Learn to Love Unsubscribes

Why you need to appreciate when someone unsubscribes...

by | Aug 27, 2018

Nobody likes to be rejected.

I remember the first time I got dumped it hurt like hell… I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong and so to be told that I wasn’t wanted was not a nice feeling.

…but as we grow older and we get used to rejection, we kinda know when it’s coming and can emotionally prepare ourselves for it.

We brace for impact…

…and it doesn’t hurt as much.

So why is it that your first unsubscribe hurts so much?

The first cut unsubscribe is the deepest

I remember the first time someone decided to unsubscribe from my email list.

I was still in my ‘Chimp infancy, and so hadn’t really start building an online presence with website forms, etc., so everyone I had on my list were people who had given me permission through various networking meetings I attended.

The person who unsubscribed was actually someone who I’d met a few days prior and I was blindsided by their unsubscribe – I never saw it coming… they were so nice to meet when we’d met before.

Why would they be so two faced?

I emailed them personally after their unsubscribe and asked them why they could be so hurtful… I poured my heart and soul into my emails… and to be rejected was something I was totally unprepared for… or even considered as a possibility.

They responded that since they saw me all the time and knew the value that I could deliver… they figured that they’d unsubscribe to give their inbox a slight breather… which all sounded perfectly reasonable (and I was all ready for a blazing argument!!!)

…with one unsubscribe I turned into a crazy ex-girlfriend (aside… why do we always seem to hear of crazy ex-girlfriends and not crazy ex-boyfriends..?).

And that’s when I started to realise that maybe unsubscribes were a good thing!

Changing the perception of an unsubscribe

I’m guessing that the first unsubscribe you received was unexpected and painful, like mine.

…but hopefully they don’t hurt as much now.

But have you come to “love” unsubscribes?

It might change your perception of what you are doing from an email marketing point of view, and help improve your overall success if you “embrace the unsubscribe”.

Before we get into it, there is one caveat that I’m going to make – and that’s the emails you send are “good”… i.e. you’re not sending pointless, bland emails which contain no benefit for the reader.  I’ll assume you are a “good” emailer (If you are a bad emailer, you deserve all the unsubscribes you get!!!).

So assuming you’re emails are good, why should you embrace the unsubscribe?

Here are a few reasons:

  1. An unsubscribe is better than a non-open.
    Over time, your list will potentially become littered with people who originally were interested in your product or service, but for whatever reason were no longer on board… but who haven’t unsubscribed.  The fact is that people on your list who are “zombies”, need to be killed off as they are damaging your open rates – which is a key metric when looking at delivery. Getting someone to “proactively” unsubscribe is a good thing as they are doing so in a positive manner – positively opting out.
  2. Unsubscribes are a good signal of how you’re doing.
    If you are a regular emailer, consider unsubscribes as a tap on the shoulder to suggest you might want to tweak your direction. Getting a higher then expected unsubscribe rate, could be because your emails have gone stale… and means it’s time to up your game.
  3. They’re part of doing email marketing right
    Email marketing is a “numbers” game. It’s not about worrying about individuals and what a specific person is doing – it’s about understanding that being 99% right is fantastic, and accepting that the 1% you miss is part of the game. I’ve met several business owners who were stressing out that an individual had unsubscribed, and had even classed their email as spam. My response… if you’re worrying about a single email in a list of much, much more, then you need to change your perspective.  Their could be a whole reason why they clicked spam (including a mis-click), but spend time concentrating on the people who DO want to receive your emails.
  4. They mean you’re speaking to the right people
    When I receive an unsubscribe notice now (and I don’t tend to check them most of the time!), my attitude is one of “thanks for letting me know you’re not interested… it gives me more time to concentrate on someone who is interested. Why would I want to waste any more of my time on someone who has said they don’t want my stuff?


Don’t actively seek unsubscribes!

Now you may think that I’m out there in every email saying, “I dare you, go on… unsubscribe!”…

Nope… the fact that you have to have an unsubscribe link to MailChimp’s system in every email you send is more than enough to give me what I need.

You don’t need to go over the top and actively ask people to reject you… they’ll do this naturally as and when they are ready to do so.

…it’s all about a positive email mindset.

Skip this bit if you are not interested in the Technical stuff…

Before I wrap up… I thought it worthwhile doing a little bit about how MailChimp actually handles unsubscribes it receives.

  1. You manually unsubscribe someone yourself
    MailChimp is not that bothered about this, even if it’s done via an automated connection to an external service. I’ve set up several “alternative” unsubscribe methods in the past whereby someone clicks on my separate link to unsubscribe and I get MailChimp to send an automated email to confirm their choice, and then as a post-send-action unsubscribe them – and MailChimp doesn’t bat an eyelid. The person gets unsubscribed and the reason is “admin unsubscribe”.
  2. Someone clicks a MailChimp unsubscribe link in an email
    The most common method of unsubscribing.  If too many people click on an unsubscribe link in an email, MailChimp doesn’t like this – it suggests the email is spam and they may start digging into your account a bit more (over 5% and they may even suspend it!).
    When someone does click the MailChimp unsubscribe link, they get sent to a page (which is part of the support structure that MailChimp creates for you – all handled within the list>>form builder section) which asks them why?

    • If they don’t click “spam/abuse” then they get unsubscribed by MailChimp, and you can still see their email, information and past activity.
    • If they click on “spam/abuse”, then as well as getting unsubscribed, MailChimp will “remove” their email so you can’t then contact them.  They do replace it with a “random generated” email so that the overall list stats can be maintained, just in case you see some emails which are along the lines of “gdpr-4ca9fedcb251b7738096fc07c49db77f@forgotten.mailchimp.com”

…and a common question I get asked is “how do I add someone back in who has ‘accidentally’ unsubscribed?”

Anyone who has unsubscribed can still come back on your list, but you can’t manually go into MailChimp and “resubscribe” them.  They need to complete a form to be added back to the list (which if you ‘read between the lines’, means you can just complete a form on their behalf if you feel ok with doing it!)

Change your perception

Unsubscribes are regularly tarnished with the “bad thing” label, but if you’re doing good at email, then that’s not necessarily the case.

Keep an eye on unsubscribes and use them as a way of cleaning out the old/dead parts of your email list, and as a way of ensuring you’re continuing to deliver good content.

…and don’t sweat it when someone unsubscribes… email marketing is not about one person.. it’s about the bigger picture!

Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind chimpanswers.com and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.


  1. Patrick Kilian

    Thank you Robin.
    Thats’ very good advise.

  2. Barb Coach

    Robin, and what about finding “gdpr-4ca9fedcb251b7738096fc07c49db77f@forgotten.mailchimp.com” on your subscriber list?

    Must be a bot, right? Looking all over Google for the answer to no avail…

    • Noah

      He literally wrote it in the article.


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