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Pardot Troubleshooting: False Unsubscribes

A lot of time, energy, and dedication go into creating an email. Just to land one in someone’s inbox, you have to brainstorm content types, craft your message, play with subject lines, work around formatting obstacles, and build targeted lists. When those emails result in unsubscribes, it stings.

If the unsubscribes are legitimate—meaning the recipient knowingly and intentionally unsubscribed—it’s not the worst thing in the world. If some of our recipients don’t find our content relevant, we can turn our focus instead on those that do.

But what if it’s not a legitimate unsubscribe? What if, through conversations with your contacts, you learn that they neither intentionally or willingly unsubscribed from communications?

False Unsubscribes

A false unsubscribe is when an unsubscribe is logged against a Pardot prospect record, but the recipient did not trigger it manually. These are difficult to spot, as all unsubscribes will look the same to you in reports. There are clues to this behavior, but the only true verification you can get is directly from the source.

Things to watch out for:

  • Prospects with strong and consistent historical engagement suddenly opting out
  • Opt-out rates changing drastically from one quarter/year/month to the next
  • Prospects complaining that they have not received an email, despite an opt-out status

Why it happens

When a false unsubscribe occurs, there are two potential culprits.

  • The email was forwarded to a colleague and they unsubscribed, but the activity was logged on their record
  • Email security setting bots open emails and click links

How to resolve: Email Forwarding

If you have Pardot Plus or Advanced, you’ve probably seen email forwards in your Interactions report.

Looking for clues to false unsubscribes in your Pardot interactions report

It’s exciting and reassuring to know that your prospects are not only reading your emails but also forwarding them to their friends or coworkers. Even so, this practice can sometimes lead to issues with visitor association changes, and problems with unsubscribes.

To prevent these types of issues, you can implement the AddThis feature for email sharing. Some clients will include a little blurb stating “If you find this info useful and want to share it with a friend, click this button” or something along those lines. If you decide to implement this feature, note that you will no longer see these classified as “Email Forwards” in your Interactions report. They will show up as standard clicks.

How to resolve: Email security bots

While trying to convince your prospects to get their IT team to disable this setting or whitelist your sending IP would technically solve your problem, it’s not very realistic.

The easiest way to avoid false unsubscribes by false clicks is to do away with the unsubscribe option altogether. If you have an email preferences page, you can use it to replace the unsubscribe link in your emails. When someone clicks through to manage their communication preferences, they can either opt in or out of specific public lists that you’ve created, or they can choose to opt out of everything.

Because the prospect must make another selection after landing on the preferences page, a ghost or false click cannot trigger an unsubscribe.

Opting prospects back in

If you have explicit permission, you can opt your prospects back in. Pardot admins can manually deselect the Do Not Email and Opted Out fields on the prospect record. Sync behavior matters, so you will want to do this in Salesforce as well if your connector settings allow for this field to revert back to Salesforce’s value.

To avoid duplicating your efforts, you should wait to do this until you’ve implemented a solution.

Experiencing issues with false unsubscribes or email deliverability you’re not ready to tackle alone? Contact us to set up a meeting.

Jessica Hope

I consider myself a Marketing Cloud Account Engagement (Pardot) evangelist. I’ve focused almost exclusively on Pardot for the last seven years, and I've had the great honor of working in hundreds of accounts on every imaginable type of project. I spend most of my time working directly with clients to meet their every last Pardot goal, but I also enjoy writing about and/or training on all things Pardot.

Let’s connect to see where I can help. Email me at:

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