May 10, 2023
Is your email list health undermining your marketing?

If you’re like most small business owners, your email list health isn’t a topic you’ve really considered. And why would it be? The very fact you have a list puts you way ahead of the crowd! But building a list — and regularly using it to stay in touch with your audience — is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to successful email marketing.

Below the surface lurks a hidden danger… that the list that has become weak, unable to do its job of engaging your audience and bringing you clients and sales.

A “weak” or unhealthy email list is one that has a high percentage of people who are no longer interested in your emails. That means your messages land in their inboxes and go unnoticed, unloved, and unopened. 

(Your list may even have fake subscriptions — i.e., email addresses that have been added to your list by a bot. Yep, listbombing is a real thing. And a real problem!)

Why your email list health matters

This is going to be somewhat counter-intuitive so bear with me! The absolute number of people on your list isn’t a reflection of its health, or how well it’s functioning for you. 

What matters are your open and click-through rates.

Having a huge list of people that don’t open your emails can be very damaging to your business in the long run.  Why? Because your email service provider (Mailchimp, Convertkit, Active Campaign, etc.) uses your open and click-through rates — indicators of how engaged your audience is — to decide whether you’re a spammer.  

And even if your provider doesn’t mark you as a spammer, having an unhealthy list will lower your deliverability — so even people who are engaged and want to buy from you will be less likely to receive your emails. That can turn into a Catch-22 that’s hard to break.

Having a huge list with very low engagement rates sends all the wrong signals!

What causes an unhealthy list?

Now you know why your list needs regular TLC, it’s also a good idea to consider what causes people to disengage in the first place. First, don’t panic! There will always be some attrition as people’s needs change over time and they no longer require your services. Don’t get upset about that, it’s totally natural. 

However, your list can become unhealthy for another reason: your emails don’t meet your subscribers’ expectations. Usually this comes down to poor quality: repetitive — or irrelevant — content. 

If you provide excellent information that’s not screaming “Buy My Thing!!” with every message you send, it should only take a little regular housekeeping to get it back on track.

Clean up your email list

In some cases, your list will self-clean; unsubscribes are a good thing. According to research from Marketing Sherpas, you can expect to lose about 22.5% of your list to unsubscribes every year. Painful as it might be to see people removing themselves from your audience, the fact that they’re no longer a good fit for your business means they’re better off not being there.

If you use an email provider that allows you to set up an Unsubscribe Survey like this one from Convertkit, do so.  

It’ll help you discover why your subscribers leave so you can adjust your emails as necessary.

For the others? The 10%-25% of your subscribers who are non-responders — bloating your numbers — but too indifferent to take action themselves? The answer is to do some pruning.  

But first, give them a chance to re-engage before you cut them from your list…

The re-engagement email sequence

This a sequence of emails you send to those subscribers who have been inactive for a specified length of time.  It gives you a chance to show them what they’re missing and re-engage them. 

According to Active Campaign: You should probably send a re-engagement email sequence of 3+ emails starting 30-60 days after a subscriber becomes inactive.

Not sure what to write?

Your email provider should give you a way of filtering and tagging “cold” or inactive subscribers. Once you’ve done that you can send them a couple of emails along these lines:

Re-engagement emails should use emotions or personalization to reconnect with cold subscribers. Some offer incentives, others just highlight why the person signed up in the first place. All include a visible way to unsubscribe.

You don’t have to use fancy graphics — just write as if you were contacting a single person, who you’d love to stay on your list. And a dash of humor, if you can do it naturally, never hurts.

Need more inspiration? Google “re-engagement campaign examples” for a bunch of ideas.

If recipients of your re-engagement sequence fail to respond, remove them manually or have them automatically unsubscribed if your provider gives you a way to do that (most will).

Email best practices

The more closely you follow email best practices, the less you’ll have to worry about having an unhealthy email list. Here are a few things to check if you find that you’re getting a high number of inactive subscribers:

  • Are you using good opt-in practices? Using a double opt-in will make sure the people on your list really want to be there. You know that Confirm your subscription” email you often get? That’s the double opt-in at work.
  • Check where your subscribers are coming from. If you have a form or sign-up page that seems to get a high number of inactive subscribers it might be a good idea to check it’s functioning properly and activate CAPTCHA if you’ve not already done so.
  • Look through your welcome sequence to make sure everything is clear — and links to resources and free downloads are working properly. Subscribers will quickly go cold if they can’t get the freebie or resource they signed up for.

And finally, schedule regular housekeeping for your list. Some email providers will even give you automated processes to do this, so it happens in the background. A problem prevented is much better than a problem solved!


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