How (and why) to dump your inactive subscribers

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, getting subscribers is hard work, right?

Why in heaven are we dumping them now?

Let’s start with the WHY then…

Why you need to dump your email subscribers

Would you try to stop people from following you on Twitter? or from watching your TV commercial? Of course not.

There is no downside to having more Twitter followers, even when you know the majority of that audience completely missed or ignore your message.

But email marketing is different. Keeping a current and healthy list of active subscribers is key to your success. Deadbeat subscribers, on the other hand, can really affect your performance.

Here are 4 reasons why you must clean your list to eliminate those inactives, at least once a year…

1) Keep the value of your list up

It’s very simple, your email list is valuable because the people in it have expressed an interest in you, your company or what you offer. This is why they open your emails, click through, etc.

But the reason a segment of your list stops opening your emails is because they are no longer interested in you.

If you do not eliminate those individuals that are no longer interested, the value of your entire list goes down. Now, instead of having a list of highly targeted prospects, you have a list of random people that were, at some point, interested.

2) Keep your reputation up

In this module, we’ve been discussing why you need to closely monitor bounces, spam, unsubscribes and low open rates for the health of your list.

ISPs, spam filters, and email security services are all keeping an eye on you to protect the consumer.

All these things have a negative impact on your reputation and deliverability rate, and can even result in being blocked from ISPs or getting black-listed.

But that’s not all, if you have a poor sender reputation, soon even the people that DO want to get your messages are going to start to miss them. A sender that is constantly getting flagged with these issues is more likely to go straight to the spam folder or get blocked by the ISP.

Now even your good subscribers are not getting your emails!

3) Real Performance

When you have a large percentage of subscribers ignoring your emails, this is reflected in your analytics. Metrics like open and click-through rates, conversion and even the lifetime value of your subscribers are probably below average.

The point, of course, is not that you want to be looking at pretty charts to boost your ego, but to look at the performance of email campaigns that are being sent to people that are interested in your business.

If you remove the people that are no longer interested, these metrics are going to reflect a more realistic performance.

Have you ever wonder how some people get much higher open and click rates than you? This is probably because these folks clean their lists periodically, so those metrics are not including inactive subscribers.

4) Keep your cost down

Email service providers usually charge a monthly fee based on tiers by number of subscribers in your list.

The following is the pricing table from Aweber, and as you can see, going from 10,000 to 10,001 subscribers represents a difference of $80 per month, or $960 per year.

Aweber Pricing Table

Paying an additional $960 a year for people that are not opening your emails is a huge waste of money that you could allocate to other marketing efforts.

Pricing with GetResponse works pretty much the same way:

GetResponse Pricing

Why the “Unsubscribe” link is not enough


What about the unsubscribe button?

As we covered in the previous lessons, the unsubscribe link is not just good practice, it’s also part of the CAN-SPAM Act rules you must follow.

But it doesn’t work. Most of the time, anyways.

Unsubscribes are a beautiful thing, but…

Having a person voluntarily unsubscribe from your list is a good thing, if he’s no longer interested, there is absolutely no reason for trying to retain that subscriber. In fact, he’s doing you a huge favor by taking the time to get himself off the list and not damage your reputation.

The real problem is that the majority of people don’t take the time to do that. It’s easier to delete the message every time you hit their inbox, or even mark it as spam and don’t deal with it.

So, what do you do?

You ask them.

How to clean your email list

This is not just about deleting people, you are trying to accomplish two things here:

  • Get a reaction from the people that have been inactive for some time but are still interested in you
  • Remove the ones that are no longer interested in you or have become “undeliverable”

In other words, you can’t just grab a segment of your list and throw it in the trash.

Here is how to clean your list step by step (by the way, the lesson is the homework):

1) Plan

Determine the criteria: Who are you going to consider an “Inactive Subscriber”?

An inactive subscriber is the one that is simply not opening your emails. What you have to determine is for how long. 3 months? 6 months?

You also have to consider that this process should be repeated on a regular basis, perhaps every six months or every year.

2) Identify the inactive subscribers

Dump your email subscribers - Step 1

Segment on Mailchimp

Start by running a report of the people that have not opened any of your emails for the period of time you decided on step 1.

You need to look at two pieces of information here:

  • They subscribed before [date]
  • They haven’t opened any emails since [date]

This is very important: You do not want to include a person that didn’t open any emails in the last six months and turns out is because he joined the list a couple of weeks ago.

3) Create a Segment

Dump your email subscribers - Step 2

Now that you have a list of people to potentially unsubscribe, save it as a segment. This will allow you to send an email campaign targeting this group.

4) Re-engagement Campaign

Remember “Re-engagement Campaigns” in module 3? This is a very direct version of it, you are going to come out and ask your subscriber if he or she wants to stay in your list.

Before getting to this point, you might want to considering a softer re-engagement campaign, like the ones we mention in module 3, to see if you get people to wake up. This campaign is the last attempt for re-engagement.

The email goes a little like this (pay special attention to the subject line):

Dump your email subscribers - Step 3

Again, the point here is not to simply delete people, this email filters people for you as it gets 3 different reactions:

  • Most people will ignore it as they have been ignoring the rest of your emails
  • Some will open by mistake, out of curiosity. Give them instructions on how to unsubscribe anyways
  • Fewer will react because they want to stay subscribed to your list

The third group is the one you want to keep. Here is an example why:

Dump your email subscribers - response

Even though you will receive a number of positive responses like that, you shouldn’t set your expectations too high, after all, you’re sending a campaign to people that have been unresponsive for a while.

In other words, this will most likely be the lowest open rate you’ve ever seen…

Expect a low open rate

It’s important that you allow enough time for people to react to your email campaign, I like waiting at least 24 hours.

5) Run your report again

DO NOT go back and delete the subscribers in the segment you created on step 3. You have to run a new report with the same criteria…

  • They subscribed before [date]
  • They haven’t opened any emails since [date]

The people that opened the message will no longer be in the list, as well as the people that unsubscribed themselves. The only subscribers left in this list are the ones that ignored your message.

6) Delete

Now you can go ahead and press delete. Just make sure you are deleting the correct list.


Like I said at the beginning, the lesson is the homework. Go! 😉