There's been a lot of discussion both online and around the water cooler about Google's "new" unsubscribe functionality in the Gmail user interface. Our own Chad White has blogged about it here.

This functionality isn't actually new; Google officially announced support for the unsusbcribe link or button way back in 2009. However, very recently, they made the link larger and more prominent, moving it right up next to the from address when viewing a message in the Gmail web user interface.

If you're an ExactTarget client and you were wondering how this functionality works and how it might affect you, here's everything you need to know:

  • How does this functionality work? It utilizes the "list unsubscribe" header as specified in RFC 2369. By default, ExactTarget includes this header on all messages sent. We utilize the "mailto" list unsubscribe method, not the "http" method.
  • What happens when the "unsusbcribe" link is clicked in the Gmail user interface? Google generates an email message back to ExactTarget instructing our system to unsubscribe a specific recipient. Which recipient, campaign and client is encoded within a unique per-recipient email address specified in the "list unsubscribe" header data as mentioned above.
  • Does ExactTarget track and process these unsubscribe requests? Yes. We receive and process all requests. We mark the respective recipient as "unsubscribed" in our system. We tie the unsubscribe request back to the specific send in question, so it will be reflected in your post-send statistics.
  • How do I denote which subscribers unsubscribed by clicking the "unsubscribe" link? In the ExactTarget ("ET Email") user interface, navigate to the "All Subscribers" link. Search for all subscribers with a status of "unsubscribed." Export this list. When exporting, ensure you include the fields "Unsusbcribe Date" and "Unsubscribe Reason." Bring that exported file into Excel or your favorite data handling tool, and sort the file based on "Unsubscribe Reason." The subscribers who unsubscribed via the "unsubscribe" link will have an unsubscribe reason of "Unsubscribed by ExactTarget RMM service based on subscriber Leave/Reply email."
  • How come the "unsubscribe" link doesn't show up for me in the Gmail user interface? Note that it doesn't display for everyone. A sender's message must be signed with the DKIM authentication protocol; this means clients must have our Sender Authentication Package. Clients who do not have the ET SAP feature are not likely to have the "unsubscribe" link displayed for their subscribers. Also, Google appears to be applying a reputation measure; meaning, good senders are much more likely to see the link than bad senders. If you have a spam problem; this likely impedes your ability to participate.
  • Is this a "list level" or "account level" unsubscribe? An unsubscribe request via this method results in the subscriber being unsubscribed from all lists in your ExactTarget account. They are set to a status of "unsubscribed" in the all subscribers list. If you have an Enterprise account, whether or not this unsubscribes the subscriber across all business units depends on whether or not "unsubscribe propagation" is enabled for your accounts.
  • Is this the new "Gmail FBL (feedback loop)" that I've heard about? No, this is separate and unrelated. To learn more about the new Gmail FBL program, visit the Word to the Wise blog. As of early March 2014, ExactTarget is reviewing information regarding the Gmail FBL and is not ready to announce anything related to potential participation.
  • Is this a feedback loop? No. Traditionally, an ISP (internet service provider) feedback loop (FBL) is used to report spam complaints (usually full messages) lodged by subscribers who choose to click the "report spam" button in an ISP or webmail's user interface. Certainly you can track the unsubscribe rate of your campaigns to identify campaigns, lists or practices that have an unusually high unsubscribe rate; but note that unsubscribe rate and complaint rate are two different things.

The increased prominence of the "unsubscribe" link is ultimately a good thing for email senders. Any time you make it easier for a user to unsubscribe from an email stream, the less likely that user is to get frustrated and report your mail as spam instead. Because of this, I recommend that senders do not request that this functionality be disabled.