Gmail recently announced the addition of an auto-unsubscribe feature to promotional messages, making it easier for Gmail users to unsubscribe from messages they no longer want to receive.
On most promotional messages with unsubscribe options, Gmail users are seeing a more prominent link at the top of the email beside the sender’s name, allowing them to unsubscribe without looking around for the typical place at the bottom of the message.
Marketers have asked if this is a good thing or bad thing for them, and others have asked how they need to get it implemented. In this post, I’ll explain why this feature is important and the steps needed to get the auto-unsubscribe feature enabled.
Gmail’s Auto-Unsubscribe: What Is It?
If you look at the from address below, you’ll notice a link on the right hand side clearly stating “Unsubscribe.” Gmail users can click on this and be unsubscribed from future mailings. Gmail warns their users that this can take up to a few days, but this is entirely dependent on how fast the unsubscribes are processed.
Why You Want To Make It Easy For Your Subscribers To Leave
Some email marketers think this adds insult to injury coming right after the release of Gmail’s tabbed inbox. The naysayers are worried that not only are people ignoring email delivered to the promotional tab, now they will unsubscribe in droves, driving subscription numbers even lower.
While this is possible, it’s highly unlikely, and in fact, will likely drive complaint rates lower for brands which will then improve deliverability and increase inbox placement rates.
By giving subscribers a no-hassle way to unsubscribe, they will be less likely to mark an email as spam. Additionally, since the link will be a trusted link provided by Gmail, the subscriber will be more likely to click on the link rather than ignoring future messages. And, as most know, Gmail is using engagement as a means to determine future inbox placement, so having messages be ignored may be more detrimental than an unsubscribe.
Long story short, this is a win for marketers, and every marketer should look at implementing the auto-unsubscribe if they haven’t already.
How To Implement Gmail’s Auto-Unsubscribe Feature
Gmail’s unsubscribe feature is based on the list-unsubscribe header. The list-unsubscribe header is an x-header, which means it appears in the email header, but isn’t visible within email clients.
As a result, email providers like Gmail can use this as a way to create an action. The list-unsubscribe header can appear as an email address, a website, or both. See the example below of how that would appear with in email header. In this example, I’m using both the MAILTO and the URL versions.
Subject: We need to implement this list-unsubscribe thing
Date: February 22, 2014 12:16:59 PM MST
List-Unsubscribe: <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>, <http://somedomain.com/user/unsubscribe/?sid=abcdefg>
Based on our own testing, it appears that Gmail will act on the last specified function, so in the example above, it would ask the user if they wanted to visit the URL to unsubscribe.
If only the MAILTO version was listed, or if it appeared last, an email message would be sent seamlessly behind the scenes to the address given. Gmail has stated that they prefer the MAILTO version and have suggested they may move away from the URL altogether in the future.
If you are using multiple unsubscribe email addresses, Gmail recommends fewer than five variations. Additionally, if you do implement the auto-unsubscribe feature, ensure that you are actually removing people from your list.
If it’s found that you are continuing to mail to a user after they click on the Unsubscribe link, deliverability to all users, and not just that one user who clicked on the unsubscribe link, can suffer as a result.
One Last Step
Implementing the list-unsubscribe header is a major step in users’ seeing the auto-unsubscribe feature in your emails. However, in some cases, senders may still find that the unsubscribe link isn’t present.
Gmail has indicated that the unsubscribe link will only appear for senders with positive reputations, meaning that spammers and phishers won’t be able to abuse this feature and use it as a way to validate if an email address is real or not.
That means if you’re starting to mail from a new IP addresses or from new domains, it’s likely the unsubscribe feature won’t appear until you’ve established a positive sending history. If you have an established sending history but your recipients aren’t seeing the link, it’s likely you have a reputation problem, and you can read my previous article on steps needed to improve your reputation at Gmail.
If you do nothing else, implement and test the unsubscribe feature to see if it has a meaningful impact on your deliverability without causing a decline in your list. If it does, you can always remove the x-header if you find it hurts rather than helps, but I doubt that will occur in any case.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.