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Why It's Important to Keep Your Email Subscriber List Clean (& How to Do a Little Housekeeping)

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When I talk about using email marketing to capture new customers and build relationships with your customer base, I find that a lot of soapmakers are unaware that they should be cleaning up their email newsletter list on a regular basis. It's super important that you keep your email subscriber list clean and fresh to ensure that email marketing is delivering the return on investment you want to see!

 Why It's Important to Keep Your Email Subscriber List Clean (& How to Do a Little Housekeeping)

Why exactly do you need to keep your email subscriber list clean?

On an annual basis, you can lose up to a third of your email subscribers due to bounces, unsubscribes, and email address changes. Plus, internet service providers, spam monitors, and email services all set thresholds for what constitutes deliverable and acceptable email content.

If you start an email list in January with 100 subscribers, and do not add anyone else to it, approximately 25% to 35% of those subscribers (twenty five to thirty three subscribers, that is!) will fall off from being active solely due to full inboxes (can't receive more email), changes of an email address, and unsubscribing. Additionally, if the remaining subscribers aren't opening your emails, their email service may start classifying your emails as undeliverable or spam for all email addresses on their service.

When someone signs up for your email newsletter, they are granting you permission to email them. According to Mailchimp, permission goes stale about six months after the initial sign-up. So, if you aren't emailing your list on a regular basis and seem to randomly pop up in their inbox, they might not even remember who you are, why you are emailing them, or want your emails anymore. Again, this can lead to spam complaints and high levels of unsubscribes from your list.

All of these factors could render your list of 100 subscribers completely useless to your business pretty quickly!

And don't forget: if your email subscriber list is incurring a monthly fee to your business, it's likely based on the number of subscribers on your list. Who wants to pay to deliver emails to people who aren't opening them? Not me!

Okay, so it's important to keep your email subscriber list clean, but how do you do that?

You have a few options to clean up your newsletter list, such as removing inactive or stale subscribers or trying to get them re-engaged with your content.

If your subscribers are older than six months to a year and you haven't emailed them in all that time, you will likely have an easier time wiping the slate and starting over. You may want to try to reconfirm them as subscribers first by sending a single email reminding them when and/or how they signed up for your newsletter, and ask permission to start emailing them once again by signing up for your (fresh) list.

Here's an example of an email you might send to get a subscriber to sign up for your fresh list:

Hey There, <<Name>>!

It's been awhile! You signed up for my email newsletter on X date at X place (website/show/etc.) I hope that you still want to hear from me, but I wanted to check in first! I send my email newsletter X often and include exclusive content like, XYZ.

If you want to dig in on all that goodness, <<click here to confirm your subscription>>. If you aren't interested, you can ignore this email and you'll never hear from me again. :)

Hope to see you around at X place again!


If you regularly email your subscribers and/or they are relatively fresh subscribers (less than six months), then you will want to check up on how they are doing with your content and try to re-engage the peeps who are not opening or reading your emails. You could send them:

  • An enticing offer to come back with an "I miss you" email
  • A valuable piece of content to get them paying attention
  • A survey to understand their desires better
  • A "break up" email that lets them know you are cutting them loose
  • A series or mix of emails containing any of the above

There are tons of ideas and examples out there, and you've probably received similar emails from companies before. Try googling "best re-engagement emails" to see hundreds of examples to get inspired.

I clean up Modern Soapmaking's newsletter list twice a year, so I decided to document how I handled this round of housekeeping. This time, I sent a first email to try to get inactive and stale subscribers to re-engage with content by opening a single email. Afterwards, I sent a follow-up newsletter as a last ditch effort to let them know that I was going to remove them from the list but that I would love to hear from them in the future.

My number one goal is to get a subscriber to return to being active, and my secondary goal, of course, is to get them off my list, if they aren't interested.

Here's how I did a little housekeeping on Modern Soapmaking's list:

I use MailChimp for my email newsletters right now, so this will feature MailChimp screenshots. I'm sure your email newsletter provider has similar features to accomplish the same tasks. If you need help, try searching the support documentation for your email marketing service provider. 

First, you need to group subscribers together who are not active or engaged. If your email newsletter provider offers segmenting, that's the most effective method. Here's the settings I used to create a segment of inactive subscribers:

 Create a segment of inactive subscribers to re-engage

I wanted to make sure that I wasn't including new subscribers who haven't had the chance to engage yet, so I chose subscribers who were added before August 1st, 2015 (about three months prior). MailChimp assigns subscribers a Member Rating , so that's a helpful feature to segment inactive users (as well as all-stars who are highly engaged!).  And I also added the option that the subscriber has not opened all of the last ten emails (I email 1 to 2 times a week, so that's over a month and a half of unopened emails.)

I made sure that the subscribers in this segment met all attributes by changing the dropdown at the top under the Segment name to "all" instead of "any."

Now that I have a segment of inactive subscribers who aren't new subscribers and aren't opening my emails, I can send them a re-engagement email.

 Sending a re-engagement email to inactive subscribers

I included recent content that I've sent email subscribers, and let them know that I wanted to make sure they weren't missing out on the content they signed up to receive. The content I linked was handpicked from the most popular articles that I've written in the last three months. Then, I gave them an option to let me know if they wanted to stay subscribed or to unsubscribe on their own.

Those who clicked the "Yes, please keep emailing me" were sent to a page on Modern Soapmaking's website to say thanks for staying onboard. You could include a reward to say thanks, like a coupon code or a free download. If you have click tracking, you can create a new segment including subscribers who clicked on this specific link to deliver a personalized thank you note or reward, too.

I waited about a week after I sent the first email to check the statistics. You don't want to act too quickly as not everyone reads their email on a daily basis! Here's what they looked like:

 Results of the first re-engagement email

Since this was a re-engagement campaign, I expected a relatively low open rate compared to the normal open rates my email subscriber list normally sees. From here, I created a new segment of email subscribers who received this email (since I did not send it to my whole list) and did not open this email:

 Creating a new segment of email subscribers who are definitely inactive

Now that I had a segment of people who were already classified as inactive, and didn't open my email attempting to get them involved again, I created a follow up email to remove them from my list and give them a second chance to stay onboard.

Sometimes, I include an enticing offer on the second email to try a bit harder at re-engagement. However, this time, I sent an email letting them know I was unsubscribing them:

 The second attempt at re-engaging inactive subscribers

Again, I sent them some of the recent content, and let them know why I was emailing. I also included a link to subscribe to my email list once again, just in case they missed the first email (the "Nooo! Wait!" link.) I think it's also important to invite them back, just in case they come across this email down the road in their spam box or some such.

After sending this email, I headed over and exported the segment of subscribers I sent it to. I used that export to immediately unsubscribe each person from my list:

 Unsubscribing inactive subscribers from my list

After sending this email, a handful of people subscribed once again or emailed me back letting me know why they had been inactive, provided valuable feedback as to why they didn't read my emails, or asked me to add them back on the list personally.

From here, I can use that information to make my emails better in the future! No matter how many people you clean from your email list, you want to make sure that you are doing your best to serve the ones who are there and try to prevent inactivity in the first place. You may need to adjust your send times, frequency, type of content you send, or even your email subject lines. You also want to make sure you are actively building your list to combat normal email list fatigue by offering an incentive to sign up for your list, sending emails on a regular basis, and including a signup form on your website, social media, and at live events (trade shows/craft shows.)

And don't forget to keep your email subscriber list clean in the future by performing a little housekeeping at least once a year!

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