Don’t get me started with “Unsubscribes”

I don’t know if this is a lesson or a rant, but I’ll make sure you walk away from this lesson with something positive.

I’ll come out and say right away: We are looking at unsubscribes all wrong!

The metric

This is not an unreliable metric as open rate, in fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

The “Unsubscribe Rate” is a simple percentage of the number of people that unsubscribed divided by the number of subscribers in your list.

Formula: # of Unsubscribes / # of subscribers in your list

Unsubscribes can be measured per campaign or as a monthly average for your list in general.

Unsubs by campaign

So, if the metric is completely reliable, what’s the problem?

Unsubscribes are a good thing

An unsubscribe is the result of a person saying… “I’m no longer interested in what you do.” And as we have been saying throughout the course, your email list should be a pool of high quality prospects.

Having people in your list that are not interested is not a good thing. But having the people that are not interested remove themselves from the list is.

The real problem

The real problem is all the people that are no longer interested in you but will not take the time to unsubscribe. They remain in your list.

Even worse… They are lazy, and instead of taking a minute to unsubscribe, they delete your messages, they ignore them and sometimes even mark them as spam.

Now we’re not only talking about the quality of your list, but your reputation as a sender too.

These people are affecting your entire email program, and they’re also costing you money.

We’re looking at this all wrong

Yes, the main problem of the unsubscribe rate is the fact that you see it as a health indicator of your list.

The unsubscribe rate is nothing but the percentage of people removed themselves from your list, but it does NOT reflect the percentage of people that are no longer interested in receiving your campaigns.

To measure the health of your email program, you should be looking at a set of metrics like opens, CTR, CTOR, conversion, etc.

Should we still look at unsubscribes?

Should we still measure unsubscribes? Absolutely, as long as you don’t see it as the only health indicator.

Most importantly, the unsubscribe rate can serve to uncover potential problems in other areas like…

  • Segmentation
  • Frequency
  • Content
  • Timing
  • Acquisition

You should keep the unsubscribe rate close to you. If you have a monthly average of 15% and you see it suddenly jump to 25%, it’s time to pull out that old detective hat from the attic.


1) Current unsubscribe rate

Do you know what the unsubscribe rate was in your last campaign? Do you know what the monthly unsubscribe rate for your list is?

Alright then, let’s start by putting those numbers in front of you and your team. Get an average of unsubscribes for the last few months so you have a solid number.

2) Track it

Establish a method to track this number on a monthly basis as well as for individual campaigns.

Watch this metric close for any discrepancies along the way, and be ready to investigate.


But the one thing I want to leave you with is this: Never look at unsubscribes as a health indicator of your list.

Ciao! 😉