Preventing Unsubscribes in Forwarded Emails

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Guest blogger Jonathan Kim discusses the concept of the Silent Unsubscribe and how you can prevent your most engaged subscribers from disappearing from your list.

You have an amazing newsletter and fanatic subscriber base, but did you know it’s at risk? ESPs do a good job of making unsubscribing from emails super easy, often with one-click. But what if that link falls into the wrong hands? Someone could accidentally end your relationship with a passionate reader, a concept we call a silent unsubscribe.

The Litmus team discovered these silent unsubscribers when they noticed a long-time fan removed himself from the Litmus newsletter after sharing an email with 85 of his coworkers. That’s right: this die-hard subscriber opened Litmus’ email, shared it with 85 people, then unsubscribed — never to receive Litmus emails ever again. That just didn’t add up. After some digging, it turns out that one of the people who received the forwarded email thought it was spam and clicked the unsubscribe link. Accidentally losing a super-engaged subscriber — someone that would share an email with 85 other people — well, it’s an email marketer’s worst nightmare.


In November, I wrote about a technique to change the contents of a forwarded email, an idea I got after analyzing Litmus’ Email Analytics tracking code. At the time, we were using it as a way to bring in more subscribers at HubSpot, but it can also be used to prevent silent unsubscribes. In fact, it should probably be used to do both! Here’s an example:

The unsubscribe link is visible in the original email. After the email is forwarded, the unsubscribe link is hidden and a new “subscribe” call-to-action appears


This technique should be standard practice for every email marketer. It decreases the silent unsubscribe rate, has decent client support and degrades gracefully for clients like Gmail. To use it, use the following <style> block in your next email, and add the class original-only to anything you want to hide from silent unsubscribers.

Basic Method: Hiding the link in forwarded emails

<style type="text/css">
blockquote .original-only, .WordSection1 .original-only {
display: none !important;
<p class="original-only">
No longer wish to receive this email? <a href="">Unsubscribe.</a>

Advanced Method: Hiding the link + introducing a sign-up button
<style type="text/css">
blockquote .original-only, .WordSection1 .original-only {
display: none !important;
}blockquote .forwarded-only, .WordSection1 .forwarded-only {
display: block !important;
</style><p class="original-only">
No longer wish to receive this email? <a href="">Unsubscribe.</a>
</p><p style="display: none">
Want to get this email? <a href="">Subscribe today.</a>


From some light research, it looks like all the major Email Service Providers support one-click unsubscribe links, but it’s often not the only option they support. Unless you’ve been sending out email from your own custom server, odds are you’ve already been affected by silent unsubscibes.


Unfortunately, this technique doesn’t fully work in Gmail since display: none isn’t supported, and inlining display: none !important can’t be overriden later. If a majority of your email base uses Gmail, consider using only the basic method above. While this won’t hide the unsubscribe link in Gmail, it will still work in other clients.


The aforementioned solutions are some of the simplest techniques and are for emails that contain one-click unsubscribe links. If you want to take this even further, here are a couple of other suggestions:

  • Require confirmation instead of one-click unsubscribe
  • Try making the email address that will be unsubscribed VERY clear on subsequent pages after the link is clicked

About the Author: Jonathan Kim’s 9-5 is making customers happy as a frontend engineer. He geeks out about email, software and business on his blog. Impatient about improvement.

Editor’s note: While we definitely advocate the use of innovative techniques in email marketing, we also encourage you to use common sense and your best judgement when implementing HTML that can hide an unsubscribe link. Making sure you’re familiar with your country’s email marketing, spam and privacy laws is a good place to start!