Is an Unsubscribe Link Required?

A reader contacted me the other day, showing me an email message he had received from his bank.  They had sent him a transactional message, and he took umbrage at the fact that the message did not have a way to unsubscribe from future messages. He contacted the bank, and the bank brushed him off, saying an unsubscribe link was not required.

I pointed out that, if I recall correctly, the bank is correct. Under US law, transactional messages are not required to contain an unsubscribe link. But, to make sure I'm not crazy, I reached out to my good friend Mickey Chandler (of Spamtacular fame and deliverability consultant extraordinare), to make sure I wasn't off base.

Here's what Mickey had to say. "The strict answer, according to CAN-SPAM, is: the law doesn't care.  As a general rule, CAN-SPAM only covers marketing messages.  In fact, it goes as far as to exempt transactional messages from the law almost entirely (15 USC 7702(2)(B)), although they still can't falsify header information (15 USC 7704(a)(1)).  So, the sections within CAN-SPAM which mandate the existence of a means to opt-out (15 USC 7704(a)(3)) and that requests to be removed be honored (15 USC 7704(a)(4)) don't apply at all."

Mickey went on to point out that regardless, it might not be a bad idea to have an unsubscribe link in your email message anyway. I would agree that letting somebody unsubscribe or update their profile settings is probably the most consumer-friendly path you can take. But if the question really is, is an unsubscribe link REQUIRED when the message is transactional, the answer is: No, it is not required.

What constitutes a transactional message? The FTC explains here.

Mickey also recently posted about a scenario wherein a message might have been previously considered transactional, but no longer is. Worth a read.

Incidentally, if you're looking for a top notch deliverability/ISP relations/best practices/compliance guru, why not think about hiring Mickey Chandler? He's moving on from his current employer, and I'm sure he'd love to hear from you, if you have an opportunity that might be suited to his skill set. For more information, check out his LinkedIn profile.


  1. I was the one with the umbrage. And as a funny side note, my bank got listed on Spamcop and the CBL this week. They rectified the problem quickly and have been delisted. I swear that I had nothing to do with it. But I did find it humorous.

  2. Here's something I haven't been able to find. In a non-transactional message, is it necessary to have a link that will directly unsubscribe you, or is a link to your account - which you will have to log on to with a password, and then unsubscribe - sufficient?

  3. So, a commercial message must offer up an internet-based mechanism to unsubscribe. That mechanism CANNOT be behind a login screen. The law says the only two things you have to provide to unsubscribe: 1. Your email address, and 2. Your email preferences. So you can send them to a page where they can unsub or not, or choose what lists to be on, but you can't hide that page behind a login. You can have a link to a login and more options if you want. But it can't be required to unsubscribe.

  4. I get a tone of spam in my email. When I go to my SPAM folder, and hit the section or link for "unsubscribe" on an individual email, usually there is a new window created to my INBOX. What just happened? Did my unsubscribe message go through, or not? It appears to me that many advertisers have a fake UNSUBSCRIBE link. How can a person report this malfeasance without spending much time, or wasting their time?


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