You lost – badly. Game over, man.

Despite your best efforts, and countless hours spent arguing over subject lines, call-to-action placement, and list targeting criteria, your subscriber has rolled their eyes upon receiving your carefully-crafted message, and clicked on – *gasp*the unsubscribe link. Oh well. These things happen, I suppose.

But wait! Catching your precious subscriber with one foot out the door isn’t the same as permanently bidding them arriverderci. Handled correctly, your unsubscribe page can actually snatch a loyal subscriber from the jaws of…whatever the opposite of that is. As luck would have it, we’ve compiled a list of best practices to show you how:

1. Give my people (profile) options!

For many subscribers, the choice to unsubscribe is forced upon them due to a lack of granular options that accurately reflect their desired subscription status. They may have changed their primary email address, or the circumstances under which they subscribed may no longer apply. By allowing your subscribers to adjust and refine their subscriber profile, you avoid forcing them to opt out. Typical options that resonate well with subscribers include:

2. Find out why

Always ask your unsubscribers why they’re leaving – you’ll need this information in order to make your content better. Oh, and don’t just route these responses to your nearest “[email protected]” catchall address – closely monitor the replies you receive for significant trends or red flags that are causing your subscribers to bail. If your email service provider doesn’t offer this feature, consider using KISSInsights’ excellent little survey tool to give your subscribers a chance to voice their concerns.

Groupon's inventive unsubscribe page leaves their unsubscribers with a smile

3. Part on good terms

Don’t make unsubscribing an overly complicated process, or skimp on the UX of the page just because it seems your subscriber no longer wants to hear from you. Partly, this is just good manners; also, if you attempt to prevent subscribers from leaving through the front door, they’ll do the equivalent of blowing a gaping hole in the wall instead – hitting the spam button and possibly harming your deliverability to those subscribers you do have left. Be a gracious host, and leave the door open for them to leave and return as they please. Groupon takes this idea and runs with it – completing the unsubscribe process shows the ramifications of your decision for one unfortunate Groupon employee. You heartless monster. Luckily, they immediately allow you to undo your horrible mistake by resubscribing – how thoughtful!

4. Set expectations

If your setup takes some time to process unsubscribe requests (CAN-SPAM allows up to 10 business days), be sure to set this expectation with your unsubscribers – the last thing you want is for them to think you’re wilfully ignoring their request if they happen to receive an automated drip email message from you the next day.

5. Brand it

Eliminate the confusion generated by a sparse, unfriendly and unbranded page, and make it clear that visitors are in the right place. Most email service providers allow you to put your logo on these pages. So do yourself a favor and take the 15 minutes necessary to make it your own.

TellTale Games uses a simple, but amusing text message to inject some humor and soul into their unsub page

6. Let them know you’re a person, not a machine

Most users will have no problem saying goodbye to an automated mailing list that sends weekly emails to them. However, if you let them know you’re a human that they’re saying bye to, they might actually be less swift in hitting that “unsubscribe now” button. Try throwing in a small heartfelt letter or polite, human-sounding message that lets them know that your team will miss the relationship they had with the unsubscriber, much like TellTale Games’ amusing, yet simple approach.

7. Don’t use the one-click unsubscribe

Simply put, it’s just too easy for your users to accidentally click and inadvertently unsubscribe, costing you a valid customer you worked hard to acquire. Make sure you truly understand their intent, before honoring it.

8. Pre-populate their info

Given that you know their email address, you should be able to pull in all of their other profile info in order to expedite the unsubscribe process. Again, it’s a politeness thing – don’t force your subscriber to work in order to leave your list.

Charity Water uses the promise of entertainment to make a pact with their subscribers not to leave

9. Don’t give up

You can always win them back. A little creativity in an area typically devoid of it can go a long way – just look at the numerous examples of great 404 error pages out there, and the amount of attention they get. Here’s a great example of a creative unsubscribe page from Charity:Water. They simply make a gentleman’s agreement with the user – if we entertain you even momentarily, will you reconsider leaving? It’s a wonderful human touch, and very effective.

10. If not this, then that

The modern web offers dozens of ways to push updates out to your audience – so why cut them off if they don’t subscribe to your email? On the way out, why not offer up other ways to keep in touch? RSS, Facebook, Twitter… it’s all out there, waiting to be taken advantage of. Just because a user doesn’t want email from you, doesn’t mean they want it replaced with silence.

What do you think? Are there some best practices we’re missing? Let us know in the comments!