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Should You Say Goodbye to Inactive Email Subscribers?

Should You Say Goodbye to Inactive Email Subscribers?

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Inactive email subscribers can be a drag on your email marketing program. They can hurt deliverability, increase complaints and unsubscribes, and cost you money. So should you say goodbye to them?

The short answer is, yes, but only after you’ve checked off a few things. You may not need to say goodbye to all of them.

Today I’ll be reviewing when you should delete inactive email subscribers from your contact list, and when you should attempt to re-engage.

Table of Contents

What is an Inactive Subscriber?

An inactive email subscriber is someone who hasn't engaged with your emails in a long time. This could mean they never open or click on your emails, or they used to engage but haven't lately.

Inactive email subscribers can negatively impact your email marketing in several ways. They can:

  • Hurt deliverability. Inactive subscribers are more likely to have their email addresses marked as inactive or dead, which can hurt your sender reputation and deliverability.
  • Increase complaints and unsubscribes. If inactive subscribers are receiving emails they no longer want, they're more likely to mark them as spam or unsubscribe.
  • Cost you money. If you're paying for each email address on your list, inactive subscribers are costing you money without providing any benefits.

However, inactive email subscribers aren't always a lost cause. There are several things you can do to re-engage them and get them interested in your emails again. But, more on that in just a minute. First, let’s talk about the three types of inactive email subscribers.

3 Types of Inactive Email Subscribers

There are three types of inactive email subscribers: never active, lapsed customer inactive, and current customer inactive. 

Understanding these categories will help you determine the best approach for your re-engagement campaign. After all, understanding your audience, and the potential reasons for their lack of interest, can help you craft a highly personalized message to recapture their attention.

Never Active

A never active email subscriber is someone who signed up for your email list but has never engaged with your content. They may have subscribed by accident or may have lost interest in what you have to say.

Lapsed Customer Inactive

A lapsed customer inactive is someone who was once a paying customer but hasn't purchased anything from you in a while. They may be inactive because they're no longer interested in your products or services, or perhaps they've found a better alternative.

Current Customer Inactive

A current customer inactive is someone who is still a paying customer but hasn't engaged with your emails in a while. This could be for any number of reasons, such as losing interest in your content, being too busy to engage, or forgetting that they subscribed to your email list.

When to Re-Engage Email Subscribers

Before you delete any inactive subscribers from your email list, it's important to try to re-engage them first. This gives them one last chance to engage with your content so you can see if they're still interested in hearing from you.

There are a few different ways you can try to re-engage inactive email subscribers:

  • Send them a special offer or discount
  • Create a contest or giveaway
  • Send them an exclusive piece of content
  • Reach out to them directly (via email or social media) and ask if they're still interested in hearing from you

Examples of Re-engagement Emails

I dug into my own inbox to help illustrate some of these examples and found plenty in the “special offer or discount” category.

Special offers tend to be the most common because they’re easy to put together and usually fit into a business’ normal flow of customer offers. Because they’re so common, a “We miss you!” headline often indicates a special deal.

Here’s an example of a special offer re-engagement email from Beautiful Earth Boutique:

example of a special offer re-engagement email from Beautiful Earth Boutique

Reaching out to inactive subscribers with a question is also highly effective – especially because it does more than just drop a deal and hope for the best.

Here’s an example from Marketing Brew – a marketing and ad focused email newsletter I signed up for several months ago. 

Admittedly, I find it hard to keep up with a highly-active inbox. Even though I was initially interested in and engaged with their emails, over time I started to “save them for later”—which inevitably means I’d forget about them forever.

After a while, I started to receive emails like this:

example of re-engagement email from Marketing Brew

The email explicitly asks me to take an action (in this case, clicking a link) to let them know I’m still interested in their emails. If I do not perform this action, the email also states that I’ll be automatically unsubscribed next month.

Each email I’ve received since this one contained the same message, to ensure I wouldn’t miss the memo. If I’m opening their emails, I know exactly what to do if I’d like to remain a subscriber. If I’m not, odds are I wouldn’t mind (or possibly even notice) being unsubscribed. 

When to Clean Up Your Email List

If you have truly inactive subscribers who haven’t responded to your re-engagement efforts in any way, it's time to clean up (or “scrub”) your list. This will help keep your list healthy and ensure that you're only sending emails to people who are interested in hearing from you.

How often you should clean up your email list depends on how large your list is and how inactive your subscribers are. If you have a small list with only a few inactive subscribers, you can clean up your list every six months or so. However, if you have a large list with many inactive subscribers, you may want to clean up your list more often, like every month or two.

What If Your Emails Are Getting Blocked or Sent to Spam?

This is an entirely different beast to tackle, but it’s a valid question that could point to a different type of problem behind your lack of engagement. 

There are a few ways you can tell if your business emails are getting blocked or sent to spam. First, check the following metrics for any anomalies:

  • Check your email deliverability rates. 
      • If you notice a sudden drop in your deliverability rates, it could be an indication that your emails are being blocked or sent to spam.
  • Check your email bounce rates. 
      • If you notice a sudden increase in your bounce rates, it could be an indication that your emails are being blocked or sent to spam.
  • Check your email open rates. 
    • If you notice a sudden decrease in your open rates, your emails could be going to spam.

If you suspect that your business emails are being blocked or sent to spam, you should start by investigating the content of your emails and subject lines, and double-check that you’ve set up email authentication. 

Identifying problems on your end can help you determine whether you need to change something about your approach or if you just need to clean out those inactive subscribers.

Final Thoughts

The long and short of it is: If you're unable to re-engage inactive email subscribers, then it's time to delete them from your list. By doing this, you'll ensure that you are only sending emails to people who want to hear from you.

Need a little help with your email marketing strategy? Human’s experts know exactly how to uncover the opportunities with the greatest potential for your business. Connect with one of our highly-skilled (and super friendly) email marketing specialists to find out what Human can do for your business!

Topics: Email Marketing