How One-Click Unsubscribe Can Wreck Your Email Marketing List

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How One-Click Unsubscribe Can Wreck Your Email Marketing List

One-click unsubscribe links could be destroying your email marketing list, especially if you’re a B2B marketer.

By one-click unsubscribe, I mean any email marketing/marketing automation platform which allows a subscriber to opt out simply by clicking a link in the email and taking no further action or confirmation. When they get to the landing page, they’re already unsubscribed with no additional effort required on their part, no button to confirm that they meant to do it, etc.

On the surface, this seems like a good thing – consumer-friendly, easy for the user, and it is. But it’s a major problem for the marketer, and potentially the subscriber if they suddenly stop receiving their favorite business’ emails. Let’s dig deeper into the problem.

How Security Broke One-Click Unsubscribe

Why is one-click unsubscribe so bad for our email marketing efforts? In short, it’s easy for automated systems to automatically unsubscribe your readers.

Consider what the average anti-spam security software does. Here’s a brief feature list of one of the market-leading server appliances:

Email security

What does this server appliance do? By scanning email for malware, hijacked links, and other unsavory hacking techniques in email messages, this appliance helps keep users safe. That’s a good thing.

However, in order to scan for those hacks, the server appliance automatically clicks on every image and link in the email before it gets to us, to see if the link leads to a hacked web page or script.

If our email unsubscribe is one-click, then security servers like this automatically unsubscribe our subscribers, because it effectively clicks our one-click unsubscribe link.


Here’s an additional twist. Suppose we have a one-click unsubscribe link in our email message and one of our loyal readers forwards it to a friend at a different company. Their security appliance clicks on the link. Now our loyal reader is unsubscribed – and they have no idea that it’s happened. That’s even worse.

What Should We Use Instead?

If your email service provider/marketing automation provider offers one-click unsubscribe as a feature, turn it off. Instead, you have a couple of options:

  • The industry standard is to direct the user to a subscription preferences/opt-out page where they can confirm their unsubscription.
  • What I’ve switched to in my newsletter is converting the unsubscribe link to a mailto: link that triggers a new email to be sent, back to me, telling me which email to unsubscribe.

Why did I switch away from the industry standard? In many cases, people couldn’t remember which email they were subscribed on, and they’d wonder why they still received email from me after unsubscribing, not realizing a different address was auto-forwarding their email. By sending a real email back, I can see which email received the newsletter in the first place.

If your email service provider/marketing automation provider doesn’t offer the option of turning off one-click unsubscribe, change vendors. This mechanism is making your job more difficult.

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2 responses to “How One-Click Unsubscribe Can Wreck Your Email Marketing List”

  1. 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.

  2. Martha Avatar

    Hm.. interesting. I’ll have to see how the unsubscribing works in getresponse. I’ve never paid much attention to that process while creating marketing automation.

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