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June 17th, 2009:

One-click Unsubscribe: For ALL Your Emails

I sign up for (let’s call it) 5-10 new web sites a week. It’s an occupational hazard.

(In fact, there’s an even weirder effect where sometimes there are web sites I know only from Webex demos or slide decks, and not from visiting the site itself. But I digress.)

As a startup, you SHOULD be sending retention and call-to-action emails. It’s a no-brainer. I don’t fault you for it. In fact, if I were an investor or advisor, I’d insist that you do it. (So many Web services naturally get more valuable over time, with the addition of users, data, events, etc., that you are often literally doing your users a favor the first time you harass them to come back.)

And, inevitably, the day comes when I tire of your appeals, and I want to pull the plug (or at least turn up the squelch knob).

BUT: when your “unsubscribe” link prompts me to sign in to your Web site — with a username I don’t remember (not even pre-filled in for me), with a password I even more certainly have forgotten, into your unfamiliar interface — in order to stop those email from coming in, then you are doing wrong.

Your “unsubscribe” link should have enough of a unique auth token in it that I can manage my email preferences. At the very most, it should be a two-or-three-additional-click process to verify with a round-trip email and link combination.

Instead, after two or three times trying to play nice and click your crappy “unsubscribe” link, I will just start clicking “report spam.” Enough of that, and your email throughput will suffer, and with it, all of your retention/CTA messaging.

So please: make it easy to unsubscribe (or at least to manage email prefs). Short-term minimization of your unsubscribe rate is not clever, and will ultimately kill your other metrics (not to mention incur user wrath).