Unsubscribing From Unwanted Email

SIERRA MADRE, CA - MAY 29: Seventieth anniver...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

There's a sense out there that clicking on an unsubscribe link will just give your email address to more spammers. That may be true at some level.

But I'm here to tell you that over the past two weeks I've been on a mission to unsubscribe to as much email as I can. I've made it a point to click on every unsubscribe link I can find. And when I am on my blackberry, I forward emails I don't want anymore to Dorsey who helps me by taking care of the unsubscribe.

It's made a big difference. I think my unwanted email is down by at least 50% and I am going to keep doing this until it reaches zero.

I've got two spam filters, postini and microsoft's junk mail, working for me. They do a halfway decent job but I still get a ton of unwanted email. Most of the unwanted email isn't technically spam, it is email that is at least halfway legit, but I still don't want it.

I don't have any hard numbers, but I think I get about 200-300 unwanted emails a day in my inbox (in addition to 400-600 wanted emails). I am very encouraged by the impact of all this unsubscription activity over the past two weeks and I think I can basically eliminate the unwanted email by continuing to click on the unsubscribe links.

So, to all of you who avoid clicking on the unsubscribe links, I say give it a try. You'll get rid of more spam than you'll create for sure.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Comments (Archived):

  1. andyswan

    If I may suggest “gmail for your domain”http://www.google.com/apps/…Life-changing and easy berry sync.I get about 2 spam emails per month…. and my email is [email protected] Bring it 🙂

    1. fnazeeri

      I agree w/ Andy (except the “bring it” bit). I use gmail for my domain and I do not get spam.

    2. fredwilson

      Tried itI just can’t seem to get gmail to work right for meIt’s the fucking web appIt’s not wired up for my mind

      1. dcostolo

        i can’t not use Gmail anymore. I had a hard time with it initially until i took the following approach:1. Archive everything that you don’t need to follow-up on immediately2. Search is the new folders. I don’t folder anything in gmail, i archive and search. My inbox never has more than 20 or so messages in it, everything else is archived. 3. Mute all threads in which you no longer have an interestI’m with andy. I saw your comment about using spam filters and i thought “wow, i haven’t had to set up a spam filter in forever”.

        1. fredwilson

          God knows I’ve triedI forward all email to gmail and use it as my searchable archiveI never search outlook anymoreBut I can’t deal with the threaded emails. It’s very disorienting to me

  2. mattmaroon

    The spam argument has always seemed absurd to me. Once a spammer has your email, they sell it to other ones, and eventually all of them have it. Once you’ve received one spam your account has been compromised and your options are to either get a new one or simply rely on filters.I’ve unsubscribed to a bunch too recently, and I’m loving it. I haven’t noticed any more spam getting through my filters as a result.How do you like Postini? I’m on Barracuda, which has an atrocious interface but does a pretty solid job.

    1. Patrick Lee

      It’s fine to unsubscribe to legitimate unwanted email. Say, for instance, you don’t want the weekly status update from your contacts on linkedin. But sometimes you get unwanted email from a source you aren’t familiar with … if you click on the unsubscribe link, you’re essentially letting them know that your email address is a valid and working address. Valid emails are worth a lot more and will get spread around more, potentially giving you a lot more spam. For unwanted emails from unknown sources, it’s much better to not click anything and just mark it as spam.

  3. Stan

    Agreed. Its not just unwanted spam, but catalogues, etc I may have agreed to at one point in time not realizing I would get bombarded. I’ve been unsubscribing. I used to just delete them on my iPhone but instead I leave it there to come back home and unsubscribe (or if I have the time, just do it through the phones browser).

  4. daryn

    Agreed. Most of the email you’re receiving that is getting by your spam filter isn’t “bad spammer” spam, it’s marketing mail from legitimate senders who will honor your opt-out.There are all sorts of conspiracy theories on where people find your address, and all sorts of tricks for trying to keep tabs on it, but while that’s all fine and interesting, just clicking the unsubscribe link is the easiest way to remedy the situation.

  5. andrew

    I unsubscribe to every mail now. been doing it for about two years now.

