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Are All Email Unsubscribe Services Created Equal?

Thomas Senne
Senior Director of Global Deliverability

I am sure that from time to time, all of us have been tempted to try out one of the many “unsubscribe” services out there, in a desperate attempt to get a handle on our out of control Inboxes. There are several of these services that float around out there. I find it strange the way these services can just about “go viral” with a mention in an article or a video. On the Oracle side, we will get several inquiries in a short period of time, asking about what senders should be worrying about, and how to stop people from using these services.

It’s an interesting dynamic in which people will use a service that they know nothing about, and trust them more than they do the sender of the email. People will give one of these services blind faith access to their email account, instead of clicking an unsubscribe link. What does that say about certain email programs? I think there’s a lot to be learned from this behavior. There’s also a lot to be learned from recent developments in the “unsubscribe” world.

Unroll.me is one of the more popular of these services. Unroll.me has been around for many years. I know that I have tried them several times over the years as part of my due diligence.  Recently, unroll.me has been on quite a roll themselves. They have released new version of apps that purport to make unsubscribing from email even easier than ever before. People seem to be flocking to try out the new features. Here at Oracle, we saw one of those increased periods for tickets and questions about the service.

I must admit, as the first few questions came in, we gave the standard answer. Something was different about this time however, as the questions took a different track than before. Senders were seeing large amount of data coming in that they had never seen before.

What was happening?

Unroll.me, the service that had always promoted the fact that they would unsubscribe you from email, wasn’t actually unsubscribing anybody! That’s right; the service it turns out has been suppressing mail somewhere between the junk folder and the inbox, in kind of a state of suspended animation. Now recently, for whatever reason unroll.me decided they should go ahead and send the unsubscribes to the senders. The problem is that these are so old; some of the addresses don’t even exist anymore, leaving responsible senders scratching their heads.

I’ll fast forward in the story. Due to some great work by the Email Service Providers Coalition (ESPC), the team at Unroll.me has agreed to build a feedback loop platform which is a great outcome for everyone. It does beg a few questions. How did this happen? How should you treat these services? What’s next with these unroll.me addresses? Let’s address.

How Did This Happen? – People become so frustrated with their inboxes, that sometimes these services seem like a way to press the reset version without changing email accounts. I don’t believe people get that satisfaction very often, the mail generally keeps coming. When you are desperate, you will try anything. This says a lot about the way some senders treat email. If you treat the medium like it means nothing, your customers will return the favor with your messages.

How Should You Treat These Services? – No matter what, if someone is trying to unsubscribe from your messages, you need to let them go. The fight to keep a disgruntled subscriber is a losing one with real consequences. Email reputation can be ruined by continuing to mail to unengaged or disgruntled customers or prospects.

What’s next for Unroll.me? – In the next few months as unroll.me decides how and how far back they truly want to go, you should treat any of these requests like legit unsubscribe attempts. Again, it’s not worth the risk of trying to decipher who wanted to do what. The simple fact they were in this app should be enough to show intent.

This interesting tale ties back to my recurring theme for deliverability success, and that’s engagement. This is the most single important factor in the success of your email program. People shouldn’t feel so untrusting of you that they need to go to a 3rd party to unsubscribe from an email. They shouldn’t get email they don’t care about. They should be engaged and feel in control of the process. Opening up and ceding control is a difficult decision, but in the long-run will help you avoid pitfalls such as this one.

For more help and insight when it comes to email deliverability, download Email Deliverability: Guide for Modern Marketers.

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Comments ( 2 )
  • Brightlivingstone Saturday, February 6, 2016
    Hello Kevin Senne,
    I must admit that unroll.me is an awesome service for filtering your emails and keeping your inbox clean from unwanted marketing emails. according to the recent survey 48% of email in your are considered as spam.
  • Kevin Senne Monday, February 8, 2016
    Thanks for the comment. I agree that conceptually the service (and others like it are great), but my point here is that if they aren't actually unsubscribing as they claim, that this is a problem.
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