questions include some (or all) of the following:

  • Are we delivering relevant content?
  • Are we sending too many emails?
  • Do you feel that we’re sending emails you want to open?
  • How can we provide content that’s more relevant to your needs?
  • Would you suggest this email list to a friend?

Many brands also include optional questionnaires when users unsubscribe. Note that bold text! You cannot legally demand that consumers complete a survey when unsubscribing. If you choose to do so, you’ll find yourself on the market for some legal representation, and nobody wants that.

Personalize and Segment Your Email Marketing

A wooden checker board. "Personalize: Deliver relevant content and improve your email marketing."

Moreover, most email clients allow you to cater to your audience with personalization and segmentation. These tactics help you deliver high-quality, relevant content and avoid what may be the number one reason for high unsubscribe rates.

Beyond the immediate metric benefit, personalization and segmentation help you grow and nurture your email lists.

When you send content people want to read, you ensure your subscribers stay engaged. You also reduce the risk of accruing spam reports while boosting your click-through rates! Particularly helpful or interesting content may even yield more sign-ups through forwards and shares.

2. The Opt-In Form Was Wrong

An electronic keypad. "2. Bad Address. Invalid Addresses and Email Attacks."

Another high-ranking entry on the list of reasons why people unsubscribe is unsolicited email marketing. More precisely, consumers sign up with an email address that isn’t theirs. While often done in error, this category of unsubscribes can also be malicious. However, regardless of the reasoning, requests to opt out must always be honored.

Note that removing these users from your email lists is a net gain, as they were never interested in your content! They are highly unlikely to stay subscribed to your email marketing, and they’ll become an instant burden on your infrastructure.

The Mistyped Email Address

The most innocuous version of this occurrence is a typo.

For one reason or another, a user has mistyped their email address. And, through sheer coincidence, that address is a valid location. When this happens, the unwitting recipient will likely request that you remove them from your list.

It happens! Don’t sweat about it!

Malicious Email Entries

Alternatively, someone may be the target of email spam. In this case, one or more people will sign a person up for multiple email lists, regardless of whether the recipient would be interested.

Once again, chalk this up as standard operating procedure. Remove their information and continue catering to your target audience.

Consider Implementing a Double Opt-In System

A rusty key, buried in dirt. "Double Opt-In: Add security to your email opt-in form and avoid invalid sign-ups."

One of the most efficient (and common!) ways to address this issue is a double opt-in system.

Most platforms allow you to set this two-step process up with a few clicks. You’ll also be given access to data on your campaign monitor about a user’s progress and how many people have completed the full sign-up process.

Now, a double opt-in should be tested before you commit to the system. It has many benefits, but its two-stage setup may slow the growth of your subscriber list. Customers may also inadvertently fail to complete the process if your confirmation emails bypass the inbox and land in spam or trash.

3. Your Content Isn’t Landing

An abstract smoky pattern. "3. Irrelevance. Make Content for the Right Person."

Your audience is only so patient, and inundating your subscribers with useless content is a surefire way to push them away.

Eventually, people grow tired of your sales emails. In fact, repetitive messaging is one of the main reasons people unsubscribe from email lists! After all, people subscribe to learn more about your brand. Sales announcements are appreciated, but they shouldn’t be the only form of messaging you have.

Vary your email content! Again, using personalization tactics can improve your chances of landing sales and making connections. You can also set up email newsletters to keep your audience engaged.

4. Personal Issues

The shadow of a tree. "4. It's Not You! It Just Didn't Work Out."

Finally, people unsubscribe from email because…

Well, sometimes it’s nothing that you’ve done!

There are plenty of reasons why people unsubscribe from mailing lists, and some of them have absolutely nothing to do with the business. Many of these factors are purely personal on the customer’s end, and nothing can truly rectify the situation.

No amount of clever subject lines or feedback will stop these individuals from unsubscribing, so don’t worry much about the losses!

You may never know why someone unsubscribed, especially if they decide to ignore your surveys. Some examples of such unsubscribes include:

  • The address was work-related and is no longer in service
  • The recipient has moved away and is no longer near the business in question
  • The recipient no longer needs the service
  • The subscription was always intended to be temporary, perhaps due to a vacation!
  • The user has found another service

Maximize Your Impact With the Pros

Overlapping ferns. "Call the Pros! Find the Perfect Team for You."


That was a lot of information to absorb, right?

Email marketing campaigns are always changing, and the metrics we consider ideal today may be different tomorrow! Tomorrow’s great example may be next year’s great mistake.

What can you do?

How do you have enough time to run your business and grow your audience?

Well, have you considered hiring the pros? Chat with me, and learn how The Email Marketers can help your business thrive. We understand why people unsubscribe from emails, and we know how to fix even the most stubborn issues.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check the rest of my blog to learn about email marketing!