Problem 1: Short Term Marketing Focus:The world of the internet moves very quickly. As a result, most web-based business make marketing decisions quickly using the earliest available indicators. The simplest indicators to track derive directly from the short term click and conversion volumes for the traffic driven by each marketing campaign. It is very well known that clicks and conversions improve proportionally to increases in email volume. As a result, most businesses have a strong incentive to increase email volumes and are not sensitive to the longer term effect of increase opt-out rates. Unfortunately this problem is fundamentally impossible to address directly.
Problem 2: Insufficient Regulation:The current SPAM regulations prevent many forms of direct communication with end-users and also require the need for an 'opt-out' mechanism. This has helped considerably as high-quality mailing lists now provide a streamlined 1-click optout mechanisms. Additionally, privacy regulations usually prevent the sharing of email lists. Unfortunately, clever marketing companies have quickly discovered a major loophole in the existing regulation: Opt-Out Obfuscation. Rather than providing a simple unsubscribe mechanism, marketers have devised several strategies that reduce effective opt-out rate by intentionally complicating the opt-out process. Here's a few of the best:
- 2-Click Unsubscribe - Rather than opting-out an address when an unsubscribe link is clicked, many companies will require the user to click a second link in a unsubscribe popup dialog. This unsubscribe pipeline is intentionally designed to increase the burden on the end-user to fully opt-out. As a result, many users will fail to complete the opt-out process and stay on the marketer's mailing list.
- Multi-List (3-Click) Unsubscribe - Many marketers maintain several separate mailing lists. By default, a user is opted-in to all possible mailing lists, but instead opted-out of each list individually. Normally, the user is presented with a form to complete on the unsubscribe popup.
- Opt-Out Address Verification - In this scheme, the user must type their email address before they are unsubscribed. Sometimes these systems are case-sensitive, which can require the user to switch back to their email client and identify which variant of their email address has been opted in before they can successfully unsubscribe.
- Generally Confusing Interface - Countless tactics can be used to complicate the opt-out process, including:
- Unsubscribe Link Placement
- Unsubscribe Link Wording - Numerous variants are possible, which making it harder for the eye to quickly scan for the word 'Unsubscribe'
- Hidden Unsubscribe Links - Any color other than blue makes the link harder to find.
- Complex / Confusing Forms
What Can We DO?
- Use the 'Report Spam' feature: Most modern email clients expose a feature to report spam email. This feedback is used to inform spam filtering algorithms. Marketers are aware of the effect of sender reputation and as result closely monitor spam complaint rates. Send markerters a clear message that complex opt-out mechanisms are unacceptable by taking the time to click the 'Report Spam' button in your email client. As an added bonus, this usually will either automatically opt out the address or adjust personalized spam filtering rules.
- Contact an elected official
Case Study: Yahoo
Step 1: Find the initial opt-out link and click. This link does not contain the words 'unsubscribe' or 'opt-out' and is also not included in the header.
Figure 1: Email Footer:
Step 2: Log in to yahoo. In my case, this only required one additional click because my yahoo account was setup with Facebook SSO, but presumably a standalone yahoo user would have to enter their accout username and password.
Figure 2: Login Page
Step 3: Opt-Out form. Most users would have to read two paragraphs before being able to interpret the form actions, and then scroll well below the page-fold before reaching the submit button.
Figure 3: Opt-Out Form
Total Opt-Out Burden: ~50-200 seconds per user.