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August 28, 2014

Gmail Adds Auto-Unsubscribe Feature

On August 6, Google’s Gmail announced a new feature: the auto-unsubscribe button. What is it? What does it mean for your brand’s marketing efforts? The potential implications are great; as such, it’s important that you become familiar with the feature and gain an understanding of how to adjust your marketing efforts accordingly.

Why the Focus on Unsubscribing?

Beginning in 2003 with the passage of the CAN-SPAM Act, which, among other regulations like not using false or misleading header information or deceptive subject lines, requires the senders of email marketing campaigns to clearly tell recipients how to opt-out of receiving future emails – return email addresses, opt-out buttons or otherwise – and to honor opt-out requests promptly, email marketers have understood the importance of allowing target audience members to unsubscribe. Because harsh penalties and fines exist for non-compliance, unsubscribe options became commonplace quickly.

With Gmail’s announcement on August 6, however, this has gone one step further. The auto-unsubscribe feature that will be displayed on promotional messages will make it easier than ever for Gmail users – which comprise 74 percent of the United States’ consumer base – to unsubscribe from unwanted messages and senders.

How Gmail’s Unsubscribe Works

The basic premise is simple. On promotional messages that already contain unsubscribe options, recipients will now see a prominent link at the top of the email – right beside the name of the sender – that allow them to unsubscribe from the sender. Because most unsubscribe options are featured at the bottom of email messages, this eliminates the need for scrolling through a message in order to opt-out.

Along with the feature’s debut announcement, Gmail stated that the process can take a few days, depending on how fast the requests are processed; however, the end result is the same.

Implementing the Feature

The unsubscribe option is made possible through the list-unsubscribe header inside common email marketing campaigns. This is what makes the option appear at the bottom of messages, however it is generally hidden from email recipients in the actual header. Gmail’s feature pulls from that – otherwise invisible – feature and makes it visible at the top of messages.

This means that without implementing the list-unsubscribe header, recipients will not be able to see the auto-unsubscribe option. Furthermore, senders with negative reputations will not be rewarded by being able to use the feature. Because it could be used as a method for validating the authenticity of email addresses, only senders with positive overall reputations will be able to implement the option.

Brands sending from new IP addresses, email addresses or domains will not have the auto-unsubscribe feature to accompany their messages until a positive history of sending is established. Like Google’s other products, those who take advantage will simply not be rewarded.

For brands that use multiple unsubscribe options to allow users to unsubscribe, Gmail’s recommendation is that those options be limited to a maximum of five.

When Google receives unsubscribe requests through the auto-unsubscribe feature, senders will receive notices and will be required to act immediately by removing those recipients from their email lists. If this fails to happen, Gmail could stop delivering messages to all users which could seriously hinder email marketing initiatives.

Why the Auto-Unsubscribe is Positive

You might be wondering why making it easier for email recipients to opt-out of your campaigns could possibly be viewed as a positive thing. Why do you want your subscribers to be able to opt out without even viewing the information contained in your message?

The answer to this question is simple: transparency. Your target audience members want to do business with brands that are trustworthy. Often times, trust is associated with transparency. When users are able to unsubscribe to your campaign without a hassle, your complaint rate will likely drop.

An additional positive? A more focused and receptive email subscriber list. It’s great to have a list that contains thousands of recipients. However, the focus of email marketing should be effectiveness. If your list is full of individuals who will never take action, you’re wasting your efforts. A list of subscribers that are engaged and interested leads to better results in the long run. Cutting out those who are completely uninterested – and will always remain uninterested – doesn’t hurt a brand at all.

Why the Auto-Unsubscribe Option Could Also Be Negative

Just because a particular email recipient isn’t interested in what your brand has to offer right now, they still made it to your list in one way or another. Whether this was through an event, a promotion or something else, they are on your list for a reason.

When an email doesn’t interest them, they may not feel like scrolling through your message to find the unsubscribe option at the bottom of the screen, so, instead, they stay subscribed. In the mentality mentioned above, this means they are uninterested. However, from another perspective, it might also mean they just aren’t interested right now.

This means that a future message, tagline or headline could draw them back in. They may be content to receive messages without taking action, however, something may interest them in the future. If the option to opt out becomes easier, they may do so without ever receiving that future message. This could lead to a loss in conversions and profits in the future.

Whether the auto-unsubscribe feature is a positive or a negative has yet to be seen and may depend upon your email marketing strategy and outlook. In either case, it’s important to be aware of the new feature and to consider how to incorporate it into your strategy, starting today.


Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about online marketing strategies that help businesses like RSC Heating & Air Conditioning succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter to see more of her work or get in touch.