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With all of the talk these days about marketing automation, which uses email as one of its primary channels, I thought it might be a good idea to look at a couple of best practice concepts for handling unsubscribes and spam complaints.

But, Why?

You have your list of people that you send your email marketing messages to. You’re sending messages on a fairly regular basis, but you’re still getting people that are unsubscribing from your emails. Why?

There is no one definitive reason why people unsubscribe from email. The broad reason that is given is that your messages are no longer relevant to what the person’s interest was when they signed up to receive it. Though this is the most likely very general rule for unsubscribing activities, it’s not the only one.

A Bad Crowd

Another reason that you email messages might be getting unsubscribes could have nothing to do with you. It could be a result of oversaturation.

Oversaturation happens when a person subscribes to a lot of emails, because at the time they are very interested in the topic, so the messages are highly relevant to them. However, over time these people can drift out of that interest level (they may have purchased the product that they were interested in or they may have solved the problem that they were trying to figure out). Quite often, due to the volume of emails that people are receiving, they will start to unsubscribe en masse.

If your email happens to arrive on the day that they are cleaning house, the chance that they will unsubscribe from your email too is very likely.


The overexposure situation happens when the recipient receives messages too frequently. The obvious answer to this problem is to send fewer emails, but how much less?

It’s a delicate balance between overexposure and underexposure. To find that balance, try running some AB tests on your list to find the frequency that your audience is most comfortable with.

It’s Inevitable

You’re diligent about maintaining your list, you follow double opt-in guidelines, and you consciously make sure that your messages are providing relevant information for the recipient, but you still have people marking your email as spam!

Why people mark an email as spam can be a mystery, but there are some things that you can do to minimize this from happening.

  • Follow best practices for compliance with the Can-Spam law.
  • Don’t let too much time lapse between when someone opts-in to your list and when they receive their first email.
  • Make sure that your unsubscribe link is very visible and that it’s working properly.