3 Psychological Strategies That Help Reduce Unsubscribe Rates

The following is a guest post from AJ Kumar at Single Grain. Thanks to Neil Patel for introducing us and making this post possible.
– Justin Premick

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.


  1. Lisa Schuetz

    1/31/2012 10:33 am

    Where can you get these buttons in your example?

    I just switched to Aweber after using, for almost 3 years, a different e-mail marketing company. I am still amazed at how much more Aweber can do and am very pleased with the attentive help department as there was a learning curve. I publish articles on Kindle, mainly to build my list. This has been a good technique, for me.

  2. Audrey

    1/31/2012 11:12 am

    You offer some great advice in this article. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  3. Teemu Kinnunen

    1/31/2012 11:21 am

    My tips:

    Stay on topic, speak your own basic language, tell stories, bring massive amount of value and sometimes surprise people. Don’t be boring and don’t alwayd talk about yourself!

    Remeber also that some people must go and they never would had bought from you anyway.

  4. Luiz Marques

    1/31/2012 11:37 am

    Very nice, I loved the “Quit” and “Give up” idea.

    I have always included the name of my site in my newsletters, however…

  5. Dawn

    1/31/2012 11:47 am

    Really thought-provoking tips here.
    Thank you!

  6. Johnn

    1/31/2012 12:05 pm

    Great tips! Here are a couple more based on pet peeves and experiences to throw out there:

    1) Do not require a login to unsub. Major aggravation. Likely results in people abandoning unsubbing because they can’t find their password and just hitting Report Spam next time.

    2) Offer a different format. For example, list your RSS feed on your unsub page and again on your unsub confirmation page. Ditto Twitter and Facebook and other channels. Don’t forget to add a note about WIIFM.

    3) Offer a change in frequency. You could offer blog emails instead – sometimes digests and aggregate formats are just too much to consume, and people would rather a single message daily.

    Or vice versa. Offer a digest version for those who want to mull over things on a leisurely Saturday.

    Thanks again for the ideas, AJ – love the button text tip especially.

  7. Glenda

    1/31/2012 12:26 pm

    I am a new to AWeber and I am sure your strategies will help me out a lot. Thanks so much for posting a such a timely article.

  8. Amber James

    1/31/2012 1:18 pm

    Hi AJ,

    These strategies are simple and, as you mentioned, have the potential to lead to increased open rates and decreased fair-weather followers. I wish I had read this article before I sent out an email this morning! Oh well, next time.


  9. John

    1/31/2012 1:24 pm

    There’s a BIG Problem with strategy #2 in moving your unsubscribe link to the top. Given AWeber’s current setup anyone that get’s one of your emails forwarded to them from the original recipient can unsubscribe the original recipient. They can apparently also change the contacts name…hate to think of the possibilities here. Moving it to the top makes it even easier for other people to unsubscribe the original recipient.

    It would be really nice to see AWeber incorporate a verification email into the unsubscribe process to make sure the original recipient really did intend to unsubscribe. If this is currently possible then I’ve completely missed it in the setup.

  10. Debbie Kennedy Crook

    1/31/2012 4:31 pm

    Very interesting and helpful advise and much appreciated. As always I bookmark these pages so I can re-read them again at a later date.

    Thank you

  11. Davin Ogden

    1/31/2012 6:21 pm

    Hmm, I like the idea of testing out the buttons. It would be interesting to see if that would make a difference one way or the other. Thanx..I’ll see what happens:-)

  12. Miroslav

    2/1/2012 2:20 am

    I thing branding is the answer. But only IF messages content fit. If You have many different lists (like I do) and broadcast from one list to another You will most probbably generate problem 😉 Than branding will work against You
    Miroslav, Sarajevo

  13. Tim Pond

    2/1/2012 8:23 am

    Thank you, great tips!
    Share first, sell only later.
    Teemu: priceless tips, thanks!

    My best,
    Tim Pond

  14. Liat

    2/1/2012 3:10 pm

    Thank you for this great post! I will definitely be testing some of these strategies with my list.

    Using AWeber, how would I change the location of my “unsubscribe” link, say, to the top instead of the botton?



  15. Sara

    2/1/2012 11:38 pm

    These are freaking awesome strategies!

  16. E

    2/2/2012 7:12 am

    Great post, I like to think about 4th strategy as a personal touch. And moving the unsubscribe button is the best one.

  17. AJ Kumar

    2/2/2012 12:23 pm

    Lisa – The buttons used in that example came from the Copyhackers team, but any graphic designer should be able to put something similar together for you.

    Teemu – Great points. You really can’t go wrong as a marketer when you focus on adding value first.

    Johnn – Definitely agree, especially about the “logging in to unsubscribe” thing. I know that’s not how Aweber’s service runs, but it’s still frustrating to encounter that barrier from other email management programs.

    Amber – Don’t worry! Email marketing is something that you learn and grow into over time. Keep making improvements to your technique and you’ll see improvements in the long run.

  18. AJ Kumar

    2/2/2012 12:27 pm

    John – Interesting point. I hadn’t thought about that, and I’d be curious to hear any stats on how often people run into that issue. As far as I’m aware, Aweber doesn’t offer a verification page option, but I’m not sure how widespread the problem of forward recipients unsubscribing original contacts is.

    David – Happy testing!

    Miroslav – Branding is definitely important, but you’re right that it can make broadcasting across different segments difficult.

    Liat – Check with Aweber’s help team (not sure about the specifics involved in changing the position with their email list tools).

    Thanks all for reading!

  19. John

    2/2/2012 2:08 pm

    AJ – I don’t know how someone would track it unless AWeber has a way. I do know that I have subscribers email me asking why they haven’t been receiving my emails and often I find they were unsubscribed a few days/weeks before. I have to assume they forwarded an email and then someone unsubscribed for them.

    I really only envision mean spirited tech savvy individuals doing this as a way to frustrate whoever is forwarding the original email. We all know those people that forward tons of emails and it gets annoying. Kill the source, less forwarded email.

    Regardless, the unsubscribe verification email/process can be improved as I’ve seen other email providers do it…just can’t remember which one but I’m sure AWeber knows if they keep close tabs on their competition.

    Thanks for the original post and follow-up comments!

  20. Rebekah Henson

    2/2/2012 3:41 pm

    You can find instructions for adding an extra unsubscribe link to your header in our Knowledge Base here: https://www.aweber.com/faq/questions/403

  21. Jarom

    2/8/2012 7:20 am

    have you addressed the issue of what kind of offerings result in the best unsubscribe rates? I’ve found that offering one-time items like e-books seems to result in people subscribing, grabbing the bonus, and unsubscribing.

    Whereas when people subscribe because they want future information you promised, then they tend to stick around (and even give you a good email instead of a junk email).

    Any thoughts on that?

  22. Trevor Ambrose

    2/8/2012 9:32 pm


    These 4 strategies are helpful. I love Strategy #3 repeat your brand name. I will put this into practice.

    Thank you.

  23. Nav Othendee

    9/18/2012 5:41 am

    Interesting post on psychological strategies. One of the main reasons as to why a user unsubscribes is because they are not receiving what they expected. So, you really need to go back to the start and review your sign up process, ensure you are capturing the correct data and segment your deployments based on it. A technique a lot of companies are using now is the unsubscribe form being a preference centre/unsubscribe form hybrid. That way, you are asking the user to update their ‘preferences’ instead of unsubscribing. Another popular reason for unsusbcribing is because some companies do not have a method of updating details e.g. new email address. A preference centre would eliminate these problems.