can-spam act, email marketing compliance, weight watchers, spam emails
What Not To Do With Your Email Marketing
What Not To Do With Your Email Marketing

Maintaining compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act is not really all that hard. Provide a physical address in your emails and give your subscribers enough to control to opt-out easily. Sure, there are some other facets of it, but for the most part, that’s all you really have to do.

Apparently, the fine people at Weight Watchers are not aware of how easy it is, or that they are in violation of the regulation. After recently changing some email filters, one of which was to delete anything from Weight Watchers, I started getting their monthly newsletter again. It is being sent to an email address I haven’t used since 2004. I tried unsubscribing back then, but couldn’t. I figured now that we’re in 2012 and Weight Watchers certainly has improved their email marketing efforts since, this wouldn’t be an issue.

I was wrong.

Don’t make the same mistake with your email marketing. Make it uber simple for people to opt-out. The best-best-best practice is to make it a one-click and done opt-out and don’t send a confirmation email that they’re opted out. They opted out. They don’t want it.

Constant Contact and other email providers will take you to a form where you must confirm the email address you want removed from the list. It’s more than one click so it’s annoying, but it works. So that would be the best practice, with the denotation that there is better than best in this case.

And while I’m not optimistic Weight Watchers will see this since they’ve ignored a few other polite public questions about how to opt-out of their emails, if anyone from the mothership is watching the address needs to be removed from your system. Not only do I not use that email anymore, but I don’t want your junk. Even if it might help me lose weight. Thanks.

Any other companies that make it hard to unsubscribe? Tell us about them in the comments. Then send them a link to the post.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • It is amazing how many people think it is okay to just sign you up to a newsletter.  Handing out a business card isn’t an automatic opt-in.  Apply good social etiquette and abide by the anti-spam act and use relationships to build trust and your network. 

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  • jbmkpbg jbmkpbg

    A very informative article and lots of really honest and
    forthright comments made! This certainly got me thinking a lot about this issue
    so thanks a lot for posting!


  • Dave Smith

    Hi Jason. Great post, and a topic near and dear to me.  As the Compliance Officer at Constant Contact I’m in agreement with many of the comments posted already. Marketers and service providers need to focus on making unsubscribes as easy as possible, and to Lorens point well designed preference centers often satisfy both worlds.

    To your point of having to confirm the email address being a pain, I somewhat agree.  As Loren mentioned security measures do play a part in this, however lost in the topic, is the fact that often times emails received by the recipient are forwarded to friends, family, and others.  Over the years our Support staff have received countless phone calls from folks stating that they forwarded their email to someone else, and that person hit the unsubscribe button thinking they were unsubscribing them self.   To avoid accidental unsubscibes we added this confirmation step to deter folks down stream from accidentally unsubscribing the original recipient.  While fixing this specific problem could be solved by applying some advanced technology, we put this in place as a temporary means to help solve the problem,  As clean as it should be?  I’m in agreement, no, not really, but not terrible in the scope of things.

    Thanks again for blogging on the topic!

    Dave Smith
    Constant Contact

    • Thanks for chiming in Dave. Appreciate the perspective and background on CC’s approach.

  • Jason thanks for sharing your experience, especially love the video capture and narration approach. That said, while I understand your frustrations, I don’t agree with all of your points:

    Make it uber simple for people to opt-out. (Loren: Yes of course, not only is it the law, it makes sense – an inability to unsubscribe probably turns into a spam complaint or social media or blog post like this.)

    The best-best-best practice is to make it a one-click and done opt-out … (Loren: I always see bloggers from the social world or other realms tout the one-click process. While it makes sense in theory to be customer centric and click on “Unsubscribe” in an email and be done – how many consumers have clicked on the wrong link – especially now with the finger as the new mouse on touch-based devices? Secondly, we know by much research that many consumers actually want to do other things – such as reduce frequency, change their email address; change preferences, etc. So sending them to an “unsubscribe preference center” where the recipient can quickly and easily opt out OR stay subscribed and take a different action is not only in the marketers best interest – it can be of great value to the subscriber as well.)

    …and don’t send a confirmation email that they’re opted out. (Loren: This is true if it is a Web-based opt out; but if the sender is using a reply-to process, then a confirmation email is considered the right action – because it is the only means of confirmation.)

    Constant Contact and other email providers will take you to a form where you must confirm the email address you want removed from the list. It’s more than one click so it’s annoying, but it works. (Loren: Pre-populating someone’s email address is ideal – so all they have to do is click submit. But some companies prefer to not pass through email address for security reasons.)

    Also, was having trouble trying to post to your blog – would not work at all in Chrome, barely in Explorer…very klugy…perhaps on my end?

    Loren McDonald
    G+ Loren McDonald

    • Thanks for the feedback, Loren. I certainly understand your perspective and appreciate the fact you push back on some of my points. You run an email marketing company and your clients do some of these things I get wrinkled about.

      As long as folks are compliant with the law, the grievances I have are just streamlining the consumer experience. While you’re right, some people click the wrong link sometimes. Why not have a one-click unsubscribe link AND a manage your subscriber preferences link? User error will always be an issue, but especially for the email newsletters and customers don’t subscribe to but get anyway (and please tell me you know this happens .. I’m opted in without opting in to a handful each week it seems), I just want them out of my inbox, for good.

