2024 is the Year of the One-click List-unsubscribe
2024 is already abuzz with new, mandated standards for bulk email senders from two of the largest mailbox providers (MBPs): Google and Yahoo. While we’ve written about the DMARC requirements a few times, senders will also need to adopt one-click list-unsubscribe headers for their messages to be delivered. You have until June to get this working at both Gmail and Yahoo. Let’s look at what you need to do, how, and why before you start to feel the heat.
What’s a One-click List-unsubscribe?
First, let’s start by acknowledging that there can be multiple ways to unsubscribe from a mailing list. We are going to focus today on the primary two methods which are:
- A link or button that is a part of the email message body/content
- List-unsubscribe message headers
Non-transactional messages have always needed an unsubscribe method in the body of the message to comply with CAN-SPAM legislation, and nothing is changing here. Marketers and senders should continue to include an unsubscribe mechanism in the body. How the unsubscribe process works for links and buttons isn’t changing, either. We highly recommend making the process as easy as possible while still using some means of user verification on the landing page. This may be some form of preference center that uses multiple clicks to complete.
The other primary method of subscription management is with list-unsubscribe headers. This has blossomed over the last decade, mostly because of changes to the user interfaces of popular mail clients like Gmail’s. We talked about these original changes nearly 10 years ago!
Using list-unsubscribe headers may not be anything new, but they have historically only been a “nice-to-have” message feature. This is because these headers were never part of any legislation like CAN-SPAM. Today, it’s more than a best practice. It’s the expectation at Google and Yahoo.
Not only is the inclusion of list-unsubscribe headers now a requirement, but a very specific “one-click” implementation is required. The exact specification is known as RFC8058 – Signaling One-Click Functionality for List Email Headers.
While you won’t see Google or Yahoo listed as an author to this RFC, they were key contributors to the idea and design, and both have shown a very strong interest in its adoption in the email ecosystem. The best part about RFC8058 is that this method also eliminates any bot-driven unsubscribe events by switching the underlying HTTP protocol event to the POST method.
Why is This Important Now?
There are multiple factors affecting the magnitude of this situation, and while some are less immediately important than others, they’re all worth discussion.
It Will Affect Deliverability
Yahoo will require this to be complete by June, though they stated they will also support a legacy list-unsubscribe mechanism using email (Mailto:) links in the header. Google will require RFC 8058 one-click list-unsubscribe support in headers by June 1, 2024. From that date on, non-compliance will result in your email not being delivered at Gmail.
There is an important exception to note: Bulk transactional mail streams are not required to offer a one-click list-unsubscribe, nor include an unsubscribe link in the message body.
While not a requirement, our general recommendation to customers is to offer a means for a user to stop a flow of messages regardless of its commercial intentions. Transactional mail streams are still required to keep complaints low and one great way to keep them low is to give users of misdirected transactional messages a way to stop the stream of mail.
You Won’t Be Ready if You Only Stick to Legal Standards
Yahoo and Google rules don’t align to legal requirements at all. American email laws are notoriously lax where Google and Yahoo won’t be. So, if you’re currently operating within the CAN-SPAM safe zone in which you honor unsubscribe requests within 10 days, you won’t be safe any longer.
If you want to reach Google and Yahoo inboxes, you need to honor them within 2 days. Yes, just two days. They’re sending a very important signal: This is not about the law; this is about the satisfaction of their users. Typically, that should be your guiding light, too, but lots of bulk senders use legality as their standard.
It’s a Better User Experience
Providing a good experience to email recipients has always been recommended by MBPs, and now it’s even clearer that they are prioritizing user experience over other factors. Through one-click unsubscribe, they are requiring you to make it easier for recipients to unsubscribe. Which is a good thing for everyone: happier recipients mean more positive engagement and an overall boost in your sender reputation. And an easier way to unsubscribe means it’s less likely recipients will mark emails as spam, which is great for deliverability.
Here’s how this concept works: With one-click list-unsubscribe, the little blue option to unsubscribe shows up directly within a recipient’s mailbox experience. The recipient no longer needs to open an email and scroll to the bottom to unsubscribe. Less effort is always appreciated.
