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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