Why Don’t People Just Unsubscribe?

It’s easy to forget, working strictly with opt-in email publishers, that there are a lot of people out there who don’t abide by the same standards and ethics that we do here at AWeber. I recently came across an article in the New York Times that discussed ways to “take control” of the flow of marketing materials coming to you in different forms. What struck me was their advice regarding email.

It’s easy to forget, working strictly with publishers who operate opt-in email marketing campaigns, that there are a lot of people out there who don’t abide by the same standards and ethics that we do here at AWeber.

I recently came across an article in the New York Times that discussed ways to “take control” of the flow of marketing materials coming to you in different forms.

What struck me was their advice regarding email:

“Whatever you do, do not respond to an unsolicited e-mail message when it gives you the option to opt out of receiving more e-mail. That is a trick used by spammers to confirm they hit a live address.”

I hadn’t seen that advice given in a while.

And why would I have? Our unsubscribe links do exactly as they purport to do: they remove the email address in question from receiving more messages. Period. We already know the address is valid because the subscriber has explicitly confirmed that s/he wants to receive information at it.

But of course, not every email newsletter or marketing message is sent via AWeber. And spam does exist.

Two Effects of This Fear of Links

Like just about anything that spammers cause, the belief that unsubscribe links “validate” their email address can affect your own legitimate, opt-in email campaigns in two ways:

  • Spam Complaints. If someone doesn’t remember opting-in to receive your messages, then they can’t/won’t distinguish between your messages and any spam in their inbox. And since they refuse to click the unsubscribe link for fear of getting more email, they become trained to use the “Spam” button.Solution: Don’t let them forget about you. Mail them regularly and provide valuable content. And use Confirmed Opt-In to protect yourself from complaints.
  • Confirmations. When you send a confirmation message to subscribers to ensure that they want to receive your messages, if the text of that message doesn’t clearly outline what the confirmation is all about, some people may be less likely to confirm for fear of “getting more email” (not distinguishing between what they requested and what they did not)Solution: Clearly explain on your Thank-You page what happens next, what the subscriber should expect, and what s/he needs to do to complete the signup process. And customize your confirmation message’s subject and body, so that they reinforce what you say on your Thank-You page.

As long as unsolicited email exists, legitimate opt-in publishers will have to expend energy to distinguish ourselves from that element of the Internet. It’s good to have a reminder of that every once in a while.


  1. Dirk

    1/30/2007 10:19 am

    Only too true! I also prefer to exactly explain to visitors and subscribers what happens next to ensure they are aware of the next step that needs to be fulfilled. Another important point is to tell subscribers to add my sender mail address to the whitebox of their spam filters immediately.

  2. Houstin Hutton

    1/30/2007 11:37 am

    What most eService industries don’t seem to comprehend is that a subscriber maybe interested in a particular eNewsletter but what happens is they also add a subscribers name to a few hundred other eMarketers. Some call this affiliate marketing but I call it spam. In the past week I added my name to 3 or 4 sites but just this morning I received promotions from at least 15 e-mails for car financing or insurance. I for one do not need either a car loan or car insurance financing. This is when it becomes spam to me.

  3. Tim Prescott

    1/30/2007 1:23 pm

    Simple but great post, once again! Leave it to the media to blatantly try to ruin good, solid business practices! It really gets me how much of a negative impact the media has on the public whether they try or not!

    They go out of their way to tell readers, watchers and listeners how to assume that everyone online is bad from the start and how they shouldn’t trust any business…so the result is just as this post reads! You’d be amzed at the lengths I go to in taking my opt-ins by the hand, step-by-step to explain and re-assure them that they are NOT getting spammed and still get spam complaints! It’s almost uncanny!

    Trust me on this though…(to everyone reading this post), opt-in email list building always has been the "Secret" to online business and always will be! The media’s not as powerful as they thik they are!


  4. Justin Premick

    1/30/2007 1:23 pm


    You bring up another point on which legitimate opt-in marketers can (and need to) distinguish themselves: privacy.

