Unsubscribes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As an email marketer, your list is everything. You work hard for those subscribers. When someone unsubscribes from your list, you may feel a sense of loss. I say don’t. It’s not always a bad thing.

Think about how you read your own inbox. I doubt you read each and every marketing email you receive. Some you’ll read every time.  Others you’ll read based upon the subject line, or not. Other marketing emails arrive, and are deleted unread each time. You think, “I really need to unsubscribe from some of these when I have a chance,” and delete.

As an email marketer, you may actually be less inclined to unsubscribe. You know how bad it feels to lose someone.  You don’t want to make someone else feel that way, right?


If you’re not reading the marketing emails you receive from a particular business, unsubscribe from the list.  It will be better for that marketer in the long run if they aren’t sending to you. You aren’t engaged with them. They’re wasting their efforts reaching out to you. Like you, they’re trying to find more engaged customers. You aren’t one.

Unsubscribes Aren’t Engaged

The unsubscribe process is how someone signals to you that they are not engaged with your content. It could be for any number of reasons, many of which aren’t your fault. Perhaps you sell diapers, and their child has grown.  Maybe they’ve realized that their inbox grows by 300 every morning, and they only read a dozen of the emails that arrive. Perhaps, and this is a bit of a morbid thought, but just perhaps, they’re dead. I, for one, get a few autoresponse emails per week regarding a subscriber that has passed on.  One thing is for sure.  They are not engaged with your content.

An unsubscribe should be a happy occasion. You’ve worked hard to build a list.  You want it to be a quality, high-performing list. You want it to be full of people who not only want to be there, but that look forward to your content.

Identify Engaged Subscribers Always

Track your subscribers.  Know how many messages have been sent to them. Know how many they’ve opened. Know how many links have been clicked by each.

By tracking your subscribers, you can get to know them better. If you have a group that shows a high open and click rate, target them as VIP customers with VIP benefits. A group that opens, but clicks poorly? Target them with an exciting special to entice them through to a sale. The group that opens rarely, we’ll target with subject line tests to bring them in.

There will always be a portion of your list that are non-openers. These are the black hole of your list. You’ll work so hard to get them to open your messages. The simple fact is, they may never have seen them. These are the dead mailboxes, the “direct to spam” missed connections, and the ignorers. Engagement will be tough.

What’s worse, the totally unengaged subscriber may not even be a person. If the email address is old enough, it may be a spam trap.  Microsoft, for instance, will keep old email addresses around.  They’ll deactivate them for non-use after a while.  For a year or so, emails sent to those addresses will bounce. Then, mysteriously, they stop bouncing. At that point, they’ve become a spam trap. If you send to that address, it will hurt your deliverability.

Consider Pre-Empting the Unsubscribe

Identify your most-engaged subscribers, but also identify the least-engaged.  Check over your deliverability for issues that need fixing. Give the unengaged subscribers a chance with some targeted messages. If they still don’t respond, unsubscribe them yourself.

A boaster will say, “I’ve got 500 engaged subscribers, but my list is over 10,000.” He should be saying, “I’ve got 10,000 subscribers, but list list is really only 500 good customers.”

Love that 500. Your engaged customers are your lifeblood. The other 9500 are work.

The key is this.  When one of your 9500 unengaged subscribers leaves, you wish them well and welcome them back should they decide to return. If one of your 500 leaves, you pick up the phone.  If they’re changing email addresses, you ensure you make the change if needed.  If they’re changing products, you have a chance to win them back.  If they died, you send flowers to the family.  Losing a good customer is never good. Work on winning them back in a positive way.

Save the Unsubscribe if you Can

The rest? They’re signaling they want out. You might still be able to help. On the unsubscribe page, offer them options for different communications.  Perhaps they only want to receive one email per week. Do you have that option to offer? Maybe they want tips and tricks for a product they’ve already purchased, but aren’t in the market to buy again right now. Maybe not.

The idea is to give unsubscribes an option to switch their subscription to another that more fits their needs.  Offer multiple lists for the same purpose, but with different schedules and styles. You may be able to turn an unsubscribe into an engaged subscriber once more.

The main point is, unsubscribing from a list is not a move taken lightly. Honor the reasons. Think of it as an improvement in list quality, unless it isn’t. Go get more subscribers, and start identifying which are truly engaged as quickly as possible. Quality is key.

Now, get back to work!

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