  6. Joshua Baer

    The FTC did a study a few years ago and found that unsubscribing did significantly reduce the amount of spam that you get. Most of the time it is worth it to take a few minutes and unsubscribe.It doesn’t come without downsides however. In order to comply with CAN-SPAM, anytime you unsubscribe your email address is put onto a do-not-email list and those lists get passed around between marketers in order to comply with the law. The problem is that sometimes bad people get these lists and abuse them and then you get more spam as a result of unsubscribing. There is a company called Lashback.com that actively tracks which unsubscribes you can trust and which ones you can’t.Because of this, it’s actually better to change your email address to a bogus one rather than unsubscribe (if you have the option to change your email). That way your email address isn’t getting passed around. I wrote a blog post about this at http://budurl.com/better2ch…I am the founder of a service called OtherInbox that takes a different approach – we make it drop dead easy to give every site a different email address without having to remember them all. That way when you want to unsubscribe you just turn off that address and you don’t need to worry about whether or not they will honor your unsubscribe request. http://budurl.com/different

    1. Justin

      I’ve been using a similar service for five years or so: Endjunk.com. I really like these kinds of services since I don’t care about giving out emails. Just turn off the ones who are spam. Also, you can track whether emails you input for online purchases get re-sold to marketers. I’ve caught a couple unscrupulous vendors who do that despite their privacy policy saying otherwise.

  7. Dan Sweet

    Amen brother. I’ve been on an unsubscribe kick myself since the beginning of the year and it is working wonders so far.

  8. jer979

    A couple of questions on this one.1. what makes something ‘wanted’ vs. ‘unwanted?” Did you want it before and just not want it now?2. Traditional marketing (not that I espouse it any longer) would argue that part of the success is determined by repetition and “touches,” now that that can’t happen to you, how would you advise marketers who think that they have a solution for you in the long-term and want to “stay in touch” or “stay present” to do so? (I have my strong opinions, but curious as to yours)3. You may also appreciate a service called otherinbox.com which is how I register all of my new emails these days4. I am also on an unsubscribe kickBTW, when you are done with #2 above, and if you are interested/willing, I’d love to get your thoughts on my new whitepaper “Community Driven Marketing” as its premise rests on your concept of the “Attention Economy” combined with the “Power of Permission” (which you are highlighting in this post) as the reason why traditional marketing doesn’t work in a billion channel universe.

    1. fredwilson

      I think about that first question as I go through the unsubscribingMost of the time I did not ask to be put on the list, but somehow I got onitLess of the time (maybe 1/3), I did ask to be put on the list but now Idon’t want it anymore

  9. Nate

    You’ve got a Bacn problem.The worst is when you click an unsubscribe link that forces you to login (with a likely forgotten user/pass combo) to “change email preferences”. When that happens I just mark as spam, hoping that Gmail learns that I don’t want to hear from them anymore.Mail clients desperately need buttons to instantly “black hole email from address” and “black hole email from this domain”.When it comes to stopping spam “halfway decent” is not good enough, so you might need better software. Whatever Gmail is doing, they’re doing it right. An average of about 2 spams a week make it to my inbox without noticeable false positives.

    1. fredwilson

      My problem is not so much a spam problem NathanIt’s the fact that I’ve been using a certain email address (that will goun-named here) since 1996And it’s gotten on a ton of lists over the yearsSome of the stuff is completely legit and would get through gmail tooI just need to get off of the lists

      1. user239

        My sense is gmail has some personalization in its spam filter – instead of wasting your time with unsubscribe pages, you could click spam and you would not see mail from that sender again whereas others would continue to receive the bacn.

        1. user239

          your post inspired me to unsubscribe from a bunch of lists. as i waste my time fighting my way through a bunch of poorly designed un-subscription processes, i’m reminded why i think a bunch of effort on our part is the wrong solution to the bacn problem. i prefer opt-in notification or on-demand content recommendation algorithms. i’d rather just mark bacn as spam and try to become even more selective about sharing my email address with websites (as it is, i have different addresses for websites, friends, etc.).

  10. Nigel Walsh

    this is such a great feeling to stop “trudging” – through stuff that’s no longer relevant.. I love doing this – if I delete 2-3 messages now or see tweets that are not relevant, I’m using the unfollow, unsubscribe.. its truly liberating!

  11. Carrie

    I recently did the exact same thing, and it worked for me too. I went from so much spam E-mail was starting to get useless to 1 – 2 a week.(Most of the spam was from signing up to sites and being added to their E-mail update list through a missed checkbox. I hate when that happens!)

    1. fredwilson

      I left a comment on your post Tami

      1. TamiMForman

        Thanks Fred — I just approved it!If I didn’t love my job at Return Path so much I’d definitely come work for you and be your email guardian!

  12. Dave Broadwin

    Thank you for this post. I have been on a similar mission but with less success, apparently. I do think I have reduced the amount of unwanted email appreciably. However, it seems that some psuedo spammers have alternate email addresses for me. By way of example, you can reach me with my initials at the firm, with my last name at the firm, with my first initial and last name etc. When unsubscribing, some of the sites seem to try to match the email that asks for unsubscription with their list. When it does not match, they do two things: they send requests for a correct matching email and they keep sending the psuedo spam. As a result, I have to keep sending them emails guessing which address they have on their list. Then there a whole bunch from whom I get an error message when unsubscribing. My cynical opinion is that this error message is just a ploy to avoid the requirement that they unsuscribe me. Best of luck on your mission.