    It’s a good idea to include a privacy policy on your site. If it’s short enough, include it in the text around your opt-in form; if not, provide a link to it instead. Clearly state what you will and will not do with subscribers’ email addresses.

    Assuaging subscriber fears about what’s going to happen to their email address after they provide it to you goes a long way toward building their trust in you and in your business as a whole.

  5. Dawud Miracle

    1/30/2007 2:54 pm

    Interesting and unfortunate article that I’m sure was picked up and syndicated. It’s too bad about all this spam nonsense. I saw a blogger the other day celebrating his one millionth comment spam caught by Akismet. So it’s everywhere.

    I guess the best we can do is protect ourselves with verified opt-in and good privacy policies.

  6. Keith & TheSmackPack

    1/30/2007 6:05 pm

    I couldn’t agree more about content. If we all provide incredible targeted valuable content, you will not have many unsubscribing.

    Thanks Aweber for a great service

  7. Rob Toth

    1/30/2007 8:18 pm

    Then there are those who are still new to autoresponders and mailing lists.

    I have a colleague, 68 years old, very much not compatible with technology… she opts in for an offer here, an offer there then writes to me saying they won’t stop sending her messages (so I of course suggest she unsubscribe and have to explain what it means).

    Meanwhile, she visits one of my webpages, opts in to a 7 day ecourse and replies to several of those messages as if they were written "live" directly to her (since the autoresponse sequence uses personalization fields). Again, I step in to explain the automation and the ecourse she subscribed to.

  8. Chris

    1/31/2007 1:35 am

    To answer the original question of why they don’t just unsubscribe, in many cases, people are too lazy or just plain stupid.

  9. Lewis

    1/31/2007 7:56 am

    Let’s just hope more and more people get BlackBerrys (BlackBerrys?).

    There is no ‘SPAM’ button, and all you can do is either delete the message or press to go to the bottom and then click unsubscribe!

    Hooray for the BlackBerry!

    But HTML messages don’t display. One reason I send all mine out in text format.

  10. Mubita

    1/31/2007 8:55 am

    You guys rock. Thanks for the affirmation. I have had to clean up my list recently. I deleated all the inactive subscribers so I can have an accurate count of who subscribes to my list.

    I would like to know though, I have recently seen a surge in the number of people who have e.mailed my auto responder e.mail address but they will not confirm. Why is that? Does it spammers have gotten a hold of my auto responder e.mail address?


  11. Justin Premick

    1/31/2007 9:25 am


    It’s certainly possible that you are receiving spam to your autoresponder email address.

    Don’t worry, since addresses sending spam to your autoresponder won’t confirm, they won’t become active on your list. They’ll automatically be erased 30 days after they emailed the autoresponder.

    Contact our Customer Support Team and we’ll be happy to take a look at your account and see if that is indeed what’s occurring.

  12. Griga

    2/2/2007 5:04 am

    There is no ‘SPAM’ button, and all you can do is either delete the message or press to go to the bottom and then click unsubscribe!

  13. Justin Premick

    2/2/2007 8:52 am


    Depending on your email client, you may or may not have a "Spam" button.

  14. Barb

    2/2/2007 4:12 pm

    How many "complaints" does it take to have an ISP block your messages?

    Even if it’s not our fault, those "complaints" can hurt us.

  15. Justin Premick

    2/2/2007 4:40 pm


    ISPs are aware that not all clicks on that "Spam" button mean that the user thinks you’re spamming; however, at the same time they have the thankless task of trying to figure out who’s spamming and who isn’t, and they employ a whole host of tactics to do that.

    With that in mind, there’s not a specific number of complaints that I can give you and say "Now, don’t get this many."

    The important thing is to do what you can to minimize the occurrence of complaints, such as:

    * Confirm All Subscribers
    * Provide Value in Your Messages
    * Mail Regularly so Subscribers Don’t Forget You

    Do that, and you should be just fine.

  16. Andrew Cavanagh

    2/3/2007 1:22 am

    My observation with my client’s spam complaints is that the majority of spam complaints from aweber lists usually come from non-internet marketing niches.

