What to Do With Inactive Subscribers in your Email List


A fully active email subscriber list is the dream for any business that relies on email marketing to drive a good percentage of its sales. Unfortunately, the reality of the world is that sometimes the subscribers on your mailing list become inactive and unengaged with your emails. It is bound to happen to any company, but what do you do when your email subscriber list starts to accumulate inactive members?  Today we take a closer look at the stagnation in engagement that business owners face from growing inactivity in their email subscriber list.  We also discuss how to deal with the situation when it inevitably happens to you.

Why Do People In An Email Subscriber List Become Inactive?

You never know which member of your email subscriber list can suddenly stop engaging with your emails like they used to. However, there are a few key reasons why they would suddenly go dormant.

  1. It is a natural part of the email marketing experience.

Market research has identified a natural degradation of email subscriber lists at a rate of 22.5% every year. It means that although we may wish for it, it is not possible to have 100% engagement from your mailing list throughout. Some users are bound to fall by the wayside, and this is okay.

  1. Users change, and so does their interest in your brand.

As human beings, we are constantly changing, and so do our interests over time. What your business may do for someone today may be unnecessary for them in a few years as their preferences change. It is why you should constantly be gaining new subscribers, building your email subscriber list and keeping it current as a business owner.

  1. They no longer need your assistance.

Once a user has received the product or service that they needed from your business, they may simply not need you anymore. They are satisfied to have gotten what they wanted from you at the moment, and they may or may not return in the future. Your business has fulfilled its usefulness to them, and your products or ongoing services may no longer be required.

  1. They have changed their email addresses.

Many people create alternate email addresses and end up abandoning the ones that they previously had. It is common for a user in your email subscriber list to migrate to their new email address, leaving the one that they provided for you dormant. Marketing research firm Radicati’s Email Statistics report even puts the global average number of email accounts per user at 1.8 as of 2018. Most people have alternate email addresses and may only be inactive on the one they shared with you.

Depending on your mailing practices, users could become inactive if they feel like they receive nothing of value from your messages. That is especially true when you don’t effectively segment your email subscriber list, and some users constantly receive messages that aren’t useful to them.

Inactive Subscribers Are Not All The Same.

Aside from the reason for inactivity differing throughout your email subscriber list, the inactive users are also not all alike. They generally fall into three different groups, based on how they’ve interacted with your brand from the start. Based on the data you’ve collected of user interaction with your business, here is how to deal with each specific group.

  • Group A: users that were never active.

The never-active user signed up for your email subscriber list once and proceeded to never interact with the rest of your emails ever since. Your behavioral data will show that they’ve never opened any of your emails after the initial one. They may have only provided their address to access a one-time piece of content or service from you at the time and never looked back at your brand ever again.

How to handle this subscriber

The harsh truth is that you should remove this kind of user from your email subscriber list. Their behavioral data indicates that they may never be interested in your content again. They may have already moved on and were maybe just too lazy to unsubscribe. In this case, you must let them go and replace them with new subscribers. Keeping them on your mailing list could damage your sender reputation in the long run.

  • Group B: Users that were once active but have recently gone dormant.

These are the subscribers that constantly engaged with your business in the beginning. They regularly opened your emails or even purchased your products or services. After some time, the number of emails they interacted with started to reduce, and eventually, they began to ignore them altogether.

How to handle this subscriber

Subscribers like these are the best users to bring back with a well-crafted re-engagement campaign. Prepare a series of win-back emails that start by asking them if they are still interested in your products or service. Try to keep the sending frequency low since you don’t want to bombard them with so much information that they feel overwhelmed. According to business data collector Validity, re-engagement emails have a 12% open rate, which could translate to even higher click-through rates if the contacted subscriber’s interest is re-ignited once again. 

  • Group C: Users that have been inactive for a long time.

Like the previous user, this subscriber may have initially engaged well with your emails, but have descended into inactivity for 6 to 12 months or even years.

How to handle this subscriber

Just like the user that showed no interest in your brand from the beginning, it is likely that this user may no longer be interested in your business again. Having spent such a long time out of touch, they may have possibly moved on from your brand, and reaching out to them may be risky since they may never respond. A re-engagement campaign may be too late for them, and the chances are high that they will ignore your messages anyway. Removing them from your email subscriber list is the best move.

When your email subscriber list starts to accumulate inactive users, don’t be so quick to discard them all. Depending on their engagement history with your brand, a good number of them may be encouraged to return to activity. Carefully dealing with unengaged subscribers could mean the difference between recovered and lost sales.


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