Unsubscribe (aka ‘the Internet Way of Saying “It’s Not You, It’s Me.”’)

My personal inbox is full of opt-in marketing… I receive newsletters about hotels, concerts, travel insurance, car insurance, DVDs, cheap flights… seems you can’t buy anything these days without ending up on their list. Spam is one thing, but most of this is stuff I have actually signed up for – albeit unwittingly – over the years. You know the deal - “by purchasing this motor insurance you agree to receive blah blah blah from time to time” and you never get around to opting-out?

So I spent a happy Saturday morning unsubscribing from every piece of legitimate-but-unwanted marketing material in my inbox… and it’s remarkable how diverse something as simple as the unsubscribe experience can get. Here is how unsubscribe should work. I want to click an unsubscribe link. I do not want to log in and update my preferences. I want to click one link. I want to get a page that’s looks like it’s somehow connected to the organisation who are sending me this stuff – even if it’s just a logo at the top of the page. I want a message informing me that my e-mail address has been removed. I see that, I feel all happy, like you care about me, and you care about your brand, and I’ll come back and do business with you again, because I know you’re happy to let me walk away if I want to.


It’s amazing how many unsubscribe links go to a page called unsubscribe.htm – htm! - on unrelated domain (some third-party mailing list provider) with no branding or connection to the company you’re dealing with, and give you some completely impersonal “Your request has been acknowledged” message. Don’t acknowledge my request – take me off the damn list already. “Acknowledging my request” is right up there with my call being important to you, your being an equal opportunities employer, and your product helping weight loss as part of a calorie controlled diet.

Oh – and when I click the same link again, I’d love a message saying “you’re already unsubscribed”. Unsubscribe should not be idempotent. If they really removed you from the list the first time, what exactly are they doing the second time?

PS: Whilst we’re talking usability and logging in and stuff, how many times has this happened to you?

  1. Go to website login form
  2. Enter your e-mail address and password… “sorry, incorrect password”
  3. Click “Forgotten password”…
  4. …and have to enter your e-mail address again?

I just told you my e-mail address… is it too much to ask that you remember it for fifteen seconds?