    It seems that people have already subscribed to a lot of lists know it’s safe to use an unsubscribe link.

    But in non internet marketing niches you do get these amazing spam complaints (people just pressing the spam button when they’re going through their email despite the fact they had to double optin to get on the list).

    I’ve seen these spam complaints with completely innocous lists that send links to high quality content once a week and have NEVER offered a product for sale.

    Where the company sending the email is THE highest regarded company in the niche – revered and upheld as being completely honest, scrupulous and held in the warmest regard by just about everyone.

    Lists with daily feedback from subcribers saying they love the content – RAVE about it.

    Ultimately even when you do everything right and there’s no possible reason for any subscriber to complain you will get the odd spam complaint.

    But following this advice and reducing them to the minimum is good marketing and good business for many different reasons.

  17. Paul Elliott

    2/3/2007 3:53 pm


    Several months ago I fell into the trap that the WSJ mentions.

    I had gotten 3-4 emails scattered over about 2 months that seemed to have some legitimacy. When I unsubscribed they began coming from all kinds of email addresses up to 12 a day and have persisted. Now, of course I have no alternative but to go through a massive deleting process every day or two.

    I now realize these pfishing emails can look very sophisticated and give content of some value yet plague one for a long time for trying to stop them.

    The wiser

  18. andrew wee

    2/3/2007 4:22 pm

    The most irritation thing is that even after a double opt-in process, some ignorant list members will report the mail as spam to their ISP, even after my details and address and unsubscribe info appears at the bottom of the list.

    Why can’t people take 20 seconds to look at the unsubscribe info?

    After all, they’d opted in to the list in the first place.

    I think one of the ways to get around this is to have detailed opt-in and opt-out info in their welcome email, or even a 3-5 page PDF instruction sheet.

    Ignorance will cause deliverability issues to other subscribers on the same domain/service provider.

  19. Mubita

    2/4/2007 2:12 pm

    Thanks again for all the wonderful feedback. Some of youhave said, just mail your newsletter regulary so people do not forget. I want to know from everyone, "How often do you send your letters?"Is weekly the best or bi-weekly? My newsletter is weekly and has an open rate of about 70%. Is that normal or is that a bit too much frequency? Everynow I have 100% open rates but not as much as I did when I got started over a year ago with aweber.

  20. John Ruppel

    2/5/2007 12:38 am

    One of the things that you suggest is to mail your subscribers regularly so they don’t forget you. Have you guys done a study to see if there is some period that is optimum to minimize spam complaints? Bascially, how often is regularly, and coversely, how often is too often? Does the percentage of spam complaints track how often email is sent, and is there a sweet spot?

  21. Justin Premick

    2/5/2007 9:53 am

    Mubita and John,

    I don’t have any system-wide statistics on the relationship between frequency, opens and complaints.

    To be honest, I don’t think there’s a "sweet spot" that can be applied to all publishers.

    I agree that there’s a "sweet spot" between mailing too infrequently (and being forgotten) and too often (and being annoying), but I think that its location will vary from campaign to campaign based on what you’re sending and what subscribers feel to be an appropriate frequency to receive that information. Part of that has to do with the quality of content (as perceived by your subscribers) – the better your content is, the more often you can send to subscribers and expect high open and low complaint rates.

    Ultimately, I recommend testing different frequencies to find the sweet spot for your campaigns/subscribers.

  22. Bob Tyndall

    2/5/2007 2:41 pm
  23. » A Love-Hate Relationship with Email - AWeber Blog

    2/13/2007 9:22 am

    […] Nearly a third of people surveyed “believe the unsubscribe button in e-mail offers does not work.” This echoes the sentiment from a NY Times article we blogged last month, and reinforces the idea that people click the “Spam” button for a lot of reasons. […]

  24. P Taskey

    2/18/2007 8:36 am

    I have to agree with Bob.When you do try and opt out of unwanted solicitation, what happens is exactly as he described and you’ll end up receiving 20 more offers the following week from "similar" spammers.

    I just had my first "spam" complaint and was devastated and confused. I guess I need to "educate" my subscribers.

