Why are you leaving me? Learning from an unsubscribe exit survey

Face it - breaking up is hard to do. The worst moment of my unsuccessful teenage dating years was not the time that I spent dating a guy I met at a daggy school disco. It was a week later, when he called up to say it was all over.

“But why do you want to break up with me?” I sniffed. After a dubious pause, he responded, “Trust me, its not your fault.” Even as a daggy disco-going teenager, I knew there was more to it.

Sometimes the worst part is not knowing why it all went wrong. Thankfully, with your email subscribers, you can set up an optional exit interview to capture the reasons why they’re leaving after they unsubscribe. This is a neat way to turn an unfortunate situation into solid lessons for your future email sends. So, lets wipe away the tears and find out how we can improve our campaigns.

Why do people unsubscribe?

According to a 2009 Epsilon study on email usage trends*, the top reasons given for unsubscribing from a newsletter amongst worldwide respondents included:

  • Content was irrelevant - 64%
  • Received too frequently - 60%
  • Thought address was being shared/sold - 40%
  • Didn’t recall signing up - 33%
  • Privacy concerns - 33%

All these reasons are fairly self-explanatory. I’m sure a lot of us have signed up for a newsletter, then later realized that most of the content didn’t interest them, or given up on updates from an online store that insisted on promoting daily sales.

Moving on to creating our own exit survey, lets look at the reasons why folks would unsubscribe from our newsletters. As we encourage all our customers to do the right thing, we’ll focus on Content was irrelevant, Received too frequently and Didn’t recall signing up. We can also include an ‘other’ field as well.

Creating an exit survey

First of all, you need to find yourself a survey app. As we’re fond of the folks at Wufoo (as they integrate with us and are all-round nice people), we’ll use them in this example, however you can choose any software to do the job.

Lets mock up a short and sweet exit survey:

But really, I thought I was so perfect for him

Thanks to Wufoo’s field rules, you can create a text area that only appears if you select “I’ve got another reason”. Click to see this in action:

It was Clare, right? You were looking at her, weren't you?

Now your survey is complete, you can either embed it on your site, or leave it as a standalone page to link to. Either way, lets copy the URL of this survey and make it our unsubscribe confirmation page in Campaign Monitor:

I'm sorry I didn't know how to clean your car. I'd never cleaned a car before

Adding your exit survey as an unsubscribe confirmation page

Log into your Campaign Monitor account and on the ‘Lists & Subscribers’ tab, click on the subscriber list you want to apply this exit survey to. Then in ‘Unsubscribe settings’, add your exit survey’s URL to ‘Redirect unsubscribers to your own confirmation page’:

My parents don't let me out late, I know

Save your unsubscribe settings. Note that these unsubscribe settings apply to individual lists, not clients or campaigns.

Now, whenever someone on this list unsubscribes, they should see your exit survey. It should be totally optional to complete and hopefully, not too long, either!

What can I learn?

Once a few folks have unsubscribed, take a look at your results. They might provide an insight into how you can keep subscribers and maintain a more responsive list. Hopefully, you will be inspired to try something new (like autoresponders or A/B testing), send more segmented campaigns or even reconsider your newsletter content:

It's not you, it's me. BLATBLATBLATBLAT!

Later down the track, these results can be used as a starting point for further surveys with your active subscribers, to monitor whether tweaks to your campaign have resulted in less unsubscribes (or for different reasons), or to simply sate your curiosity. After all, if exit surveys existed during senior high, I wouldn’t be left wondering to this day.

* Epsilon, “Inside the Inbox: Trends for the Multichannel Marketer.” June, 2009. Download PDF
(accessed 18 August, 2010).

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

9 Comments

  • Wayde Christie
    19th October

    I never noticed that unsubscribe redirect, but this looks like a great way to use it. Thanks Ros!

  • Integrati Marketing Consulting
    19th October

    Excellent, this is a nice way to gain some insight where there would have been a disconnect one would hope that there is enough equity left in the relationship at this point for the ‘unsubscriber’ to complete the form.

    Simpler the better I guess!

    Thank you Ros.

    PS, sorry to hear about your break up, chocolate ice cream and cookie dough is in the fridge for you to help you get over the teenage trauma! ;)

  • Nickolas Simard
    20th October

    That’s a nice touch… and the thing I noticed was even better, was the fact that the email address had already been unsubscribe at the moment the user fill up the form.

    I utterly hate it when I HAVE to fill a form to unsubscribe… but if I’m not forced into it, I might as well fill it and let you know why I leave.

    Thanks for the wufoo usage example!

  • Torkil Johnsen
    20th October

    If you, like me, are using Google Analytics for your web statistics, it’s also easy to just set up an unsubscribe page with links instead of a form with radio buttons. Just add custom event-tracking with proper labels for each link, and your unsubscribe stats will start appearing in Google Analytics.

  • Mary
    20th October

    I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, but I also hate to lose the nice “Did you unsubscribe by accident? Click here to re-subscribe” link on the default unsubscribe page.

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    20th October

    Integrati - Thank you for your kind words, I’m getting there… *sniff*

    Torkil - Good call on this, too! Using analytics is certainly an option, but it means that your subscribers can’t add an extended response as to why they’re leaving.

    Mary - You can potentially add a link back to your newsletter subscribe form in the Wufoo survey. However, this means that anyone who has unsubscribed by accident will have to sign up again.

  • Oliver
    29th October

    I tried a similar approach on one of our sites with a text input for unsubscribers to add their comments. Whilst we don’t get a huge amount of unsubscribers, none of those that did unsubscribe completed the text input. I may however try with the preset options

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    29th October

    Oliver, I’d love to know how you go with checkboxes/radio buttons instead. It certainly will make the surveys much quicker to fill out.

  • Webmarketing
    30th October

    Our newsletters are B2B only. We started out with a polldaddy survey with 2 options only: I am changing job and Other (please specify). Every time a relevant option pops up from the “other” option we add it to the survey as a new option.

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