      For the ones I subscribe to and have opted in to, the mistaken click isn’t likely a problem. I think your mistaken click argument is thin. I can live with the click through to a pre-populated email field, even a non-prepopulated one, but it’s a more ideal experience for consumers to just say, “No thanks,” and be done.

      And on the confirmation reply. Again, it’s just an ideal experience issue for me. I’ve just told you to stop emailing me. Don’t then email me to say, “ARE YOU SURE?” Perhaps it’s because the confirmation email comes in just seconds after I’ve said, “Stop calling me!” But it is a less than ideal
      customer experience.

      And don’t forget, I’m not just a blogger from the social world. I’ve helped
      develop content strategies for email marketing for brands for a while now.
      On their behalf, I want to drive subscribers, retain list members and the
      like. But when someone wants out, why can’t we just listen to them and walk

      • Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough reply…

        1. “Why not have a one-click unsubscribe link AND a manage your subscriber preferences link?” (Loren: I do recommend that companies include links in their email footers to “Update Preferences”; “Change Frequency”; “Unsubscribe”; etc. The reality is, most consumers won’t fully understand what their alternatives are until they are presented with the options – hence why I recommend an “Unsubscribe Preference Center” – where all of these links take someone.

        Once there they can opt out or choose to stay subscribed, or pause their subscription for a period of time; change frequency; etc. Again, done correctly and you’ve made it easy for those people that truly want to unsubscribe to do so; and those that may want to stay subscribed to do so easily as well.

        As mentioned, we know from various studies that people unsubscribe for a few key reasons – too many emails; lack of relevancy.
        We also know that companies that provide alternatives to simply opting out – typically see 10-20% (sometimes more) of the “intending to unsubscribe” folks stay subscribed by choosing an alternative to opting out.

        In a 1-click scenario the company/marketer has lost these folks and the recipient loses as well. Again, I think your suggestion of offering multiple links within the email is great – I concur – but that most people will still click the Unsubscribe link, adn not one of the other options.)

        2. On the confirmation email – again, agree you don’t do that when someone opts out via a Web page. However, many companies use a “reply to” process to opt out. Every industry expert I have ever talked to agrees that in that case, sending a reply email to the unsubscriber is the right action. In a Web site process, when you hit submit you should see a confirmation that you’ve been unsubscribed. With a reply to process the only way of knowing that you have been successful is the confirmation email.

        3. We all receive gazillions of spam emails. Our names get harvested from posting on blogs, etc and passed around; and even some legitimate marketers wrongly purchase lists and or do the wrong thing.
        But I’m guessing I receive a similar amount of spam as you – and the vast majority of it eminates from true bad guy spammers. If you are getting added to name brand company’s lists on a regular basis – then it may be that someone who doesn’t like you is manually adding you.

        I’ve never heard of someone being added to lots of legitimate company lists on a regular basis without their permission. Do some big name brands take an overly aggressive approach – absolutely, but your numbers seem out of the norm.

        4. All this said, in general I couldn’t agree more that way too many brands and companies make it too dificult to unsubscribe – and they should be smacked up side the head. But if they comply with the law it is often difficult to make them change their ways. I certainly have written several articles and multiple presentations on the topic.

        5. Reading your final reiteration – in my recommended approaches you are doing exactly that. You are making it very easy to unsubscribe. Where we differ is in the number of clicks. A few more seconds and one more click is not all that difficult – it isn’t like going through a call center option tree that takes for ever and is incredibly frustrating. An extra click with some options is not a bad option. And especially since as many as 2 out of 10 people change their mind and do stay subscribed, suggesting that 1 click and your out isn’t always the best option.

        6. Lastly, to be clear I work for an email marketing/marketing automation software company – I don’t run it.

  • Glenn Street

    Subscribed to a newsletter from Newsmax but found I wasn’t reading it, so unsubscribed – which was fairly easy. All seemed well, but 2 months later started receiving the newsletter again. Unsubscribed again, with same results 60 days or so later. Not sure if this is a software glitch, or if Newsmax hopes I will forget having unsubscribed. Hmmmm… 

  • UPDATE: Weight Watchers emailed me a polite note moments ago an apologized. They said the unsubscribe link was the wrong link and they are fixing the problem. They also unsubscribed me. Good by me.

    • Lucy

      This is STILL not fixed. I see you posted this 3 years ago. I just went to google to find a solution and found this thread.

  • Jason, at the end of the year I spent a bit of time unsubscribing from newsletters that I hadn’t read in a while.  What really bothered me were situations where I had to log in and remember a login and password to unsubscribe.  As a consumer, that caused me to hit the spam button in Gmail.  Not a good thing for the sender.  If I get an email that is unsolicited or that makes me jump through hoops to unsubscribe from, that’s what is going to happen..  On the other hand, I really appreciated the companies that made it easy. Companies should think about the consumer and not make it hard for her to take an action she wants to take, even if it’s leaving.  That’s just bad karma.


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