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There are several approaches I see out there when it comes to email/notification/messaging preferences. My question is what approaches and features are most useful?

  • Specify preference as to the type of Email they want to recieve (Promotional Emails, New Feature announcement, weekly digest, user invitations, etc..) My organization we have 11 different categories of emails that we send out.
  • The frequency of receiving Emails (How often do you want to receive an email? (ex. Get one email with the best information every 30 days...)
  • Delivery Type (Get it as an SMS message, Push notification, FB Messenger Message, Email, etc.)
  • Unsubscribe All (the surefire method of getting rid of all communication)

The most difficult is with the features what is the level of granularity? The simple approach of one setting that applies to all the types, or do we allow a frequency and delivery method preference on each type? That's when it starts to get messy. Are there any studies done on this?

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    I'm not sure that there's a single right answer to this. Sure, some users would appreciate that level of control, while others might be overwhelmed and simply turn them all off. Do you have access to your user group? Is a survey or some user testing an option for you to gather data on this? It seems that might be the most effective way to determine what features your users want. – maxathousand May 14 '18 at 20:56
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I'm not sure of your specific situation, but keep in mind that for most commercial email in the U.S., you MUST offer an Unsubscribe All type of option to be legally compliant with the CAN-SPAM act (see FTC CAN-SPAM Compliance).

That said, it is usually to your benefit to offer options other than a complete opt-out. Allowing people to choose the topics that best fit their interests benefits both parties. Keep in mind that too many options may be a bit overwhelming, though-- so if you have 11 categories, you may want to group together some of those.

Keep in mind that with email scheduling logistics, it can quickly get complicated if you try to offer both category and frequency options, so it's typically better to pick one. That depends on your infrastructure, but you also want to keep things simple for the user (especially so as to avoid tempting them to reach for the Unsubscribe All option because there are too many choices).

As far as I know, there are no real downsides (from a UX perspective) to offering Delivery Type choices, and that's a great option when possible.

Here are some related considerations you might want to review as you design for email settings/opt-out: OTA Best Practices.

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I can offer advice based on experience here. In my opinion the best-in-class treatment is Facebook's system of opt-outs:

  • Your "opt out of all emails" setting should actually read something like "Only send me mandatory service announcements". This is because there may be situations in the future where you may be obliged to reach out to the user (e.g. to notify them of an update to your terms of service or provide some kind of legally required notice). So you probably don't want to provide a "never email me again" setting because you may not be able to hold that promise.

  • When it comes to settings, there are three key flows to consider:

    • Opting out of a specific category. This is typically prompted by a specific email. Therefore you should make it easy for the user to unsubscribe from the specific category of email that they just opened by clicking on a link in the footer of the email. You do not need to directly present other email options in this flow, nor should you in my opinion, because that makes the opt out flow more complicated. (You want this flow to be very optimized towards high "successful" opt out completion -- if you make it too hard after they click unsubscribe, it is typically easier for them to mark your email as spam and move on, which makes it more likely that your email to other users will be marked as spam in the future.)

    • Opting out of all emails. This is typically a page in account settings, which you can link to from opt-out links, and which allows the user to "Only receive mandatory service announcements" (which should be a master switch disabling other controls on the page)

    • Opting back into some emails after opting out. This is a relatively rare case, but at some point you probably want to provide it so that if someone made a mistake and wants to change their mind, they can do it. To do this, you can implement the ability to opt back into an email type on the same "email settings" page that the overall opt out setting is located.

Importantly, if you follow the above then you don't ever need to show the user a full menu of all the opt out settings that they could potentially opt out of. You only need to show the ones that they've already opted out of, and to make sure that they can opt out of a category from email footer links.

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