GMail Productivity: Automatically Find All Unsubscribable List, Notification, and Sales Messages

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Subscribed to mailing lists? How about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, and other announcements? Do you even know how many announcement, list, and group sales e-mails you get? A simple GMail or Google Apps Mail filter can not only show you exactly how many messages you get that you can easily unsubscribe from, but it can also make unsubscribing a snap.

Nearly all the mail we’re talking about–legitimate (e.g. not spam) but not always necessary–mail offers a link at the bottom to let you unsubscribe or opt out of receiving future mail. Moreover, the language used to identify these links is invariably “unsubscribe,” “opt out,” or “be removed from”. That makes them easy to identify, group, and process using a simple mail filter.

Below (Figure 1) you can see my Google Apps Mail inbox clearly identifying such mail–those marked with the pink “Unsubscribable” label. (Yes, I know “unsubscribable” isn’t a word, but for the label I needed something short, if not grammatically correct.) That mail is automatically labeled thusly for me, and, by visiting the “Unsubscribable” folder on the left (Figure 2), I can see all of my list mail grouped together. From there, it’s a simple matter of opening each, clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom, and being done with the list, notifications, or sales messages forever. (Obviously some of those I want to receive, so I’ll leave those alone)

Figure 1: [Click thumbnail to zoom] My inbox with notifaction and list mail clearly labeled.
Figure 2: [Click thumbnail to zoom] All “unsubscribable” mail is also collected into a single label-folder for even easier access and action.

To create the same system within your GMail or Google Apps Mail inbox, follow these very simple steps:

  1. In the top-right of your inbox click the gear icon and select Settings.
  2. Select the Filters tab from the Settings screen.
  3. At the bottom of the Filters screen click the link for Create New Filter. Up will pop the Filter definition dialog (Figure 3).
    Figure 3: The Filter definition dialog.
  4. The “Has the Words” field tells Gmail to search entire messages for specific keywords or phrases. In this case, we want it to find those phrases common to mail from which you might want to unsubscribe–“unsubscribe,” “opt out,” or “be removed from”. In that field enter the following, inclusive of quotation marks.

    unsubscribe OR "opt out" OR "be removed from"

    The “OR” tells the filter to trigger if it finds any one of the listed phrases (see Figure 4).

    Figure 4: Setting the filter conditions to search messages for the right phrases.
  5. Now that we’ve set the conditions by which the filter will trigger, click Continue to get to the screen where we’ll define the actions that occur when the filter is triggered.
  6. There are many actions you can choose from, but for this filter, we simply want to apply a label. Check the box beside “Apply the Label” and then click in the dropdown box to the right to select the appropriate label (Figure 5).
    Figure 5: Choosing the label to apply to matching mail.
  7. If you don’t already have an “Unsubscribable” or other suitable label, as I didn’t, choose “New Label” from the top of the list and create the “Unsubscribable” label, optionally as a child nested under a parent label (see Figure 6).
    Figure 6: Adding the new “Unsubscribable” label in the New Label dialog.
  8. With the label selected Gmail will tell you how many conversations (i.e. mail threads) already received match the conditions of the filter (Figure 7). Check the “Also apply filter to…” option to process those conversations, and then click the Update Filter button to activate and apply the filter.
    Figure 7: Not only does the Filter Action screen enable you to define actions to take on matching mail, it shows how many conversations or threads already match the conditions of the filter.
  9. Return to your inbox and you’ll see mail labeled “Unsubscribable”. You’ll also see in the left column a label-folder with the same name. To most easily distinguish list and notification mail from any other type, click the little box to the right of the “Unsubscribable” label-folder and choose a color.

From now on, all the mail containing “unsubscribe,” “opt out,” or “be removed from” will be marked as “Unsubscribable”, in the color you chose. You can also visit the “Unsubscribable” label-folder to see all such mail. Unsubscribe from those you want by viewing the message, clicking the “unsubscribe” (or whatever) link at the bottom, and following the individual unsubscribe or opt-out instructions.

You can, of course, leave the filter active indefinitely. However, I used mine only temporarily. Because it also tags notification and list mail I want to receive, and because the mauve “Unsubscribable” tag can get distracting in my inbox, I disabled the filter after unsubscribing from everything I didn’t want.

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