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By Melissa Campanelli

RISMEDIA, Dec. 26, 2007-A full 96% of e-mail marketing professionals include an unsubscribe function in their promotional e-mails, in compliance with the Can Spam Act and with e-mail marketing best practices. However, most marketers leave customer retention opportunities on the table during the unsubscribe process by not offering recipients alternative forms of communication or gathering valuable exit information.

These are the key findings of a new national survey conducted in the fall of 2007 by E-mailLabs, the hosted e-mail marketing application from Lyris Inc.. More than 400 e-mail marketers were asked about the unsubscribe policies they implemented throughout the year.

The report also found that many use methods to discourage users from unsubscribing, such as putting unsubscribe language in a tiny font or hiding it altogether. In fact, only 29% said they don’t use such tactics.

However, according to the report, more than 80% of e-mail marketers said they make the unsubscribe process easy – recipients either click a URL for instant removal (53%) or reply directly to the e-mail itself with “unsubscribe” in the subject line (29%). More than 90% allow subscribers to opt out through other channels such as call centers, postal mail and e-mail.

While spam only requires the unsubscribe function in commercial messages, best practices recommendations go beyond that to say it should be included in all e-mail communications. Nearly two-thirds of marketers (63%) said they include an unsubscribe option in welcome e-mails; 45% include it in customer service messages; and 31% include it in transactional e-mails.

The report said there are several potential points of contact throughout the unsubscribe process that give marketers a chance to offer communication alternatives – possibly keeping them as customers – or to gather exit feedback. But many are missing those opportunities.

Profile pages, for example, where e-mail subscribers manage their accounts, could be useful channels of communication. But only 25% of survey respondents said their unsubscribe process includes a link to the profile page without requiring a password. Another 17% link to the profile but do require a password – adding a few steps to the unsubscribe process, especially for those who’ve forgotten their passwords.

When asked what appears on their unsubscribe confirmation landing pages, just 18% said they include a goodbye message, only 6% provide a customer service phone number, 5% ask unsubscribers why they’re leaving, 5% provide a simple feedback form, and just 4% remind customers about other messaging channels.

Melissa Campanelli is Editor-in-Chief of eM+C.