Unsubscribe Your Way to Better Deliverability


I found the silver bullet! The one that will guarantee you inbox placement!

The elusive, but oh so powerful, UNSUBSCRIBE … (pause for dramatic effect)

Ok, maybe announcing it as the ‘silver bullet’ and a ‘guarantee’ was a bit much and maybe a tad bit of an overstatement, BUT hear me out first.

Note: The Author of this blog post, Jennifer Nespola Lantz (Kickbox), will be leading a discussion on this topic during the OI-members-only Live Zoom on Thursday, December 7, 2023.

OI members -- see you there! Not a member? Join today -- or reach out to Jeanne, our general manager, to learn more. 

One of the Deliverability Keystones is your customer. Regardless of if you collected explicit consent or not, as soon as they tire and want you to cease and desist your mail, that departure should not cause a strain to your program.

Here are 5 reasons to embrace the unsubscribe and how it ultimately improves your deliverability.

It’s Mandated

Outside of an unsubscribe being legally mandated by many sending laws globally, Gmail and Yahoo are requiring you to go further than the minimum unsubscribe link in your message body. Starting in 2024, they are asking for not just List-Unsubscribe in the header, but its extension, List-Unsubscribe-Post. There are at least 5 reasons you want list-unsubscribe in your life; now you have another one! Without it you’re going to have problems at Gmail and Yahoo.

This elevates the value of the unsubscribe to both mailbox providers and senders. It gives mailbox providers more data points to track if a sender is following the recipient's wishes. And with that, Gmail and Yahoo are both stating that they want unsubscribes honored in two days, not the ten CAN-SPAM allows for, but TWO.

In one fell swoop the unsubscribe’s value jumps even higher for bulk senders as it’s now a technical key required to get the bulk mail delivered to the inbox. Having it doesn’t guarantee inbox placement, but NOT having it guarantees your inbox presence will drop.

Improves Reputation through Accuracy

List-unsubscribe also gives mailbox providers a way to enhance its platform making email management easier for a recipient.

Tabs and views have been added to better categorize mail for users. List-Unsubscribe opens up the door to help users better manage their subscriptions. Both Yahoo and Microsoft offer these abilities.

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Image source: Get Stuff Done, Yahoo Blog

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Image source: ZDNET

This gives users a one-stop location to remove streams they no longer want, making the removal process much easier. And when something is easy, well, humans like the path of least resistance.

Without an easy way to unsubscribe, scrolling and searching for an unsubscribe is a lot when you have a lot of mail is not easy, what will a recipient do next?

  1. Select All
  2. SPAM

With that oh so easy Spam button, mail is removed today and mail is removed forever.

The Spam button reaction isn’t always the result of end users thinking about how your brand eats mulch and they want to punish you with a dreaded spam complaint to impact your reputation. They just want to clean up their busy digital lives.

The ability to make the unsubscribe more accessible adds ease to the process AND if more users are using that option to remove mail, it will make the spam complaints that come in more accurate and meaningful. Which may also mean that the complaint rate some are used to seeing in reports without issue may have a different threshold (meaning the bar is raised).

Based on Gmail and Yahoo’s announcement, aim to stay below 0.1% (a number that has been pushed for a long time), although depending on the conditions, that could still be problematic and land your mail in the spam folder. If you near 0.3%, you are looking at big time problems.

So in summary, unsubscribes help deliverability because they reduce the likelihood of a complaint coming in, improving a sender’s reputation (assuming you’re a legitimately good sender, bad senders it won’t move the needle much.)

Improves Onboarding

Unsubscribes aren’t just for AFTER you tire, but should be upfront at the point where the relationship begins. Set all the expectations and allow your customer to give you their preferences.

Preference centers may not make a huge difference, but if you can set the expectations upfront and give them some choices, it will help battle email fatigue and disappointment if it’s clear what you will be sending from day 1. And sharing that information isn’t enough, follow through with it!.

OH, and don’t be shady and sign them up for 12 lists when they opted in for one. That is guaranteed to cause complaints no matter how many unsubscribes you throw at them.

As an example, I signed up for a newsletter from an athletic publisher and without me knowing it, I was subscribed to ALL of their publications. Not a good experience.

I could have filed a complaint for each message that came in, but because I’m way too email geeky, I removed myself from all of them via the nice means, even the one I originally signed up for.

Not everyone is that generous nor does everyone understand that all streams are related or tied to the same company/brand so one signup could result in MANY complaints.

Setting the expectations, properly subscribing, and offering easy ways to unsubscribe at the start, builds a stronger, more lasting relationship. Strong relationships are great for deliverability.

It works

Many fear the unsubscribe. They fear its ability to reduce their list size. They fear, if they elevate it to the top of their email or (gasp) make the footer more visually prominent and not with a 9pt font, it will incentivize removal.

But if you are sending wanted content, why would anyone unsubscribe? People aren’t unsubscribing because they see a link. They unsubscribe because they aren’t interested.

From my experience, giving the unsubscribe link a spotlight only helps a program. For one of our clients we suggested adding an unsubscribe link to the top of their email. Their unsubscribes jumped, but their complaints dropped. And we slowly saw better engagement and end of funnel metrics following.

Granted we were consistently working on this program so I can’t say the drop in complaints is 100% the work of moving it to the top, BUT we moved it midway through week 10 and weren’t making many other changes for a couple weeks so that initial drop does speak volumes.

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The easier you make it to get removed, the faster you get rid of those most likely to complain. The ones that don’t do anything likely won’t complain, but will be the ones bringing that silent deadweight to your programs and often automatically filter to the spam folder, adding even more signals that spam filtering is desired.

The recipients that do action, previous openers, clickers, etc. are also the ones that may be more prone to take negative action. Don’t give them a reason.

Unsubscribes are shown to improve deliverability by “softly” removing customers that may be future complainers, improving the quality of your list and the overall performance of your program.

It’s good energy

Lastly, be a human. If someone wants to go, make it painfully easy to go, but also easy to come back. Make those expectations known. And if your list drops a bit, work harder on the onboarding and offerings (financial or informational) to give them a lasting relationship. That’s all email is: a digital relationship that is mutually beneficial.


Embrace the unsubscribe like you embrace a missing sock, “AHA! I found it!” and don’t let it go astray again.