Email marketers and brands must be well aware of the existence of 'report spam' buttons on email clients, and the potential risks to sender reputation if recipients press them. 

Then there's the new Gmail unsubscribe feature.  Though this is likely to be less harmful than the spam button, could help Google distinguish between 'good and 'bad' senders.

Despite these features, and customers' frustration with what they consider to be spam, some unsubscribe processes are just too painful.

I've been clearing out my over-cluttered inbox, and unsubscribing from a few unwanted emails.

While the majority had a one or two click process, others seem to make it as hard as possible... 

What should the unsubscribe process look like? 

Christopher Ratcliff covers unsubscribe best practice in more detail but here's a quick example, from Pizza Express. 

This isn't necessarily perfect, but it does the job without annoying the customer. 

Here's the unsubscribe link. Note it's at the top of the email. It doesn't totally leap out, but it's there and not buried in the small print at the bottom. 

It leads to this page, with just one further click to unsubscribe. The comments box allows Pizza Express to gain some valuable feedback too (if people can be bothered that is). 

Basically, it's a two click process, with no extra data entry or annoying steps to go through.

Design Junction's unsubscribe process is even easier, just one click: 

If you want people to unsubscribe through you rather than through Gmail or reporting your emails as spam, this kind of simplicity is key. 

It's a lesson that the companies shown in the following examples would do well to learn.

There seems to be a school of thought that making it more difficult to opt-out is a good thing, and will help to retain subscribers. This is a mistake, as frustrating users will just force them to unsubscribe in other ways. 

Confirming email address

This is irritating, especially on a mobile. I've clicked though from the email address in question. Why should I have to confirm it? 

Worse still, if you have a couple of email addresses and are not sure which one you subscribed with, you'll hit this annoying error message:

Unnecessary extra steps

In this example, from Chiquitos, it initially seems to be a two click process a la Pizza Express:

However, Chiquitos adds a totally unnecessary extra step, giving me an option to update details, which I didn't ask for or need. 

Pressing buttons

No need for this. Do they think that, by making me press radio buttons to opt out I'll decide to change my mind? 


To make matters worse, we have this crappy pop up message which I'm forced to interact with: 

Ambiguous language

Cath Kidston merely takes my unsubscribe request into account. Maybe it'll remove me from the list, maybe not. 

It's easy enough to make it clear that customers have been removed, so why be vague about it? 

Contrast fail

Lots of small white text on a black background makes this Blinkbox unsubscribe form hard to read.  

Having to send an email

It's like the dark ages. Pizza Hut makes you send an email, while mentioning that it might take two weeks for your opt-out to go through. 

Worse still, there's no acknowledgement, and the send to address looks very spammy, which may give people cause for concern. 

Too much work to do

Bookatable does provide an option to unsubscribe from all of its emails, but this is perhaps the least visible element on the page, and one which will be below the fold for many people. 

So this means you have to opt out of four different types of emails. 

If a recipient has sought out and chosen to click the unsubscribe button in the email, it's a pretty clear indication that they want to opt out. 

While I think providing customers with the option of leaving feedback is a great idea, this shouldn't be compulsory, nor should it make the process more time consuming. 

In the examples here, the companies in question are placing too many barriers in front of users, perhaps in the hope that making it harder will encourage more to remain on the list.

In my opinion, the harder you make the process, the more likely it is that customers will report your emails as spam. 

Graham Charlton

Published 24 June, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (8)

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Email Monks

Very true! Some aforementioned practices tend to hurt the company reputation a lot.

We always request our clients to opt for an easy one click away unsubscribe in their emails. Also, leaving a confirmation message for the unsubscribe, on ideally the same page helps a lot. We have it elaborated on:

about 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Re: "I've clicked though from the email address in question. Why should I have to confirm it?"

This can be just the brand being annoying and making unsubscribing more difficult, but it can also be a defense against script kiddies.

Sad, but true, ESPs use unique IDs to identify subscribers and these are sometimes easy to guess. Back in the day, some ESPs even used ascending numbers: 1000,1001,1002 etc.

If an attacker can work out the pattern, they can run a script to loop through modified versions of their unsubscribe link and unsubscribe everyone. Adding the additional step of confirming an email address provides "defense in depth" against this theoretical possibility.

about 4 years ago


Becs Rivett

I had the manager of a previous company I worked for to tell me to change the unsubscribe process so the user had to put their email address in, so we would get less unsubscribes...

The main one you forgot to mention I think is when you click unsubscribe, then says "You must log in to amend your setting" - then you'll probably have to faff around trying to remember your password, or better yet you don't even have an account yet you're still on their email list.

about 4 years ago


Sam Beddoes

One of the best unsubscribe methods I've seen was from Adobe.

Alongside the one-click unsubscribe, there was an option to unsubscribe by POST. Address was there and everything, would love to know if they got any.

about 4 years ago

Jordie van Rijn

Jordie van Rijn, email marketing specialist at emailmonday

The one I hated the most was a publisher that allowed you to subscribe with just one click and would standard send you emails on multiple topics. If you wanted to unsubscribe you would have to manually untick all the boxes (more than 30) and press update.

That is against the spirit of good emailmarketing.

about 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

@Sam Beddoes: I can answer your question.

If you mean unsubscribe by sending email to a special unsubscribe address - when I was at EmailReaction, we supported this for all our clients and a small number of subscribers used it. I guestimate around 1 in 10,000 unsubscribes were done this way.

If you mean unsubscribe by letter post - I have seen this too. But less than 1 in a million unsubscribes were done this way.

@Jordie: Worse is when they bulk-subscribe you to lots of different lists but provide no way to bulk-unsubscribe. But I haven't seen this for a while - presumably because so many people reported this tactic as spam.

about 4 years ago


Laura P, Digital Marketing at MS

Great article. Sainsbury's and Nectar card both require you to enter your long Nectar card number before unsubscribing from emails, then state that it takes up to 28 days. Which it doesn't, because three months later I'm still receiving emails and have had to unsubscribe to both, again.

over 2 years ago

Spark Email Design

Spark Email Design, Seo at Spark Email Design

Great Blog, this is correct we have to be safe from sending annoying Emails

Well, to extend this topic I would Like to share a blog

about 1 year ago

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