Why one-click unsubscribe can destroy your email list

One-click unsubscribe is the consumer advocate’s heaven. One click and a consumer can no longer be bothered by pesky marketers. In an ideal world with no complications, no technological challenges, and no obfuscations, I’d agree. But this is not an ideal world to live in or to market to, and one-click unsubscribe can absolutely destroy your email list, especially if you’re doing email to anyone on a corporate network.

Here’s why:

Email security

This is the product description of a corporate email security appliance that goes in the server room of a major corporation. I’m not criticizing the product (hence why I’ve removed its name) because it’s doing its job flawlessly, intercepting emails and scanning them for malware, links to hijacks, etc. as well as scanning outgoing messages to prevent employees from leaking sensitive information.

Think about that for a second. This security appliance is correctly opening, scanning, and following every link in every email it receives to destroy emails that lead to hijacked websites or to stop employees from leaking info. That means that if your email contains a one-click, no-questions-asked unsubscribe, the first time you send that email to your opted-in subscriber, their firewall opens your email and automatically unsubscribes them by clicking on every link in it.

Imagine this: a subscriber to your email newsletter with a one-click unsubscribe forwards the newsletter to a friend at a corporation. The firewall intercepts it and opens it. Now, not only will the friend not ever be able to stay subscribed, but the person that forwarded it has also been unsubscribed! You’ve now lost two subscribers for the price of one.

This is why you should never use one-click unsubscribe if it’s offered as a “feature” by your email marketing or marketing automation provider. Your unsubscribe link should go to a subscriber preferences page where they can unsubscribe there with one click instead.

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  • It’s easy to implement a one click unsubscribe which will fool just about all link scanners.
    The following will not be followed by all scanners.
    HTTP headers – it’s fairly easy to detect link scanners and redirect accordingly
    Javascript – detecting the mouse pointer position or other browser attributes.
    Meta refresh tags – to redirect to a different unsubscribe url.

    Use a combination with a graceful fallback of a hyperlink to the actual unsubscribe page in each situation, 99% of real users will have javascript enabled.

mautic is open source marketing automation