  13. Dan

    You should be able to increase the level of spam filtering in Postini to catch more of the unwanted messages.

    1. fredwilson

      It is already catching too much good emailI can’t take any more false positives

  14. gbattle

    This is great advice. I’ve made unsubscribe a habit for a long time (I even created a shirt that says “UNSUBSCRIBE”). I’ve also been very careful to reduce my physical junk mail.Clutter sucks. Period.

  15. Cliff

    I apologize if this is a bit off point, but I am very curious about what strategies, tools and practices Fred and others use to effectively manage the hundreds of e-mails that are NOT spam. I’m a bit of a zero inbox nut, and have casually checked out e-mail clients and plugins to help with this, but none seem to be compatible with my style/approach/idiosyncrasies. Overall, the e-mail inbox challenge consumes a lot of time and energy and produces a lot of stress, and I feel like there must be a better way.

    1. fredwilson

      You are asking the wrong personI am drowning in email and its slowly killing meEmail will take five to ten years out of my life for sure

      1. karen_e

        We like you alive, Fred. Maybe you should accept your Oracle status and let a secretary do some of the email processing. I know, I know, I remember the post, you like to deal with your own email, but maybe it’s time to change your position.

        1. fredwilson

          What is living if you have someone else do your talking for you?

  16. Will Hambly

    Critics of CAN SPAM say the law doesn’t have teeth and actually encourages spamming by condoning spamming in the first place. The truth is that even if the FTC prosecutes very few CAN SPAM violations, many big emailers and SMB email marketing companies (Constant Contact, iContact, etc) are very cautious when it comes to spamming. “Unsubscribe” generally works because of this threat. Just a thought: In my opinion individual consumers should be able to bring cases again spammers and not leave this to the FTC, which doesn’t act on CAN SPAM very often. Thanks for the post Fred.

  17. J.D. Falk

    Sounds like you’re unsubscribing from messages that make it past your spam filters, right? Not the stuff the spam filters catch?As long as you’ve got good filters, that should be safe…most of the time…but watch out for malicious links, too.

    1. fredwilson

      Yes, exactly

  18. msondak

    Fred, Tried to take your advice on three separate newsletters that I could do without. All dropped me off on broken links.Bad for business. Note: these are real newsletters (not spammers).

  19. Ken Magill

    I once did an experiment where I signed up a Yahoo address for a bunch of lead-generation programs knowing the address would be sold all over the place and saughtered with commercial e-mail.Sure enough, the address got hammered. I then began to unsubscribe from everything. If I recall correctly, it took about 10 days to clean the address up. The occassional unsolicited message still arrives from some surprisingly well-known brands but all in all, the address’s inbox is pretty clean.

    1. fredwilson

      I love it. Great comment. Thanks!!

  20. Jay

    It’s good to know unsubscribe actually works. Spam filters are great, until you realize you are not getting emails you want. I talk with customers every day who aren’t getting info they need and want from us, in fact information they’ve requested, because we can’t get through their overly robust spam filter.

  21. Neil Capel

    Unsubscribing in most cases works, but the spammers do use the link to validate an email address. So the best thing to do is ask your self did you sign up for this email? If so then use the unsubscribe button. If you can’t remember then is it something that you might have signed up for, and does it look legit? Again use the unsub. Only use the spam button for real spam.People that use the spam button incorrectly are responsible for bad spam filters, GMail had the best spam filter for a long time because 90% of their user base were tech heads, people that unsubscribed from mailing lists they subscribed too and flagged spam as spam. (Plus some google magic I’m sure). While hotmail users use the spam button as an unsubscribe button – so if you are using the spam button to unsubscribe you can thank yourself for the spam your provider can’t filter correctly for you.All of our clients HAVE to have unsubscribe links in their emails (both campaign and welcome emails etc) and we have to maintain those lists for them, so that we can be sure they are adhered to properly – meaning everyone gets their emails correctly delivered.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks. This is great advice

  22. lisa

    Fed up, I decided to cut down my e-mail and unsubscribe to most of the stuff that came to my primary address. I created another address for stuff I was ambivalent about and changed those subscriptions. If I didn’t read it in a week I unsubscribed for good. Worked great. I have less e-mail, more time to think and still have access to the stuff I want occasionally. My blackberry is much less scary and efficient..

  23. Jay

    After reading this, I gave it a try. I’d say I also saw a 50% reduction, which is definitely better than nothing.

    1. fredwilson

      I am still at it and have seen noticeable improvements already

  24. teri knapp

    aren’t all unwanted messages suppose to have an unsubscribe on them.