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Here ’s What To Do With Those Inactive Email Subscribers

In the years since you’ve decided to start an email marketing campaign, you’ve dedicated your time and resources to collecting email addresses. You’ve set up a form through a landing page. You’ve added the option as part the checkout process. You’ve made it a requirement to download your free guide. You’ve even received two full pages of interested members, scribbled on a legal pad, at your last seminar.   So why is it that when you blast your weekly newsletter, exciting announcements, and upcoming deals out into the universe, you feel like you should be getting more opens, clicks, sign-ups and sales? It might have to do with a large number of inactive users on your subscriber list.  

What’s Wrong with Inactive Email Subscribers?  

The longer you’ve been collecting email addresses, the more likely you are to have inactive subscribers. While they may not seem like a big deal, inactive subscribers are probably causing you more harm than you know, starting with your analytics. Having too many inactive subscribers on your list can make it seem like your email marketing efforts are less effective than they actually are. Because you make decisions based on these numbers, you really want to be working with the most accurate data possible.   Inactive email subscribers can also be costing you money.

If you’re using an email marketing program like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or one of the many others, you know that plans are often based on the number of subscribers. Having too many inactive subscribers could be pushing you into a more expensive plan than what you really need.   Lastly, if your recipients aren’t opening their emails, it means they’re not getting your message, so to a certain extent, your email marketing campaign isn’t working. Nobody wants to hear that!  

What Causes Subscribers to Go Inactive?  

Business owners who choose to set up email marketing campaigns are often confused and a bit frustrated when they notice their subscribers going inactive. Why would someone provide their email address if they weren’t at least a little interested in the products, services, or information the company has to offer? Turns out, there are many different reasons for this:  

Old Email Address: The email address the customer provided could be old, and there are dozens of possibilities of how this could happen as well.  It’s possible that the customer signed up with a school or work account and because they’re no longer a part of that organization, they no longer have access to that account. It’s also possible that the customer’s email account was hacked, forcing them to open a new email account. It could be that the customer started using a new account, slowing abandoning the old one. In each of these scenarios, the customer may still very much enjoy your recaps and coupon codes, having subscribed to your mailing list with a more current email address.  

One-Time Purchase: Customers might go inactive because even though they bought a product off your website, it was a one-time purchase. Maybe they were buying a gift for someone else or they were trying out a new hobby they chose not to further pursue. For whatever reason, they no longer have an interest in what you’re offering and they just haven’t gotten around to unsubscribing.  

“Junk Email” Address: Another possibility is that your customer originally gave you a “junk email” address. Regardless of how much they may like your business or how often they may shop your store, they really didn’t want another promotional email in their inbox; therefore, they signed up with an address they only use for online shopping with no intentions to ever check the inbox. This is particularly popular when businesses don’t make declining from an email subscription an option.  

Problem with Content: Unfortunately, it’s also possible that your customers do have an active email account and yes, they are still interested in your products and services, but the subject line is boring, or the content is too long, or they’re finding better deals elsewhere, and so the emails go ignored.  

When Is A Subscriber Considered Inactive?  

There are no hard and fast rules about what classifies a subscriber as inactive. Generally, if the subscriber hasn’t opened their emails or logged onto the website within a certain time frame, they’re considered inactive. What that time frame is differs from company to company and may depend a lot on the nature of the industry.  

A website that sells cosmetics may view their users as inactive once the user has gone six months without opening an email, while a website that sells pool supplies may not label a user as inactive for two years. A used-car dealership might wait five years before making that call. It all depends on what’s realistic based on the frequency customers are expected to buy your type of product or service.  

How Can I Nudge My Inactive Subscribers?  

Before you start slashing names off your list of subscribers, you should make a last attempt to re-engage. Your inactive users were all customers at one point so it’s often easier to persuade them to come back than to try to gain new members.   You should start by making small improvements to your promotional emails overall. Make sure you’re spending enough time choosing a compelling subject line and double check that your emails aren’t just being sent to spam boxes.

If you’re not already including things like coupon codes and free gifts in your promotional emails – start. This is one of the most effective ways to get users to open their messages.   Consider sending an email just to your potentially inactive users with a subject like “We Miss You! Come Back!” If your subscriber is still around, this may call attention to the fact that they haven’t opened their emails or logged onto your site in a while. Include a special coupon code to help move things along.   You could also send your inactive users a survey.

If they’re not opening your emails because they had a negative experience with your company, they think your prices are too high, or you’re not offering a product or service they need, they may jump at the chance to give their impressions and it might benefit you to have this feedback.  

If you suspect your inactive users just have old email addresses (you notice lots of school or work accounts), you may be able to reach out to them in other ways. Add a link to social media or your home page that allows users to update their contact information and communication preferences. This will give them the opportunity to re-enroll in your mailing list if they’re still around.  

If All Else Fails?  

While these re-engagement steps are likely to convert some of your inactive subscribers back into willing participants, you won’t be able to revive all of them. Some of them just won’t be reachable. Others just don’t have any interest. What to do with your truly inactive subscribers is a controversial subject in the marketing realm.

While some companies have no problem removing inactive subscribers from their subscriber list after a certain period of time has passed, other companies worry about missed opportunities or they simply find removing names unethical.   Some ways businesses compromise is by sending private emails to inactive users that state if their communication preferences aren’t updated by a certain date, their subscription will be canceled.

Another option is to move all inactive users into a separate group that receives the occasional newsletter, announcement or coupon code, but not all of them. This will help keep your costs down and your analytics accurate.          


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