3 Psychological Strategies That Help Reduce Unsubscribe Rates
By Justin Premick January 31, 2012
The following is a guest post from AJ Kumar at
Your website and email marketing lists aren’t just business tools that help you connect with customers and prospects – in effect; they’re the digital manifestation of your presence and personality.
So while it’s tempting to think about these resources as simple text blocks and images, don’t underestimate the psychological impact these bits and bytes can have on your readers.
One of the best places to employ tactics that appeal to a reader’s emotions is in your email list, when it comes to managing your unsubscribe rates.
If you’ve been having trouble keeping these numbers down, check out the following psychological strategies on how to reduce your current unsubscribe rates:
Strategy #1 – Harness the Power of Words
There’s no doubt that many words are psychologically charged, but the two that you want to focus on here are “quit” and “give up.”
Whether or not we like to admit it, these words exert a powerful psychological force on readers. Quitting and giving up don’t simply mean “stopping” something – the strongest connotation with these words is actually “failure,” and nobody wants to admit that they’ve given up on or failed at something!
This is why we stay in bad relationships longer than we should, and it’s why we dread having to tell Great Aunt Sally that we’ve left bad working environments over the holiday dinner table. Heck, even the tobacco companies know that most smokers experience a psychological hurdle at the thought of quitting smoking (even if quitting is a good thing in this case!).
So how can you incorporate this technique into your email marketing lists? Well, imagine if – instead of being unsubscribed automatically – subscribers were shown the following options, as developed by Copyhackers:
Think that wouldn’t encourage people to stick it out on your list a little longer?
Even if you don’t make use of unsubscribe buttons, integrating phrases like, “Are you sure you want to quit receiving emails from [Company Name]” or “Don’t give up on [Company Name] just yet!” could have a powerful impact on lowering your unsubscribe rates.
Strategy #2 – Change the Position of Your Unsubscribe Link
This one might sound a little strange, but there’s actually been a significant trend towards moving unsubscribe links from the bottom of email marketing messages to the top over the past year and a half.
Psychologically speaking, when readers have decided definitively that they’d like to be removed from your email list, the worst thing you can do is to make the process more difficult than it needs to be.
Someone who has committed to unsubscribing is going to find a way to do so – and if you make the process frustrating by burying unsubscribe links at the bottom of your messages, you’re only creating a negative impression of your brand in the reader’s mind. So instead of forcing these readers to dig through your messages, add your unsubscribe link to the top.
While this may result in some wishy-washy readers unsubscribing when they could have been convinced to stay, it will substantially lower your spam complaint rates, ultimately resulting in a better targeted list and higher deliverability rates.
Strategy #3 – Repeat Your Brand Name
In July 2011, Zack – writing for Conversion VooDoo – noticed something odd about the way ecommerce giant Amazon was sending out its marketing messages. Instead of simply including the company name in the “From” field as most email marketing campaigns do, Amazon repeated its brand name in both the “From” and the “Subject” field.
Intrigued, he tested this idea on a client’s website and wound up with surprising results:
“In fact, this change worked quite well and we realized a 20% gain in open-rate, and an overall 15% improvement in click-through rate from that one small change.”
While this might come as a surprise to some email marketers (given its departure from standard email marketing best practices), the improvement Zack realized makes sense from a psychological standpoint.
One of the biggest challenges internet marketers face is the amount of information customers and subscribers process on a day-to-day basis. This makes it incredibly difficult to get a message to stand out amidst the noise and results in plenty of email marketing messages sitting – unopened – in subscribers’ mailboxes.
What Amazon is doing is:
- Reducing the amount of information that must be processed before a decision can be made to open or ignore the message.
- Preventing the sense of cognitive dissonance that results when mixed signals are received.
Upon seeing a branded message from Amazon that includes the company’s name in both fields, consumers are able to instantly process what the message is, instead of wasting time scanning both the “From” and “Subject” fields to determine whether or not the message will be valuable.
Strategy #4 – Yours
If you’re experiencing high unsubscribe rates, testing any of these techniques is easy to do and could result in substantial improvements in terms of the number of people leaving your list.
Although there’s no guarantee you’ll see the kind of results showcased above, it’s worth experimenting with these three strategies in order to keep your list strong and growing.
What other effective ways have you found to reduce your unsubscribe rates?
AJ Kumar is co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with their digital marketing strategy.