Brace yourself: email unsubscribes are not
That may seem counter-intuitive. After all, isn’t list size
one of the key metrics we’re supposed to report up to senior
management? Aren’t we always looking for more and more
subscribers? Isn’t list growth a key measure of how well our
advertising, marketing, and content are performing?
The truth is, list size is a false metric. You may have
to explain this to your boss. The exception would be for businesses
who derive revenue based on CPM advertising within or sponsorship
of their email. But for most organizations, there are more
important goals of engagement and corresponding KPIs.
Here are five examples of the benefits of losing
subscribers, and what you can learn from those who opt
1. A bloated list of disengaged subscribers messes up your
email performance metrics.
Those who are truly disengaged are just diluting the actual
metrics you use to optimize your email performance. Ten thousand
disengaged subscribers will completely obfuscate the real learnings
from the 1,000 that are engaged.
Opportunity for Improvement: If a subscriber has not
clicked-through in the prior six months, initiate a last-chance
re-engagement campaign, and if still no response, purge and archive
2. Email unsubscribes are an indicator of list quality.
How were those emails addressed initially obtained? Under false
or misleading pretenses? Were they truly a legitimate opt-in? Were
they obtained as the result of a low-commitment sweepstakes or
Opportunity for Improvement: Clean up your list growth
processes—the forms, the CTAs, the messaging—to focus on and
appeal to the most qualified prospects and customers. Otherwise,
you’re wasting their time and yours.
3. Email unsubscribes signal how well you’re doing with email
segmentation, content, frequency, relevancy, and CTAs.
Irrespective of how the subscriber was obtained, if your message
isn’t relevant, the format isn’t right for the recipient’s
device, or the interval is too frequent and annoying, expect
disengagement at best, and ultimately an opt-out.
Opportunity for Improvement: Test each email variable
using a repeatable, controlled process—even simple
A/B split testing—to help you continually learn and optimize
for each audience segment. Unless your total list size is less than
2,500, you should always be testing some aspect during each
4. Think of the subscriber relationship like dating. Maybe
they’re just not into you—yet.
If things just aren’t quite working for the other person, as
an alternative to breaking up completely (unsubscribing), allow
recipients to alter the relationship.
Opportunity for Improvement: Let them take a break and
pause email for a period of time. Let them reduce frequency
according to the recipient’s preference. Allow the recipient to
alter the types of content you’re sending. These and more options
should be offered in a user-controlled preference center. If/when
you get the unsubscribe click-through, offer these alternatives to
completely ending the relationship.
5. And if you can’t salvage the relationship—it’s a final
Of course, you’ll never get 100% of unsubscribes to share
their reasoning, but if executed well (even cleverly or
humorously), over time you’ll collect enough data to draw some
conclusions about why subscribers are leaving.
Opportunity for Improvement: That final unsubscribe
confirmation screen should offer 4-7 options for the fleeing
subscriber to tell you why they’re leaving. You can even place it
on the initial unsubscribe page so long as the actual unsubscribe
button is clearly available right below the optional (never
required) check-box selections. It’s might be them. It might be
you. You won’t know unless you ask.