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Australia’s new email legislation and why it is actually a good thing for businesses

If you’re a marketer or a business sending email communications to your database, then it’s critical you have a simple ‘unsubscribe’ function. While this may have been a bit of a grey area before, it’s been made very clear in the recently amended Spam Regulations 2021 Act, which was updated on 1 April 2021.

The amendments state that businesses can’t request that subscribers provide personal information or force them to log into or create an account when they want to unsubscribe from a mailing list. Instead, when someone wants to unsubscribe – it must be a simple and straightforward process.

The aim of the new law is to provide greater clarity for businesses and consumers and is a result of customers complaining in large numbers that businesses have been making it more difficult to unsubscribe from unwanted emails. Globally, a whopping 300 billion emails were sent and received every day in 2020 alone, so it’s easy to understand why receiving countless irrelevant emails is a pain point for some people.

The updated regulations aren’t to be taken lightly, with businesses found to not be complying facing substantial financial penalties – upwards of six figures based on recent cautionary tales.

While some senders may see these new laws as another hurdle to overcome in the already crowded world of email marketing, adhering to strict email regulations promotes best-practice performance and outcomes. So, let’s take a look at what Australia’s new email legislation entails and how to ensure your business is not only compliant but best-in-class.

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First, let’s address the elephant in the room

A lot of people think that if unsubscribing is easier to do, more subscribers will do it. And while this may be correct, if a customer has already made up their mind to leave your program, then it’s in your best interests to let them. An unsubscribe has no impact on your sender reputation, whereas a complaint does carry a negative impact, therefore it’s preferable for a disengaged customer to unsubscribe before they reach boiling point.

Furthermore, despite many people believing otherwise, adhering to stricter email rules does not mean sacrificing performance. In fact, there’s a huge amount of research that shows implementing stricter email practices results in greater trust and engagement with customers.

Interestingly, when Gmail first introduced the unsubscribe button at the top of subscribers’ inboxes, unsubscribe rates actually decreased. Also, in 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented in Europe and enforced a simplification of the unsubscribe process. Prior to this, recipients used to cite a spam complaint as their preferred method for leaving the program (which harmful to senders), but now the unsubscribe link is three times more popular.

So, why do people unsubscribe?

According to Validity’s Consumer Email Tracker 2021 report, the main reason given by customers for unsubscribing is too many emails (56%), followed by the information or brand no longer being relevant to them (38%). Around a third of consumers also cite a lack of recognition of the brand or emails they’re receiving (both 34%).

Thankfully, these are all issues that can be addressed by senders and can also provide valuable insights into what their customers want from them. For example, the issue of not remembering signing up or being unable to cite the brand should prompt senders to find new ways to reassure and reinforce how or why the customer signed up to your emails in the first place. Even something as simple as, “you are receiving this email because you opted-in after making a purchase from on this the 5th of April”.

It’s also important to consider tactics to mitigate the reasons for customers unsubscribing in the first place. For example, implement a preference centre where customers can control the frequency and types of emails they receive. This significantly decreases the likelihood of them unsubscribing as they then have a level of control over what they’re receiving and can adjust their preferences as needed.

Think of unsubscribers as a focus group providing insight into how your email program is faring and how you can address potential flaws in the program. You will likely see your unsubscribe rate decrease moving forward simply by making a few informed changes.

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How do I ensure my unsubscribe process adheres to new laws?   

Use a true one-click process.

By clicking on an opt-out link, customers should instantly be unsubscribed from a company’s email list. Don’t make customers jump through any more hoops to reach the conclusion of the process. And don’t send a follow up email.

Provide a global opt-out.

If you operate multiple message streams or email lists, it’s important to provide a global opt-out – this will give customers the option to be removed from all lists associated with your company at the click of a single button.

Make the unsubscribe link obvious.

Don’t try and hide the unsubscribe button. Position it right at the top of the email to make it easy for people to find. In addition, make the link look more prominent by making the font a decent size, and bolding it or making it a different colour that stands out. You should also add a list-unsubscribe header for reinforced effectiveness.

Sign up to feedback loops.

A feedback loop (FBL) reports back on complaints lodged, helping senders to suppress complaints and keep a clean list. FBLSs mean senders can acknowledge complainers, and quickly suppress them in the same way they do for unsubscribe requests.

Avoid truncation.

Some email providers, namely Yahoo and Google, clip emails that are larger than 102KB, and hide the remaining content behind a ‘view entire message’ link. Because of this, it’s common that unsubscribe links aren’t actually seen by receivers – another good reason to put the unsubscribe link at the top of your email. You can avoid truncation by simply reducing the size and length of your email.  

Review the preference centre.

If there is a survey re-direct after the customer unsubscribes, make sure the opt-out request is already applied. The process should allow subscribers to update preferences as a way of opting back in, and failure to do somay elicit future complaints.

With email programmes under greater scrutiny than ever before, senders would do well to critically review their programmes to ensure they adhere to the Spam Regulations 2021 Act and model best practices. Businesses that take a proactive approach will be able to innovate more quickly and establish greater loyalty with their subscriber base — benefits that will endure well into the future.

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Guy Hanson

Guy Hanson

Guy Hanson, email marketing expert and VP Customer Engagement at customer data-focused organisation Validity. Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive sales and marketing programs. With a knowledge base spanning twenty years, he is globally recognised as an email and data expert and thought leader.

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