The Golden Rule: {Email} Unsubscribe Link Treatment

While we are now fully dependent on data and metrics to drive marketing strategy, I believe we can, and should, keep fundamental concepts like “The Golden Rule” in mind as a general guide and starting point for all aspects of a marketing campaign, message, or general strategy.

It may not be immediately apparent, but styling and structural treatments can, and in some cases, follow “The Golden Rule”-based foundations. One example I’ve often faced is placement, size, style, and quantity of “unsubscribe” links.

Regardless of phrase used – opt-out, unsubscribe, “say goodbye”, “disconnect”, or any other “creative” iteration – the unsubscribe link is one of the most critical, and legally required, elements of your email. That “legally required” part seems to catch a lot of people, as most questions I’ve been asked have involved burying or shadowing unsubscribe links to minimize their visual impact, the bare minimum to fulfill the basic legal requirement.

This strategy of burying or otherwise minimizing unsubscribe links, though, is little more than giving a big middle finger to the email recipient base. Why hide the link? So people can’t find it? Well, in very nature, that’s basically eliminating the subscriber’s only friendly option for opting out of receiving emails they don’t want, leaving them with the unfriendly option, “the spam button” (duh duh duh…….).


(Source: Breath of Optimism)


So, following the theme used in my recent “The Golden Rule: {Email} Cadence” blog, let’s visualize this with another hypothetical dialog:

Other: Can we make our unsubscribe link really small and put it at the bottom of our emails?

Me: I’d recommend placing it at both the top and bottom of the email, and while they can be smaller than regular body content, I wouldn’t necessary make them “small” – make it easy for your readers to find.

Other: What? Why? Can we make it a color similar to the footer background so it doesn’t stand out?

Me: I always like text links to be bold and underlined – it’s good for accessibility, and helps to overcome challenges with consistency between email client/device combinations. And, you should use a legible color – make it easy for your readers to find.

Other: But why would I want to make it easy for people to find the unsubscribe link – I don’t want them to unsubscribe.

Me: Unfortunately, that’s not our choice. If a subscriber wants to unsubscribe, they will, either by unsubscribing through your unsubscribe link, or through their device/client adding unsubscribe options such as Gmail and Hotmail, or by hitting spam.

Other: But if my link is obvious and easy to find, everyone will unsubscribe.

Me: High unsubscribe rates are often indicators of an unhealthy email marketing program – subscribers are or become uninterested, they receive too many emails from a specific company, they receive too many emails in general, the emails they receive are or become irrelevant, or they had an unpleasant experience with a company and are simply done with it.

Other: I still don’t think that’s a good idea, I think the link should be all the way at the bottom and hard to find. Now you’re not only talking about making it easy to find, but you also want to put one at the top!?

Me: Ok, let’s look at it another way. What would you do if you kept receiving emails from a company you didn’t want to hear from – maybe you went hiking once, hated it, and never want to think about hiking gear again. But, you signed up to a company like REI’s email list, and keep getting their emails. You finally had enough, you went to unsubscribe, but couldn’t find the link. What would you do?

Other: Well, I’d hit spam. I can’t stand it when companies like that keep sending me stuff.

(mic drop)


The Golden Rule: {Email} Cadence

While we are now fully dependent on data and metrics to drive marketing strategy, I believe we can, and should, keep fundamental concepts like “The Golden Rule” in mind as a general guide and starting point for all aspects of a marketing campaign, message, or general strategy.

Of the myriad of variations of The Golden Rule, the message is the same: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So, how would or should we apply this to email message frequency, or, more specifically, message cadence?


I am often asked how many emails are too many? How many are too few? My response, and the resulting conversation often goes something like this:

Other: How many emails can we send in a week before our customers unsubscribe?
Me: When was the last time you unsubscribed from a company’s emails?
Other: Oh, just yesterday, XXXX was sending me three emails a week and I just couldn’t take it!
Me: I’d start there. Cut your six emails per week to three, check the response in your engagement rates, and test two or four after a few weeks, see if the higher or lower send counts effect engagement. Keep working it until you’ve dialed it in.
Other: It’s that simple?
Me: Absolutely not. If your two, three, or thirteen emails each week don’t offer fresh, new, interesting, and engaging content, don’t send them. Don’t tell your customers that you’re having a big sale four times in four days. That seems anxious and unsuccessful, needy. Don’t tell people you launched a new product a dozen times – it’s only new once. Keep in mind what would cause you to look away, unsubscribe, or, worse, “hit spam”, and don’t do it.
Other: But we make money every time we send an email.
Me: Are you also losing subscribers?
Other: Yes.
Me: Then you’re also losing money. Your customers will not be ready for a shift, so expect some drop in conversion. But, in time, they will become comfortable with the new cadence, they will begin to look forward to your next sale email instead of expecting it at the same time on the same day of each week. They will engage more, which will lead to them buying more. But best of all, you won’t lose them.

The Golden Rule

My (coming soon) series on “The Golden Rule” may seem redundant, repetitive, and, for many, unnecessary based on each topic’s relative “common knowledge”. But, as with common courtesy, common knowledge is often not so common. This first entry to my “The Golden Rule” series overs Email Frequency, hopefully answering for many the often-asked question: “How many emails can/should we send to each subscriber each week/month/etc.?”

To be honest, I hadn’t heard “The Golden Rule” identified as “The Golden Rule” until a few months ago, when my wife first mentioned it to our five-year-old son. I can’t remember the context, but I think it was for chasing his sister around the house, teasing or taunting her, something along those lines – stuff like that happens enough it’s highly likely.

Either way, I’ve found The Golden Rule can really be applied to range of situations, including marketer’s treatment of customers. Marketing has always involved turning contacts into customers in one form or another. And, unfortunately, many marketers lose their focus on the true bottom line, “The Golden Rule”.

My intention is to help you understand how The Golden Rule applies to marketing, particularly Email Marketing, based on a number of real-life questions and situations where I’ve applied it. The goal: to help you, and others, understand the importance of walking a mile in your (potential) customers’ shoes, treating your (potential) customers as you’d like to be treated, and marketing to your (potential) customers as you’d like to be marketed to.


So, you will see my following posts regarding The Golden Rule, and how I believe it should be used to direct our efforts as marketers, and people in general, to do right by both our companies as well as our customers. Hopefully, you’ll see a common concept form: base your marketing strategy on factors that drive you to follow a company, to buy their products, and to continue your patronage, and you will succeed. Lose sight of that simple concept, and you will struggle.