The Hidden Opportunity in Gmail’s New Unsubscribe Button
As much as marketers want to make things easy for their customers, they don't want to make them too easy. After all, the "add to cart" button is only a click away, but so is the "unsubscribe" button.
When Google announced it was first filtering promotional emails, then introducing a more prominent unsubscribe button that would allow consumers to unsubscribe without opening an email, marketers were up in arms. Google has long since abandoned its "don't be evil" motto, but the change seemed designed to send a message to marketers: "We're on the consumers' side."
Believe it or not, the message isn't hostile. The fact that consumers can now unsubscribe without opening an email is ultimately a positive one for marketers, although it doesn't appear that way at first.
Here's why. Fundamentally, marketers should think of the unsubscribe button, whether at the bottom of an email or elsewhere—as another feedback loop. Consider the alternatives. If your customer can't find the unsubscribe button at the bottom of your email in 8-point font, they may hit "mark as spam" in desperation. Get enough of these frustrated customers to take the same action and inboxing is negatively affected across an entire ISP.
If customers click unsubscribe via the new Gmail button or traditional channels, marketers should interpret it as another bit of feedback. It's a polite "no, thank you" instead of an angry "send to spam." Send to spam could start a chain reaction and harm your future chances of reaching the inbox. Similarly, make sure you're doing everything in your power to ensure that emails are opened and read. Use engaging subject lines and reinforce the value of your emails through other channels.
On an individual level, keep an eye on inboxing rates to ensure that your message is being delivered to and read by consumers. A significant drop in engagement could be a red flag that many users are unsubscribing from your lists. Gmail has also promised to release reports that will provide even greater insights into user preferences. We suspect that these reports might contain information about what caused users to unsubscribe so marketers can make further adjustments and gain more insight into user preferences.
Of the four major ISPs, Gmail makes changes most frequently, but also has the most active users and the fastest-growing user base. A Yesmail report found 19 percent of Gmail users were active in the past 12 months—above Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail. The number of Gmail users is also growing far faster than any other free email service, accounting for more than 40 percent of all new subscribers in the last quarter of 2013.
Marketers can't afford to ignore Gmail, but they don't have to fight it, either. When Gmail announces another major change, listen to what your subscribers are telling you rather than the ISP. You'll have to read between the lines, but you will end up learning far more about your users and their rates of engagement.
Bob Sybydlo is the director of market intelligence and deliverability for Yesmail Interactive, an enterprise email marketing solutions and software provider in Portland, Ore. Reach him at email@example.com.