Four email preference center best practices

  • Posted: 22nd July 2019

The importance of information security and data protection for the marketing profession – and marketing automation in particular – was again brought to light with the one-year anniversary of GDPR. In this blog, we take a look at how to build customer loyalty and trust with the data from an email preference center – and outline key email preference center best practices.

Preference centers for the data conscious customer

One of the biggest challenges has been to transform the requirements of this wide-ranging piece of international legislation into compliant and sustainable marketing tactics. And while GDPR has made marketers more sensitive to the needs and preferences of their target audience, there’s no doubt that compliance has tipped the scales in favor of prospects and customers.

Email preference centers, however, have been designed to offer a win-win for both camps – customers can choose email frequency and content topics that better suit their preferences (or completely unsubscribe if they wish), while marketers get to send better and more targeted communications.

Yet many marketers are of the opinion that only a small fraction of email subscribers use these preference centers and are therefore not worth the time and cost of implementation and maintenance. But used wisely, a customer preference center can be one of the best tools available for improving long-term relationships with prospects and customers alike.

Engagement, retention and monetization don’t come from using strong-arm tactics with outreach marketing. Rather, they come from reaching your customers in ways that speak to them. A preference center does exactly that: it allows customers to decide for themselves how they want your brand to communicate with them.

So, if you’re a marketer, use these four best practices to get the most out of your email preference center.

Establish your objectives 

Preference options must help customers manage their shopping experiences more effectively before they begin browsing, clicking, downloading and buying. To help them do that, you need to decide which data you require, and which you don’t. For example, you can probably get more people into your database faster if you’re just asking for an email address, but then you’ll most likely sacrifice richness for agility.

Customer profile data tends to be some of the most accessible data for marketers and can create immediate impact if used correctly. Progressive profiling, which uses a short form that captures many fields of data while minimizing the threat of process abandonment, is likely to be more effective. But that doesn’t mean collecting needless information. If you’re a fashion retailer, for example, it’s good to know the preferred brand names, colors and anything else that might help you create intelligent, personalized content.

These data needs will, of course, progress over time, and will be dictated by legal requirements as well as commercial factors. To meet both, constantly review these forms and remove any fields that have become obsolete.

Provide options 

One of the best uses of an email preference center is to gain a better understanding of the type of products and services that users are interested in. The easier you can make it for them to convey their preferences, the stronger your database will be.

While it may be tempting to make every field compulsory in the hope that you’ll get as many prospects and customers to part with as much information as possible, chances are they’ll simply turn away. Form completion has a better success rate when the user is presented with optional fields. Not everyone is equally keen to share their phone number with you. Making some form fields optional will ensure you embrace both willing and reluctant prospects.

Providing more options is the most user-friendly way to run your email preference center, but that doesn’t mean you’re simply making it easier for people to opt out of providing information. If you don’t give them any options besides opting out, they might think unsubscribing is the only step they can take if they want to update their email address or change preferences.

So rather add alternatives to unsubscribing: if they want to receive fewer or different emails, for example, allow them to stay opted into everything else. Also provide options for other preferences, such as changing an email address.

Consider intent 

Create different experiences based on the subscriber’s intent and the link they click, such as ‘Unsubscribe’ versus ‘Update email address and preferences’. For instance, if a user clicks ‘Change Email Address’ when they open your message, they should be taken to a screen that allows them to do so with minimum fuss. The same applies if they want to unsubscribe.

Aim to create a clear link between what a subscriber intends and what a subscriber does. If they want to change the frequency of communications, they should be able to do so without spending more than a minute on it.

Make it responsive 

Finally, responsive web design that enables your email preference center to render well on a variety of devices and formats is the new way forward. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular, and the desktop and mobile experience should both feel intuitive and easy. If it isn’t currently optimized, work with website and email design teams to get it up to speed.

With responsive design you can make sure users see fewer form fields when engaging on a smaller screen – without degrading the desktop experience. A social signup is an extremely powerful tool that makes it quicker and easier for mobile users to opt-in to emails. Remember to assure people that their social data is secured and explain what information you need, and why.

GDPR is no longer a looming threat. As an entrenched regulation it may have imposed certain restrictions yes, but it has also clarified how marketers should conduct their day-to-day operations. In that respect, it’s been less a punishment than a wake-up call. Now is the chance to engage properly with your online customers and prospects – and your email preference center is the perfect place to start.

Looking for marketing technology services? Celerity is a certified partner of Adobe Marketing Cloud including Adobe CampaignSalesforce Marketing Cloud, and the Tealium Universal Data Hub.

For an initial consultation on your email marketing needs, contact us today.

Like what we're thinking?

If you’d like to hear more about how our award-winning solutions, contact us today on