    Anyway, that’s how I ended up on this page – looking to try and determine the best frequency of mailing.I’m tempted to change my settings to mailing in 3 week intervals after this complaint, but don’t want to make people feel like they are hanging too long (giving an ecourse on SEO), nor do I want overkill.

    Since I’m online nearly 24/7, I tend to forget that there are MANY people out there who only access their internet service once a week or less often than that, and that since some are not doing business online with several email accounts, these people are not used to sifting through 500 emails a day. I don’t want them to open their mailbox once a month and find 4 unread emails lined up from me. Guess I’ll have to play with the timing a bit and see what works best.

    Dumb question…how do you know whether they’re opening your mail and which links they’re clicking on (I enabled link tracking) but haven’t learned how to "use it" LOL!


  25. P Taskey

    2/18/2007 12:42 pm

    There! I created a web poll on my new message board, AND a little info to help visitors understand the difference between SPAM and OPT-IN email – plus how to get rid of unwanted things. Feel free to send your visitors to participate in the poll if you like. They do NOT need to register in order to vote or comment. I will share the results here with you after enough "data" has been gathered – since the MB is brand new it may take roughly a month.

    Here is the link: http://designinglife.proboards77.com/index.cgi?board=webpolls&action=display&thread=1171810654

    I also put a link in a new email to my subscribers with a little blurb on how to combat spam in general.

  26. Tor

    2/19/2007 4:43 pm

    There should be a way to determine if a unsubscribe link is legit, like a certification or something.

  27. Matt Ellsworth

    2/20/2007 2:35 pm

    This is very true – and very annoying as well to those of us who are legitimate email marketers. Its true that maybe clicking a remove link thats in an email ad for something that doens’t even look legitimate – but for the rest of us – it is silly to think that our links don’t work.

  28. P Taskey

    2/21/2007 2:42 pm

    Thank you to the person who pointed out that my POLL is not working properly. Sorry everyone. Apparently it is necessary to register but I will need to look further into it and see what is going on. The link above will not work since I deleted it for the time being.

    Have a great day.

  29. Internet, Email and RSS Marketing » Blog Archive » Why We All Get Flagged as Spammers

    5/25/2007 6:20 pm

    […] Justin Premick of AWeber.com wrote a good article with lots of good comments and questions that you can read here on why people don’t just unsubscribe. […]

  30. Joe Sotomayor

    6/6/2007 11:52 am

    Great post! We recently signed up with Aweber to start our email marketing campaign and are getting pretty good results. It is a great service because the truth is that we truly do not want our customers to identify our emails as spam. We are honestly trying to provide them with good valuable information and discount offers.

    Allowing them to choose to receive our emails will definitely provide us with great targeted leads.


  31. Thomas

    7/14/2007 10:11 pm

    What an eye opener. Never thought that spammers had gone so far in terms of their tricks to get emails on their list. As a marketer, I definitely feels that this is where being an authority site is all about. You give out great information which readers truly appreciates, and they will be staying on the edge of their chairs waiting for your very next email. That way, the chances of getting listed as a spammer is greatly reduced.

  32. Helen

    5/20/2008 6:48 pm

    It would also be nice if Aweber would add a feature that lets us scan for inactive leads like subscribers who haven’t opened a email for over 6 months, so then we could delete them.

  33. Olivia

    2/9/2010 4:19 pm

    It would very helpful for us customers if Aweber would add a feature that lets us search for inactive leads like subscribers who haven?t opened a email for long periods of time so then we could delete them.

  34. Bob

    9/28/2011 12:51 pm

    It’s disheartening that those who actually work hard and ethically at doing marketing services are tangled up in such deceit. The trick is to find places that won’t get your email as part of these spam spider webs. Thanks for the heads up to these practices.

  35. Natan

    4/11/2012 3:17 am

    I used to have a lot of spam links in the blog for my site for free Internet radio player and I even closed the comments section for a while. I really hate spam! I haven’t used Aweber though and I think I should start.
    It would be good if there was a feature letting us scan inactive leads, like Helen suggested above.