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Why Must I Re-enter my Email to Unsubscribe?

Question: Why do some websites have you re-enter your email when you click on “unsubscribe”? Don’t they already know who I am?

At best, it’s because they’re lazy.

At worst, it’s because they want to make it more difficult to unsubscribe.

I suppose there’s an even worse case: it’s spam and you never subscribed to begin with.

There’s simply no excuse these days for any of those possibilities.

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The most common reason is outdated or ineffectual mailing list software that doesn’t encode your email address into the unsubscribe link.

It’s not that hard. For example, while an unsubscribe link might be coded as a link to:

There’s absolutely no reason it couldn’t be:

The latter link includes the email address as part of the request.

One click and you could be done.

UnsubscribeAlmost all legitimate mailing list providers include this functionality. As with The Ask Leo! Newsletter, it’s often encoded in such a way that it may not look like an email address, but the information is there to uniquely identify which email address should be immediately unsubscribed.

If the organization sending you email doesn’t have or use that capability, the only recourse is to ask you to re-enter your email address. Instead, they should update to more capable software.

Erecting barriers

This is borderline conspiracy thinking, but I’m sure it happens at least occasionally. A more nefarious possibility is that they intentionally make it difficult to unsubscribe.

By forcing you to re-enter your email address, they’re hoping it’s too much work, or you’ll get your own email address wrong.1 Either way, the result is that you stay on their list.

This typically backfires, of course, as the next approach to get off the list is to start marking those messages as spam. The sender can still claim a higher subscription number, but does it really matter if the easy way to get off the list is to mark it as spam?

Speaking of spam

The rule of thumb is to never click on an unsubscribe link for a list you never requested to be on, or are on due to some other legitimate reason, like having made a purchase with an online vendor.

If you didn’t ask for them, those messages are spam.

One way spammers harvest email addresses of real, live people is to include an unsubscribe link that asks for an email address. Any email address given is immediately subscribed to more spam.

Unsubscribe should take one click or two

The bottom line is that unsubscribing from an email list you requested to be on should be a single click. Two at most.

Anything more complex is, honestly, disrespectful.

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Podcast audio


Video Narration

Footnotes & References

1: Happens more often than you might expect.

22 comments on “Why Must I Re-enter my Email to Unsubscribe?”

  1. The second time I get something unwanted and I can unsubscribe without putting in my email, I just hit the spam key.

  2. I know they are trying to prevent unsubscribe when the link is in tiny low contrast font using a word other than “unsubscribe.”

  3. Thank you for all the help you have given me through the years. In this article, however, I am confused by the sentence: “The rule of thumb is to never click on an unsubscribe link for a list you never requested to be on, or are on due to some other legitimate reason, like having made a purchase with an online vendor.” Did you mean that we shouldn’t unsubscribe to a legitimate list from which we want to be removed or that we shouldn’t identify these lists as spam?

    • That sentence is confusing. I’ll update it. In short:

      • If you actually subscribed, click on unsubscribe.
      • If you have a business relationship, like having made a purchase, click on unsubscribe.
      • In all other cases you’re on a list you have no reason to be on: don’t click on unsubscribe, as it’s likely spam.

      Hope that helps.

  4. I’d rather have a legitimate website ask me for my e-mail address. There can be problems when you forward a COMPLETE unadulterated e-mail to friends and one of them clicks on the unsubscribe link. Some companies do NOT reply to the subscriber with a “Sorry to see you leave us” e-mail message (or something similar). They should.

    A few years ago a friend in a small organization I belong to would often forward e-mails to everyone in our organization from a list he belonged to. Someone asked him to stop doing it but he kept doing it. I eventually clicked on the unsubscribe link in one of his forwarded e-mails. Apparently no confirmation e-mail was sent because a week later he verbally mentioned to all of us the list he use to belong to must have vanished (Oh what a shame!).

    I’ve learned whenever I FORWARD an e-mail to a small group of friends and the e-mail has an unsubscribe link, I will remove unsubscribe links before I hit the send button.

    • I hadn’t considered that scenario as a reason to ask for the email address. It kinda makes sense. It’s still annoying, but now a little less so. Thanks for that.

      And yes, always remove the unsubscribe links at the bottom when you forward something that you’re subscribed to.

  5. Thanks Leo

    So. What happens if i don’t click on the unsubscribe button but simple mark it as Spam (or Phishing)? Does this automatically stop future emails? Does it flag the sender to my email provider in any way?

    Basically, do I actually achieve anything by marking it as Spam?

    • Marking it as spam tells your email provider that you consider this spam. What happened next depends on your email provider, but generally the effect is not instant. If you (and enough others) mark this email as spam whenever you get it, then eventually it’ll start being delivered to your spam folder instead of your inbox. Generally. As I said, it varies tremendously based on the email service you use.

  6. Leo (et al.), I would much prefer that unsubscribing from a list should require two clicks, not just one.

    It is truly amazing how often — especially when a touchscreen is involved — I will click on some random link by mistake. Woe is me if that random link just happens to unsubscribe me from a list I really wanted to remain a part of!

    Sometimes, merely holding my tablet awkwardly will perform this dirty deed!

    At times like that, a “Sorry to see you go! Are you sure?” page can be a Godsend: it gives one the opportunity to bellow, “H*ll, no! Not only am I NOT sure I want to unsubscribe, but I’m perfectly certain that I DON’T!!!”. :)

    • I occasionally see unsubscribe links that unsubscribe you with an Are you sure? kind of message. I find those OK as I might accidentally click an unsubscribe link.Any hoops more than that and I mark the email as spam. I especially hate those sites which ask me to log on to my account.

    • If you’re asking about Confident Computing, my newsletter, there’s a link at the bottom of every newsletter you can use to unsubscribe. Thanks!

  7. Then there are the sites which respond, “you will be unsubscribed sometime in the next six weeks.”

  8. I had trouble unsubscribing to consumers reports. Wrote them an email a D they explained my problem but also said I could type unsubscribe in the subject box and the program would do it. Does that always work?

  9. Great article, Leo! You give some great information here that I was unable to find from other “experts” giving advice on the same subject. Specifically, you write:

    “One way spammers harvest email addresses of real, live people is to include an unsubscribe link that asks for an email address. Any email address given is immediately subscribed to more spam.”

    I was always very weary about entering my email address to unsubscribe for this very reason: Spammers were using my entry of my email address to unsubscribe as an opportunity to harvest my email address to subscribe me for more spam.

    I know use the Gmail feature to move the email to spam, at which time Gmail notifies me that it will not only move the email to spam, but Gmail will also attempt to unsubscribe me from the subscription. I don’t know how successful Gmail is at unsubscribing me from these emails, but I trust that Gmail will make sure that my email isn’t harvested when they do attempt to unsubscribe me.

  10. Actually not always true
    Many email providers now strip out the ability to include email address particulars in the unsubscribe link.
    This means the reader clicks the link and the automated unsubscribe tools does not fire.
    Smart unsubscribe pages allow the recipient to manually enter their email so they can unsubscribe, else they get an error message.

    PS: I found your page will googling how to improve our companies unsubscribe page.


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