Inactive subscribers. Every email marketer has them – people who have either never interacted with an email message from you, or haven’t done so in a very long time. And because these inactive subscribers are so very common (some sources even say they make up the bulk of most email lists), it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for how to handle them.
How you do this is, of course, up to you. There are no hard rules. Everyone has different standards of personal hygiene, and email marketers have different standards of email list hygiene. You can choose to do nothing about your inactives and just leave them on your list until they unsubscribe… or until your email service provider finally removes them because your messages are bouncing back.
If that’s your choice, be ready for mediocre results. Your list’s inbox placement rates and deliverability might suffer too.
Active versus inactive subscribers
Before we go too much further, let’s talk about who you’d classify as an inactive in the first place. There’s two ways to measure this:
- By their activity (or lack of it)
- By time (how long they’ve been inactive)
Here’s how those two things come into play. Say you’ve got a list of 5,000 subscribers. About 500 of them have never opened one of your emails… but 100 of those 500 subscribers only signed up about a month ago.
When you remove these people from your list (if that’s what you decide to do), are you going to cull everybody who’s never opened an email? Or just the people who have never opened and have been getting your emails for more than, say, a month?
You don’t have to cut people just based on opens, either. Many marketers define inactives by clicks instead. This is largely because “opens” are a somewhat murky stat to begin with.
Going back to your imaginary list, let’s say 1,000 or your 5,000 subscribers have never clicked on an email of yours. (Ouch, I know. But it happens.) Some of them have been on your list for over a year.
Is it safe to just cut everyone who hasn’t clicked in a year? Or maybe you should just cut the people who haven’t clicked in the last six months. Or in the last three months.
Most email marketers would go with the six-month time frame, but it all depends on how you want to handle your list. Some email experts maintain that these old inactive subscribers might still be valuable to you. In the infographic, “Debunking the 7 Myths of Email Marketing”, the email agency Alchemy Worx says “20% of your annual openers do so after being inactive for 6 months.”
What do to after you’ve decided who’s an inactive subscriber
After some thought, let’s assume you decide to
- Do something – you’re not going to just ignore these inactives.
- Define your inactive subscribers as anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked an email in the last year. This is pretty conservative, but you’re just not ready to cull your list too hard.
- Send a re-engagement email to these people before you cut them from your list.
You’re not just going to delete your inactives outright, without trying anything.
Great start. Now you have to hash out a few things about those re-engagement messages.
Three things to decide about your re-engagement emails
1. Will you send one re-engagement email, or a series of them?
Often, if subscribers are really valuable, marketers will invest more time – and more messages – in trying to get them back.
2. Will you send the same email to all your inactives, or break them up into one or more groups?
This segmenting can result in more targeted re-engagement emails, and thus better results. But, of course, it means more work.
3. What will you say to these inactives in your re-engagement emails?
Will you just make a plea, or offer them a discount, or offer them a content asset?
Let’s go into detail about that last one – what you should say.
The first kind of re-engagement email: “Do you still want to get these emails?”
There’s a certain kind of re-engagement email that’s getting a lot of use right now. Basically, it’s a message to inactive subscribers that says:
- You haven’t been engaging with these emails
- I don’t want to keep bothering you
- Engage with this email (usually by clicking a specific link) if you want to continue to get these emails
Here’s an example of one of these from Noah Kagan:
Notice the approach here. If you do nothing, Noah will keep you on his list. That’s a perfectly OK strategy, but it could mean you’ll keep the very people you want to get rid of – the ones who aren’t interacting with your emails.
If you really wanted to let those inactives go, but wanted to retain the subscribers who were still interested, you might use an approach like this:
With this email, if the subscriber does nothing, they’re removed from the list. But if they want to stay, all they have to do is click that big yellow call to action button. Easy, right?
The second kind of re-engagement email: the offer they can’t refuse
This approach is what email marketers used to send to their inactives. It’s the “offer they can’t refuse” – either a discount, or a content asset, or anything good enough to shake subscribers out of their inactivity.
Here’s an example. In the email below, MapMyFitness is offering a 30% discount to get me to re-engage:
They don’t say whether or not I’m off the list if I don’t engage. But after checking my inbox, this was indeed the last email I got from them.
How you decide to manage your list is up to you. The only law you have to obey here is if someone unsubscribes, obviously you have to honor their request. But whether you just ignore your inactives, or delete them, or decide to send them a last-chance email is up to you. It all depends on how valuable your subscribers are, and how much time you want to invest in keeping them.
What about you? How are you managing your inactive subscribers?
If you are looking for a solution that will help in your efforts to re-engage, sign up for a free trial of Sendlane. This email marketing suite includes everything you need from leads through to newsletters.
Let Sendlane automatically trigger actions based on your engaged subscribers’ behavior while you focus on re-engaging those -inevitable- inactives.
Be sure to like/comment/share and tell us what you think is the best way to deal with disengaged subscribers.
When she’s not assisting wherever she can within our organization, you can find her eating pizza, solving sudoku puzzles and hanging out with her family.
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Also published on Medium.