A few months ago, I decided to change my personal policy on spam. For years, I just ignored spam, mostly because it was easier to delete messages than to follow the unsubscribe instructions on each of them.
Given the high profile hacks of the last 12-18 months and the nature of spam lists, i.e. lists of email addresses are sold without explicit consent in some cases, it’s difficult to know who has your email address, what they plan to do with it and how good their security is.
So, I started unsubscribing from spam as it arrived, and during this process, I’ve observed a wide range of options, which I’m ranking here for posterity. Unsubs are an odd use case because the motivation of the user is opposed to the motivation of the provider.
While legally, a bulk emailer must provide an unsubscribe function, it’s not in their best interests to do more than the absolute minimum. In fact, some of the implementations I’ve seen make it just confusing enough to persuade the user to stay, or at least, not leave before giving up more personal information.
Without further ado, here are the unsubscribe methods I’ve observed, from best to worst for discussion and humor purposes.
Without a doubt, the one-click, instant unsubscribe link is the best. I’ve found that some links are described as instant in the spam message, but are not in practice. This one functions as advertised, click it and you’re magically removed from the list. There’s usually a confirmation message and sometimes a timeframe listed for the unsub to take effect.
One-Click and Confirm
Sometimes “instant” means clicking the unsub link drops you on a confirmation page, i.e. the page wants to make sure you want to unsubscribe from the list and you haven’t hit your head or fat-finger-clicked the link by mistake. Because the benefits of subscription are so good, it’s likely that you made a mistake.
It’s one extra step, not a huge deal, but a little more annoying, especially if they go overboard on the benefits of their spam.
One-Click, Confirm and Tell Us Why
Quite a few unsubs have an optional step at the end of the process, like the break-up that won’t end. I keep hoping to see the “It’s not me, it’s you” option, but alas, not yet. This one is obviously marketing, and it’s a little sneaky. With unsub function completed, there’s no reason to stay on the site, but this question, usually in form of radio buttons, takes just enough cognitive effort to make you question yourself.
I find myself plowing through this process, hoping to get it done as quickly as possible, and I know I answered that question a few times without even thinking.
Links That Make Me Work
Beyond confirming, some unsubscribes claim to be generic and require you to enter the email address you want to remove because there’s no way they could know what email address you mean, even though those links carry when look like unique tokens in their URLs. Don’t make me do work to unsubscribe, and definitely don’t pretend like you don’t know who I am.
Even worse is the lazy unsub link that actually doesn’t carry any tokens or identification. It’s just a generic unsubscribe page; I’ve found those usually also have the sneaky break-up question too.
Hall of Fail
Now, for the best of the worst.
I suppose the worst should be spam with no unsubscribe offered at all, which is technically illegal, but good luck enforcing that. These emails come from bots that scour the interwebs looking for email addresses, or so I assume, since they never seem to be solicited in any way.
Slightly better, but still highly annoying, is the reply with “Leave Out” or “Unsubscribe” in the subject. Or put differently, please confirm this is a real person and optionally provide more context about yourself in your signature. There’s never any confirmation that these work, and they feel a lot like bait.
I love the unsubscribes that tell you how long you should expect the “process” to take. It’s usually listed in days, sometimes with the hilarious caveat of “business days.” If only technology could automate the removal of a data point from a data store.
And finally, the worst and funniest unsubscribe I’ve seen so far: optionally send a letter. I kid you not. This spam message had a perfectly good unsubscribe link in the footer, and they conveniently offered a snail mail option, complete with a PO Box.
That made my day. Then, I felt a little sad that people might actually try to use that option.
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