Email preference centers are an often overlooked aspect of the customer experience. They serve a functional and core need for your customers and keep your brand compliant with CAN-SPAM laws.
That unsubscribe button usually lies tucked away at the end of all of your promotional emails like a midnight sentry hoping not to be disturbed.
Brands that have given the unsubscribe process a little more thought, might have a “Manage Your Preferences” standalone link instead. Yet even this can be improved upon.
More often than not, we still view email preference centers as the last line of defense to stop customer churn rate, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to learn more and grow our subscriber base.
In actuality, an email preference center is a fantastic way to retain subscribers, personalize their interactions, and create more revenue driving customer segments.
Many brands pay a lot of lip service to the idea of customization and personalization, yet their offerings don’t follow suit.
We’re going to dive into some tips and general guidelines for optimizing your email preference center that you can use to spruce up this important space of email real estate!
Include a preference center link
Brands sending out promotional emails are required at a minimum to have a visible and accessible Unsubscribe link. You’ll usually see this in the footer of an email.
We advise adding a Preference Center link next to your Unsubscribe link. (You’ll of course need to create a webpage for it first.)
Adding the center link to all of your marketing emails gives subscribers easy access to adjust their preferences whenever they want to. You can also reduce unsubscribes by including the unsubscribe option inside the preference center link.
You can use terminology like “Update Your Preferences,” “Manage My Preferences,” or “Email Preference Center.” Anything that adequately guides your subscribers to their intended action will do.
Barnes & Nobles does a fantastic job utilizing their email footer space. On top of fine-print information on seasonal offers, they also put their preference center link front and center.
Subscribers looking to manage their preferences aren’t always interested in completely severing the relationship. Most of the time they just want to be sent emails on a less frequent basis, or change the types of emails they are receiving.
Having a preference center link at the bottom of every single email guides your customer to reconsider the action they were going to take.
Ditch the default unsubscribe pages
First you need to have a webpage on your site that serves as a subscription preference center before you can include a link. A majority of companies simply use unbranded unsubscribe links and pages that are automatically generated from their email service providers.
This uninspired design above is functional and at least gets the job done. But, they’re missing a big opportunity here.
Even if you’re just using the unsubscribe page for utilitarian purposes, the least you can do is brand it accordingly.
Here you’ll see that MGM Resorts has at least added their logo and color scheme to the page.
Some ESPs come with some extra default settings that allow you to slightly customize the preference center and unsubscribe page.
For example in this automatically generated unsubscribe page from the ESP Active Campaign, it lists a number of reasons your subscribers can pick for why they unsubscribed. Again, this is the bare minimum of options you can have on an unsubscribe page.
Utilizing the information you gained from an exit-survey like this could then be used in the development of future options on a preference center.
That is, if you figure out that a majority of people are unsubscribing because “the emails are no longer for content that I originally signed up for,” you can then take this information and create an option for customers to choose what topics they want to receive emails about.
Provide options during opt-in
A preference center doesn’t just have to be the place people go when they’re thinking about unsubscribing or changing their preferences for email messaging.
It can also serve as a brand building experience right off the get-go in the beginning of a new subscriber relationship. It adds a more dynamic experience during the customer opt-in and on-boarding process.
Show your preference center to subscribers right away after they register. This shows them that you’ll begin catering to their unique needs right at the start of this relationship.
Big Think, an independent multimedia publisher, dedicates a page on its website header just for Newsletter signups.
They have a wide range of eclectic newsletters. There’s a description underneath each section with an option to sign up for as many or as few as you’d like. This is an example of setting expectations and segmenting your subscriber base right from the start of the relationship.
Spotify helps set expectations as well. They have an intuitive user interface where you can either click on or off your different options for Email and SMS messaging. They briefly explain what each notification entails and let you choose what you want to receive.
Why wait to find out what your subscriber wants? Present them with options right out the gate. The best thing you can be is proactive when figuring out your subscriber’s preferences.
Optimizing your email preference center to be something that your subscribers interact with right away is a great way to get some extra mileage out of the sign-up process.
Let subscribers pick the timing and frequency of their emails
The last thing anyone wants to see in their inbox, is an incessant blast of daily promotions that aren’t personalized or relevant. If you keep sending your customer a discount code everyday, they’re going to grow numb to your branding and messaging.
Sometimes daily email notifications are relevant and welcomed, perhaps in the case of a daily newsletter or informational email content that helps you use a product or service.
Yet it’s important to give your subscribers the opportunity to choose the frequency of how often they receive their emails. Not everyone wants every single email sent to them. Give them the option to customize the communication through your subscriber preference center.
Again, Barnes & Nobles does a great job in their preference center, as they have a section titled “How often would you like to hear from us?” They give you the ability to limit your email messaging from once a week or once a month.
Time based and sending frequency options can be varied to a significant degree and customized as you see fit. We recommend that brands always give their customers the ability to choose frequency. One of the number one reasons for unsubscribing is because of too many emails.
You can break it down even further by building your time-preferences in the following manner:
- Email Timing (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly)
- Receiving emails on specific days.
