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Email Marketing

Email Preference Centers Improve the Unsubscribe Process

Email On Acid

Newsflash: Unsubscribes happen. It hurts, but this natural list cleaning keeps our email eco-system in balance. And while you can’t avoid the pain altogether, you can dull it greatly by integrating an email preference center into your unsubscribe process.

For those unfamiliar with this concept, an email preference center is a landing page the subscriber arrives at after they hit the unsubscribe button. The page allows them to take a variety of actions: update their email address, change the frequency of the mailings, and even opt out for good.

Decrease your unsubscribe rate

Clicking the unsubscribe button doesn’t necessarily mean a subscriber wants to end their relationship with you. ExactTarget conducted a survey and uncovered the reasons people opt-out.

From the graphic above, it is clear that many unsubscribes could be prevented by allowing the subscriber to choose their own sending frequency.

Bonobos did a fantastic job of incorporating this element into their preference center to retain subscribers who want less mail. If you don’t provide alternatives, you will lose subscribers. It’s that simple.

Allow users to self-segment

Relevancy drives individuals to engage in email campaigns. In fact, Ascend2 reports the following to be the most effective tactics to achieve email marketing objectives:

Since marketers aren’t in the business of mind reading, one easy way to ensure you are delivering relevant information is to allow readers to self-segment.

Do you have multiple email lists? Tons of different products? Let your users tell you what they want to hear about through your preference center.

J. Crew did a great job of letting readers choose what future mailings would be the most relevant to them in the opt-out process, while still providing the option to unsubscribe completely.

By leveraging this strategy, you can stop unsubscribes from happening and deliver hyper-customized campaigns. You might even boost your open and clicks rates. Talk about a win-win.

Nurture other digital channels

Email isn’t the only way to communicate with your audience. Sure, over 77% of consumers prefer to receive promotional messages from companies via email, but you still need to optimize your marketing strategy for those 23% that want to hear from you through other channels like Facebook or Twitter.

Gilt used this strategy by offering social channels as a way to connect outside of the email realm (yes, life does in fact exist beyond email).

No man is an island, right? So don’t market that way. Embrace personal communications through multiple channels.

Create better reengagement opportunities

Return Path reports that on average, 15-25% of all valid email addresses are discarded each year as people move to a different ISP, change jobs or otherwise acquire a new address. That’s why you should be proactive and purge inactive users (people who have not opened or clicked in 3 months) from your list.

After the subscriber has been unsubscribed, send them a reengagement email that will direct them to a preference center if they want to opt-back in. This creates a cleaner list and provides a reengagement opportunity for the subscribers that are actually interested in hearing from you.

Furthermore, internet service providers (ISPs) are becoming more reliant on engagement metrics for detecting SPAM. By unsubscribing dormant members and giving them a way back onto the list through a preference center, you’ll have better opens, clicks and deliverability rates.

Sidekick took a very proactive approach to making sure their engagement did not drop due to inactive emails. Check out their witty, “holiday” email where they give (pun intended) readers the option to reengage.

Collect important (un)subscriber feedback

So why do subscribers leave? This is where an exit survey can provide a wealth of information. When it is time to bid adieu, ask why and use the feedback to improve your future email strategy.

When formulating this exit-survey, less is more. A drop-down of reasons is probably the best option to easily aggregate data. Time Out London does a great job with their reader-centric exit interview:

Remember to take advantage of every opportunity to capture feedback from your audience, even if it’s the last one you’ll get.

Do you have a tactic that works?

Did we miss anything? Share what you do to ensure your readers stay for the long-haul in the comments section below.

About the Author

Mallory Mongeon

Mallory Mongeon

Mallory hails from Minnesota and earned her bachelor's degree in corporate communications from Elon University. The voice behind our email campaigns and social media channels, Mallory uses her background in research- and metrics-driven marketing strategies to inform her blogs on the non-technical aspects of email marketing.

Join the Discussion


In regards to your article above, I think you need to check your facts.