You also get another simple prompt if you do choose to click into the email. There it is, right next to the sender info.
Google is also aggressively offering the one-click list-unsubscribe in replacement of other actions. Users that click spam will be offered the unsubscribe instead. We’ve seen reports of this being suggested to users who repetitively delete mail without reading it or who never engaged with a stream of mail.
There’s one more major point to make about your email and how users react to it: If they don’t want your email, you are sending them spam.
That’s just the definition. Making it harder to unsubscribe can further aggravate them. Because they don’t want your email, you ARE technically spam, so why give them more reason to be annoyed with you?
Even though it is a sign they don’t want your mail, it is also a sign they trust your brand enough to unsubscribe rather than treat you as spam, which is typically seen as more malicious or bad faith in nature.
How Do I Implement One-click List-unsubscribe?
If you’re looking to only align with Google and Yahoo requirements, you need to have two specific headers, list-unsubscribe and list-unsubscribe-post, in your messages. You also need to support handling of the resulting link clicks and direct HTTP Post requests. Luckily for senders, this is going to be handled by most ESPs. However, if you are unsure about this, don’t hesitate to ask your ESP about their support on this topic.
It is critical to note Google offering an unsubscribe button next to your From: address is not a guarantee you’ve got full support, and lacking this button does not mean the presence of these headers is lacking. We’ve seen Google offering the unsubscribe button only in trusted situations, which makes testing these headers difficult. We’ve also seen Google use some AI magic to surface and unsubscribe links from the message body or from the organization’s website.
On our end for our customers, SocketLabs is actively consulting with ESPs delivering mail through our platform to ensure compliance. We are also offering the insertion of the required headers and support of processing the post requests to any users of our service. We can enable this with just a few clicks within our platform.
We will not automatically turn this on for all customers as offering an unsubscribe method is a choice for transactional senders. If you’re a SocketLabs customer, we recommend you work with our CSMs and support team to ensure compliance.
Won’t One-click List-unsubscribe Hurt My Email Program?
We get it. Making it very easy to unsubscribe to your email sounds like a dangerous game to play. But truth be told, it’s pretty easy to one-click spam complain. Since the requirements only stipulate using the one-click list-unsubscribe headers, you can still use the body of the email to send people to a preference center or similar.
In fact, since Google and Yahoo aren’t giving you a choice, NOT having a one-click list-unsubscribe will hurt your email program. There’s even some speculation spam complaints could become more important to MBPs as they improve their anti-spam algorithms, so you should consider looking for ways to minimize complaints rather than unsubscribes.
It Really Won’t if You’re a Good Sender
Truth time: If you’re a good sender using best practices and listening to your recipients’ engagement indicators, one-click list-unsubscribes shouldn’t worry you. Unsubscribes are simply another form of information you can use to get even better.
First, they’re not as harmful as a complaint. Second, they are great ways to learn about what is working and not working in your email practice.
We have found customers already using the one-click list-unsubscribe headers do see small increases in the rate users unsubscribe. However, we strongly believe this will lead to significantly healthier audiences, increasing both brand email revenue and positive user sentiment.
That said, if you notice a bump in unsubscribes that levels off the next time around, maybe the subject line or preheader text of the lower performing email wasn’t your best work. Perhaps you notice very rapid sign-up and unsubscribe patterns, which could indicate you should look at your address collection process. Maybe you get a lot of unsubscribes after your fifth email of the week. Frequency issue? Could be!
Your recipients won’t unsubscribe unless they want to, and if they want to, they’ll unsubscribe however they need to. A one-click list-unsubscribe in the header isn’t an invitation. Instead, it’s a way to respect their preferences and their experience with your brand.
The Time is Now
You can’t get around it: The one-click list-unsubscribe is here to stay. Since it’s going to be required by June 1 at the very latest, the time is now to get yourself situated and ready.
Besides, this shouldn’t JUST be compliance with a requirement. It’s good email practice without a ton of work to implement. Stay ready so you never have to GET ready!
Do you have questions about this one-click list-unsubscribe requirement or any of the others outlined by Google and Yahoo? We have roundtable discussions where you can ask your questions, or if you’re a current SocketLabs sender, join our next Office Hours call. We’re here to help any way we can.