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Monday, May 05, 2014

Unsubscribing Explained

Scott Hardie e-mails:

Mr. Harris, I'm a longtime follower of your blog. Thanks for sharing so many good stories and links over the years. Here's writing to shed some light on your "Unsubscribe" blog post from April 28, about how it takes ten days to be removed from a mailing list when technology should make it instantaneous.

I've worked on both web sites and promotional emails for years. The programming skills required for them are basically the same, but the mindsets are quite different: A mistake made on a web site can be rectified at any time, but an email is unchangeable once it's been sent. Thus, marketing emails are very carefully proofed and vetted, and scheduled days in advance with a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. Their servers generate many millions of emails, and most people open a message within minutes of it being sent, and serving millions of those embedded images all at once could overwhelm the servers, so the sending is usually staggered over a period of hours or days.

At a reputable marketing company, the list of recipients is subjected to the same rigorous proofing process as the content of the message: A data manager reviews it for unsubscribers and fake addresses and so on, before it's uploaded to the mailing service days in advance of the message going out. So when you click that unsubscribe link, you *are* instantaneously being flagged in the marketing company's system as not wanting more email, and sometimes that gets passed along right away to the sending service too -- but additional emails might already be in the queue to be sent to you over the next few hours or days. Depending on the sending service, it's not always possible to change a list once a message been scheduled, and even if it is, caching and other technical issues may prevent the request from being processed by every last server before that message goes out to you.

Thus, saying that it will take ten days to process the request is a form of CYA for the company: You probably won't get any more email from them, but just in case another message is already scheduled and it cannot be (or doesn't get) pulled from the queue in time, they don't want you to misunderstand and think that the unsubscribe request failed.

As for the follow-up email to confirm the unsubscription, you're right that it's redundant. It's sometimes a marketing ploy, one last opportunity to send you an ad in the hopes that you'll be lured back, but more often it's just the company not thinking it through from your point of view. I can't speak for every company of course, but where I've worked, the staff is conscientious and sincerely doesn't want to send messages to people who don't want them.
Thanks, Scott. I have used Constant Contact and found, from the provider side, that their unsubscribe function was quick and unobtrusive. I wish the rest of the industry did it as well.