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Does unsubscribing work?

For longer than I can remember, I’ve been asked the question – does unsubscribing actually do anything?

It’s a good question. Over the years, my answer has evolved a bit. Back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, I was very cynical about your prospect of actually being removed from an email list by unsubscribing. In fact, I would often suggest, you might end up getting added to more lists because the spammers now knew your email address was valid.

More recently, though, I’m more optimistic. While I know there are still shady mass email services out there, I’m also pleased to see a lot of mass email services that are very legitimate and trustworthy.

So I decided to do a little experiment. For the one month, I didn’t unsubscribe from any unsolicited emails. I stored them all in a folder. Then, once the month was out, I unsubscribed from all of them, with a few caveats. First, some of them simply did not include any method of unsubscribing. Second, I didn’t unsubscribe by “replying” to their email – only by clicking an Unsubscribe or Opt-out link. The blue line represents the number of spam emails on a given day, and the orange line indicates how many of them I unsubscribed.

A few notes and insights:

1 These only represent the spam emails that get through to my inbox, which isn’t easy. We use an anti-spam service, which gets rid of all emails that are obviously spam. I also have a lot of filtering rules that narrowed the field down even further.

2 Note the drastic dip in emails on the weekend. This is indicative of the fact that most of the unsolicited email I get is business-related, and so it goes out M-F.

So the real question will be – did my mass-unsubscribing do any good? Will I see a decrease in unsolicited email? I’ll answer that next month. For the next month, I’ll be unsubscribing as the emails come in and saving the results – we’ll see if the next graph shows a steady downward trend. Cross your fingers for me.

Kalvin Kingsley, KK BOLD Vice President of IT