- Option to pause and unsubscribe for a set amount of time
Make it easy to unsubscribe
There is nothing more annoying then having to uncheck a huge list of newsletters before being able to unsubscribe. It’s enough to put any consumer into a quick rage and land your promotional messages in the dreaded spam folder.
If you don’t have multiple newsletters or segments set up, your unsubscribe button and page should be able to the job in one single click.
When you unsubscribe from the New York Times, they redirect you to your account page and let you know that “You’ve been successfully unsubscribed.” Simple and quick.
A lot of businesses have multiple channels of communication, as well as segmented audiences that receive a certain number of email notifications and promotions. If this is the case, you should include an “Unsubscribe from all” button.
The Guitar Center preferences spells this out clearly for the subscriber. Please remove me from all communications. Check, click and unsubscribe. That’s how simple it should be.
Unsubscribes don’t always mean that a customer relationship is over. It just means that right now (and sometimes that’s not always permanent) customers won’t be interacting with you over your email channel. It’s in the best interests of your brand to let them go without a hitch.
Include an input for birthday information and minor personal details
You can only do so much with first name personalization. There are a number of simple questions you can ask your subscribers during sign-up that aren’t too personal or intrusive.
For example, ask them when their birthday is. You can create a birthday email or series of emails once you have this information. A triggered message like this is easy to implement, as you’ll only need one piece of data.
Fashion retailer, Neiman Marcus, offers an opt-in for subscribers to enter their birthday details, with the expectation that they’ll receive a birthday surprise.
If you look above the birthday opt-in in this example, you’ll also see an input to enter your zip code. This gives Neiman Marcus the ability to tailor emails based on geolocation.
If you have offerings that are contingent upon brick and mortar stores or services that are reliant on location, it’s a good tip to ask for data like a person’s zip code.
Offer a content based preference center
A content based preference center is built around your brand’s own unique offerings. Customers are given the choice of what type of information and content they want to be updated about.
For example, a fashion retailer might divide their products into a number of different categories:
It’s crucial that these options are designated at the start of a subscriber sign-up process. Present your subscribers the options and they will tell you what they’re interested in learning about.
Bloomingdales does a fantastic job adding in a few extra preference details that’ll go a long way in developing a great customer relationship.
This well designed signup page doubles as a email preference center.
Subscribers can choose between male and female clothing and additionally set their birthday, so you can have a personalized deal on that special day.
This method is incredibly helpful because you can use all of this data from the email preference center and implement it into a greater segmentation strategy.
A lot of eCommerce brands have a wide range of unique offerings and different newsletter mediums.
In this example below, Chanel, gives subscribers the options to choose between what types of offers and news they’d like to receive regarding product types: fragrances and jewelry and whether or not they want to sign up for the Chanel Newsletter.
This extra data goes a long way in developing email messaging that subscribers enjoy and want to receive.
Write clear descriptions of your newsletters
Subscribers should know just what it is that they’re opting out of. Sometimes they’re subscribed to the Daily or the Educational Newsletter. These vague terms don’t convey what the content of those emails are.
On your subscriber preference page, you should include a brief description of your unique newsletter segment.
In the preference center above, SEMRush has a number of categories with broad names, but they make sure to include a description underneath each one to avoid confusion.
They also put the crucial verbiage which explains:
“Checking the box below will remove you from all future communications. Unchecking it will add you back to any future communications based on your settings above.”
This way the customer knows what they’re clicking and you aren’t tricked into re-subscribing.
Send out re-engagement emails to update user preferences
Sometimes an email’s call-to-action should direct your subscribers to your brand’s user preference center.
This should be done for subscribers who haven’t engaged with your company and haven’t clicked your links for a designated amount of time.
Let’s say for example, that you have an existing list of subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails in two months. Before you let those contacts idle indefinitely or eventually delete them, you should implement a re-engagement campaign.
A majority of re-engagement campaigns usually offer some kind of discount or incentive. We suggest also adding an email that asks unengaged subscribers to update their preferences.
Create advanced customized preference centers
Most legacy preference centers or automatically generated ones lack any kind of complexity. The majority of all ESPs offer default subscription centers that are generic in functionality and design.
Advanced preference center options can be used to segment your audience so they can receive dynamically personalized content.
Bodybuilding.com, one of the world’s largest online fitness stores, offers a dynamic preference center that takes into account user preferences as diverse as fitness goals, fitness level and dietary preferences.
Each one of their choices can be changed by accessing multiple drop down menus.
In the dietary preference breakdown, users can choose between choices such as Gluten-Free, to Ketogenic and Vegan.
A hyper-customized preference center like this can truly tailor the personalized user experience.
Key takeaways for email preferences best practices
By now you should have a deeper understanding on what makes a great email preference center. They are dynamic components of your email program.
Preference centers should be customized to gather data from customers when they first sign up so that you can offer more personalized and dynamically generated content. Also the preference center should offer a seamless user experience for the customer as they adjust their settings.
Think of your email preference center as the functional backbone of your email marketing channel that ensures prompt deliverability and tailors your messaging for happier, more loyal customers.