1. The graphic which shows the reasons why people unsubscribe from emails is not from Hubspot. It is actually from the Subscriber Fans and Follower Series, Part 8 - The Social Break Up from Exacttarget nka SFMC.

2. The Bonobos example above is not really an example of a preference center. Its an example of an opt-down page which is entirely different than that of a preference center.

I think you should adjust your nomenclature to include that preference centers primarily exist on the front end to capture preferences, while opt-down pages or subscription centers can act as a deterrent from those that want to unsubscribe. Companies can certainly drive their subscribers to preference centers, but typically they are not used to persuade those people from unsubscribing.

Last but not least, I think you failed to include an example which shows a pause feature. Some brands drive to an opt-down page which contains a feature which will allow the subscriber to suspend their emails for X time (call it vacation time).

Andrew Kordek
Hi Andrew,

Thanks for your input!

1) When I was researching this post, I found the relevancy graph on the following page which attributed the source as Hubspot:

This was an oversight on my part, and it was ExactTarget, but my intention was not to misattribute the source. Thanks for letting us know.

2) You can definitely call it an opt-down page, but it is also a page incorporated with the overall preference center.

In my research, I found that using a "preference center" as a way to stop unsubscribes was echoed by other blogs such as towerd@ta when they stated, "Rather than having them opt out anonymously and simply disappear, steering users to a preference center gives you an opportunity to persuade them to stay or to feel better about reconnecting in the future."

Yes, preference centers primarily exist on the front end to capture preferences, but that doesn't mean an "opt-down page" isn't part of the preference center overall. I like to leverage existing steps in my marketing efforts (like the preference center) to improve relevancy in my marketing.
Mallory Mongeon
Once again Mallory, you delivered an excellent post about unsubscribing.
I don't know where the facts came from -and I don't care, but I do know that the results are really interesting and somewhat expected. I had to unsbscribe from a lot of newsletters, even if they 're coming from valuable sources.
That's why in our company we keep a frequency of no more than once a week.
Never heard about the pause feature Andrew said, but I'm more than happy to try it out!
Beakon Social Media Agency
no, we don't need "preference centers." The "unsubscribe" button is quite efficient and to the point.

While the unsubscribe button should always be prominent, there are benefits to using a preference center in my opinion. Email preferences allow users to set up the parameters of what emails they want to see, so you can deliver relevant information your reader actually is interested in. Campaign Monitor found that email preference centers reduce the number of contacts that unsubscribe and increase subscriber satisfaction. You can read more here:
Mallory Mongeon
Hi Mallory, I'm in the process of ramping up my email campaign for business services I offer and found your article very helpful. What is sad, and has kept me off the Internet for many years is the 'meanness' that people feel they are entitled to use in Comments. Like Andrew - instead of politely saying "I think you may be incorrect", he demands that you 'check your facts'. Or Elle - who just rudely dismisses your whole point. I would never speak face to face with someone in this tone, and I don't think it is fair that people feel so entitled to 'voice off' online. (sigh) But it is what it is ....
So I'm adding my two-cents here that your information was useful, as accurate as you could be without being neurotic, and appreciated.
Linda Gross
Hi Linda,

I am sorry that you misinterpreted my comment above as a rude or that I demanded something as that was not the intention. However it should be noted that if you use something publicly you should look at the original sources.

Hi @Linda,

I really appreciate your kind words, makes what I do here at EOA a lot more satisfying! I'm also glad you found the article helpful. Have a great rest of your day, Linda.
Mallory Mongeon
Hi Andrew,

Thank you for taking the time to write back, I appreciate your response. May I point out that my issue is not with "what" you said (which I find to be entirely valid) but rather with "how" you said it, which was brusque and for me, less than polite. Especially from a fellow professional.

@Mallory, I appreciate the example of your calm and even-voiced responses. You are a good example for me. I'm sure I'll have to respond to my own fair share of "Comments".

Best regards to both of you.

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