Make It Easy for Customers to Opt Out

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If recent media coverage is any indication, nothing gets Internet users more fired up than spam.


Exponential increases in e-mail have escalated people's intolerance for needless e-mail. Tech journals and mainstream media are filled with articles about subscription services, server-based software and $5,000 hardware-based screening gateways, all designed to intercept spam.


The development of and increased demand for these products suggests individuals and companies will go to great lengths to keep unwanted e-mail out of their boxes.


Not only is spam annoying, it's costly. According to a 1999 report from market researcher Gartner, an Internet service provider with 1 million customers will lose more than $6 million annually in revenue from higher churn and increased customer acquisition costs to replace those it loses because of spam. ISPs also spend about $500,000 annually for new hardware, software and personnel to fight spam.


This seems exaggerated until you consider that spam slows Internet access, increases bandwidth requirements and therefore raises ISP rates, and slows baud connections for millions of people daily. Not to mention the time wasted when users can't connect on a dial-up system or must wait for messages to load and then delete them.


The Direct Marketing Association thinks the numbers may be inflated by 50 percent, but even at that rate the cost to consumers is exorbitant.


It's hard to understand why companies and e-mail marketers would want to keep people on their e-mail lists who don't want to be there. As a 10-year veteran of the e-mail marketing industry, I know the importance and value of having access to a database of millions of users. But if those users rarely respond to the call to action or even open the e-mail they receive, then why would anyone want to keep them in their database?


In our case I consider our two-click opt-out page an effective, self-cleansing mechanism. Though I hate to see a user leave our database, every time an unresponsive user opts out, our response rates and the value of our lists rise.


A database of 10,000 users who regularly respond to Internet offers is more valuable to a company than 100,000 or even 1 million random, unresponsive users. If you want better performing lists, make it just as easy for users to opt out as it is to opt in.


Some marketers justify their difficult opt-out processes by noting that e-mail campaigns are so inexpensive and easy that even cold or uninterested prospects are worth keeping in touch with. But given how people despise unwanted e-mail, is it worth damaging a brand name on the chance that you might occasionally lure back a customer or convert a former browser into a buyer?


Marketers with difficult opt-out processes should keep in mind the ill will they may be generating by making it impossible for customers and visitors to opt out of their databases. It's been our experience that if a user really wants your services or your product they will find you. There are less-intrusive ways than e-mail to keep your name in front of interested parties.


Some companies are not intentionally keeping uninterested users on their list, they just don't realize how difficult it is for a user to opt out of their list. Here are some suggestions to ensure that those receiving your targeted e-mail messages still want to be on your list.


o Unsubscribing or opting out should be a one- or two-click pro-cess. The recipient should be able to click on a link within the e-mail that takes him to an unsubscribe page. Our unsubscribe page asks the user to click again to ensure that the user hasn't arrived there by error. Once the user clicks again, he is removed from our databases.


o If you use an unsubscribe link for users, check it weekly to ensure it is functioning properly. You should also monitor the inbox that receives these opt-out e-mails to ensure it isn't full. Broken links and full inboxes are two of the biggest hindrances to successful opt-out processes.


o Avoid unsubscribe processes that require the user to send a "remove e-mail" from the address to be removed. Many people have inboxes that receive e-mail from several addresses. It might be impossible for those users to send such an e-mail from the address they want removed from your list.


o In your e-mail's opt-out statement, include the name of your company, your Web address and the e-mail address that is on your list. That way, if there is a problem with your unsubscribe process, the user can still contact you.


o Consider adopting a policy of removing a person from your list if they don't open five offers over a 30-day period. Our company moves unresponsive e-mail addresses into a separate database, tries the address a few times over the next few months, then removes the name if there has been no activity.


The real value of e-mail marketing is that it is a fast, cost-effective way to target users who requested information on specific products or services. Marketers and list brokers devalue the medium and their own lists by not making it quick and easy for users to opt out.


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