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How Cisco’s Unsubscribe Banner is Impacting Deliverability

Recently a few MessageGears users reached out to our Deliverability Team, concerned with a banner added to their messages prompting recipients to unsubscribe. We recently wrote about Gmail’s Easy Unsubscribe feature and its impact on open rates, but these addresses weren’t hosted at Gmail and the Unsubscribe prompt looked a little different than those presented by Google. They noted the banner showed up on both desktop and mobile and looked like this:

It stands to reason most senders would be concerned to see something like this at the top of their email – but what was prompting the banner? Had their provider marked these messages as spam? Was there a suspicious link somewhere in the body? Was authentication broken?

After a bit of investigation, we discovered the culprit was Cisco’s Email Security Appliance. This banner is generated by a feature called Easy Unsubscribe, which works in tandem with their Graymail Detection feature. Cisco ESA was being used by the clients’ IT teams to manage incoming mail, and the banner was being appended because the system interpreted their mail as “Graymail.”

The Graymail Detection feature uses some advanced algorithms to determine its classification, but the general idea is this: graymail is not explicitly harmful or malicious, but is also not whitelisted by the organization. The system separates Graymail into Marketing, Social, and Bulk mail categories, and messages in these categories are classified as Graymail by the filters.

When the system detects graymail, the Easy Unsubscribe banner is placed across the top of the message to “automatically present recipients with a safe way to get rid of unwanted emails” per Cisco’s documentation. The idea is that some graymail may contain questionable links that appear to be unsubscribe links but actually direct to other locations. Easy Unsubscribe allows recipients to click the link, then ESA scans the unsubscribe URL for safety and submits the request if it is safe to do so.

What does this mean for me?

If you see this banner across your messages, don’t panic. If you’re testing messages internally, you may need to ask your IT team to make adjustments to the filters to avoid seeing this banner. If your recipients are seeing this banner, there’s not always as much you can do. There are no specific metrics on how many domains use ESA, but keep in mind these are usually larger organizations whose IT team is very strict about incoming mail to their employees.

If you read our Gmail Unsubscribe blog post, you may remember that Gmail adding a similar unsubscribe prompt didn’t increase the rate of unsubscribes for recipients. While the impact of ESA’s banner is harder to track, it’s likely most recipients aren’t clicking this link if they actually want your messages.

Brad Gurley

Brad is a 15-year ESP veteran who’s worked with senders of all shapes and sizes. Well-versed in best practices, ISP relations, and abuse management, he heads up all things deliverability for MessageGears.

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