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I am creating a notification service in my web app that will allow people to be notified when certain types of postings are published according to their tastes.

They will be able to sign up for separate notifications, multiple times.

Is it better to force them to register an account so that they can manage their notifications, or is better to allow them to simply give us their email, and then include a "Manage this notification" type of link in their emails that they receive?

I am worried about putting a barrier in front of people who want the notifications, but I also don't want complaints later about being able to delete them.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You can't compete with the unmatched simplicity of an "Unsubscribe" link in the footer of each e-mail. Don't try to.

Having to log in just to unsubscribe is almost always a huge pain in the ass. To be fair, it's partially my fault (I don't remember what site this is, I forgot my password, I'm too lazy to log in, etc.), but also, most sites make you jump through a downright byzantine series of hoops just to stop getting e-mail. People who are trying to unsubscribe probably aren't too fond of you, so you don't want to make them angrier.

Here's what I'd do:

  1. A 1-click "unsubscribe" link in the footer of each e-mail.
  2. Clicking that link immediately unsubscribes you from that list. It then shows a form listing all the other notifications that you're sending to that address, with links to unsubscribe (as well as a prominent "Unsubscribe from all" button).
  3. Once the user creates an account and confirms their e-mail address, you can let them access this form from within the webapp. Since they've confirmed their e-mail, you can safely give them control.

That way, you can also let users create notifications without having an account, knowing that removal is equally easy.

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Phillip, I think I agree with this the most. It lets them sign up FAST, and get more involved if they want - but not necessary. –  johnnietheblack May 18 '11 at 20:08
    
Exactly. E-mail is one of those things where it's best to be easy-in and easy-out. :) –  Phil Cohen May 18 '11 at 20:09
    
And don't make the email 'unsubscribe' link microscopic –  PhillipW May 19 '11 at 9:00

Don't build this yourself.

You can get the best of both worlds by combining MailChimp with a webservice for sending mass programmatically-generated emails.

If you intend to manually, regularly send people stuff, use a newsletter campaign service like MailChimp. They'll take care of your desired features for you. You can create a new "list" (eg. people you want to email) and then place a signup form for that list in your page. When people enter their email address, they'll be signed up via a confirmation flow using MailChimp (where they receive an email and need to confirm their signup, etc). MailChimp will also handle ending their subscription when they want to, and you'll have a centralised, manageable list of people who have signed up, including analytics and personal details when/if you want.

And then you just go use MailChimp to send campaigns, with all the features there that you want like guarantees that emails arrive, blacklist filtering, etc.

Having said that, MailChimp isn't ideal for automated, programmatically sent emails as it's really intended for newsletter campaigns. You could use the MailChimp API, but that might be a lot of work. So what I recommend you do is use MailChimp for list management (signups, subscriptions, etc) and a web service like Postmark or Elastic Email for actually sending emails to people. These guys charge you a fraction of a cent per email sent, and you connect to them using an API. Then you just tell them who you want to send an email to and they handle all the underlying technical stuff to make sure your email actually arrives, according to the rules, using the correct DKIM settings, etc.

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1  
There are several well established Email Service Providers out there, MailChimp being just one. To consider going this route it is necessary to look at all the players out there to see what strengths and weaknesses each has. iContact is a major player, as are Constant Contact and Bronto. –  gef05 May 18 '11 at 19:42
    
Hence "newsletter campaign service like MailChimp" :) But yes, definitely do your homework. Although I called out MailChimp because I prefer them myself. –  Rahul May 18 '11 at 19:59

Why not set up the notification-management page the first time they give you an email address, and then include both the specific link (cancel this notification) and the general one (manage all notifications) in the email? Does the user need to take an explicit registration step, or can you do it for him?

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Monica, good point...upon giving us their email, we can generate a management page. The question is whether to password protect it, etc (like a real account). Our site has "normal" password protected accounts. –  johnnietheblack May 18 '11 at 19:26

A clear easy to identify 'manage this notification' may be a easier experience.

There is a barrier to entry with registration, but as you expressed many users may prefer managing their notifications through an account.

Alternatively, you could give them a choice on what approach they prefer, so that they can either upfront choose to register & manage notifications through the account, or manage notifications through specific email instances. That way they have a choice?

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Great idea on giving them a choice! It may not work specifically for me in this instance, because I don't have a lot of room - but if you could easily describe the difference to the user, then that might work. –  johnnietheblack May 18 '11 at 19:27

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