A Matter of Preference: Go Beyond Barely Functional With Your Email Preference Center

I subscribe to an ever-revolving variety of email programs, looking at old, new, large and small email offerings, and the experience offered by each. A recent streak of unsubscribing highlighted a few trends in the design of preference centers.

Preference centers revolve around a central idea: choice. This is the subscriber’s control center, the place where big decisions are made – the level of personal info they offer, the programs in which they participate, the kind of content they want, and whether they want to cut ties. The vast majority of brands are doing a capable job of offering this set of options, and a few may be doing them well.

Overall, though, many preference centers are designed to be barely functional. Some are no more than a couple of headlines and an army of checkboxes. “Designed” might even be generous, in some cases! Here are a few of my favorite ways to make a more interesting and effective preference center.

How Much Is Too Much?

Frequency options are a regular on lists of preference center best practices, and they’re a requirement for high frequency senders. That’s not to say frequency options are easy to pull off from an operational perspective – it can be hard work. That’s often represented in the presentation of this option. Its presence may be strategic, but its design is almost always an obligatory bullet list of options.



Jetsetter is one of the few positive examples when it comes to giving a frequency option the care it deserves. The page promotes the value of each option via a name and short paragraph of explanatory text.

The text outlines frequency, value and content differences between choices – the daily “inspiration” option uses the most desirable language, but as frequency (and thus conversion opportunities) decreases we move to “update” and finally “reminder”. Unsubscribe even has a place in the frequency list, rather than being set aside. It’s easy to find, but also at the end of a list that implies declining benefit.

The initial highlight on daily is another point to note. Jetsetter has given a clear choice of frequency and clearly suggested a starting point. They’ve also made the list usable, with all options visible and arranged in a scale of declining frequency/value. The purpose of a frequency choice comes from comparing options and choosing one that most closely aligns to a subscriber’s interest, yet I’ve encountered many dropdowns that hide options and unnecessarily disguise choices.

Saying Goodbye Isn’t Easy… So Don’t Make It Difficult

It happened. I’m done, I’m ready to unsubscribe. In the email it’s important to have easy and direct access to an unsubscribe link, and resolving that experience painlessly on the preference center is just as important. That doesn’t mean giving up, though. Here are two subscriber-friendly ways to make them rethink the departure:

1. Remind the subscriber of the program’s value proposition. What do you promote at signup? Are there other reasons subscribers choose to join or stick with the program? These are a starting point for restating the value prop.

You can even tell them how the value proposition has changed or expanded over time to indicate they’ll be missing the future growth of the program. A great variation on this idea can be seen on Facebook’s old deactivation page.

If a user chose to deactivate an account, the confirmation page presented a very effective take on value proposition via the user’s social data, which forms the core value of the service. The page uses both network size (“your x friends…”) and immediate personal connections (the individuals displayed are the last three to whom you sent messages) to encourage the user to stay.

2. Revisiting the earlier topic, frequency or volume can be an issue for subscribers, so make decreasing frequency an option. Check out the Fab example below – this unsub page first offers a very immediate and direct option to unsubscribe, then presents a great frequency control panel. The visual alone is interesting enough to at least give pause, and may remind the subscriber on forgotten aspects of the program.



Also notice the email address displayed at the top of the page, to confirm the action will be taken for the correct user. A certain amount of banner blindnesss may come into play here, so reiterating the email address in the button text would be the sure-fire way for correct identification.

The last point to note here is that little link below the frequency panel. It links to the full preference center – this page is just for unsubscribes. While the full page isn’t wildly different, it does have more options and a slightly different focus. Fab recognized that a user trying to unsubscribe needs a slightly different message than one viewing the preference page in other circumstances and appropriately messaged to those needs.


A Clear Picture Of The Options

Expectation setting is key at signup. That applies to more than the initial submission of an email address — expectations should be revisited with any change. Let’s look at subscription options for both multiple in-channel streams and representing multiple channels.

Pillsbury provides a nice example taking a step beyond the checkbox army of communication stream options. Their subscription page, though not technically on the preference center, gives a clear indication of each communication with a helpful headline, two-sentence description, and an indicative visual that becomes a full sample.

The samples themselves look clean, colorful and friendly, providing the right emotional cue for what a subscriber would receive.


That’s a great setup if we’re only looking at email, but we also need to think multi-channel. Looking at the Papa John’s preference center, you’ll see email and mobile immediately next to each other, making both easily and centrally available to the user.

Many brands don’t manage these options in the same place – SMS, especially, is often ignored in preference centers. Combining channel interaction options in the same preference center is much friendlier to the end user, and acknowledges that while corporate structure may dictate how channels function, it’s all the same brand to a user.


What’s missing here is a statement on the value and differentiation of the channels – I get a general idea with “offers and alerts”, but it’s a statement rather than a pitch.

Preferences or multiple communications within a channel is one thing, but giving permission to contact me in multiple ways requires a serious amount of trust and interest. What do I receive from each channel? Is it purely a channel preference with duplicate messaging, or does channel-unique value exist?

A Matter Of Preference

Whether it’s frequency, goodbyes or options, preference centers are a powerful point of control for users. As marketers and designers, we need to remember that even a page with a technical or functional focus still needs a creative and critical eye.

Everyone loves a good preference center example, and they’re not always easy to come by. Encountered a great one? Drop a note or link in the comments.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Email Marketing | Email Marketing | Email Marketing Column


About The Author: is Global Practice Manager, Design Solutions at ExactTarget. He heads email design execution and standards at ExactTarget and works with leading brands across a range of industries, from Expedia to Bank of America. Find him on Twitter @cstudabaker and ask what board games he's playing lately.

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