Brace yourself: email unsubscribes are not necessarily bad.
That may seem counter-intuitive. After all, isn’t list size one of the key metrics we’re supposed to report up to senior management? Aren’t we always looking for more and more subscribers? Isn’t list growth a key measure of how well our advertising, marketing and content are performing?
The truth is, list size is a false metric. You may have to explain this to your boss. The exception would be for businesses who derive revenue based on CPM advertising within, or sponsorship of, their email. But, for most organizations, there are more important goals of engagement and corresponding KPIs.
Here are five examples of the benefits of losing subscribers, and what you can learn from those who opt out:
1. A bloated list of disengaged subscribers messes up your email performance metrics.
Those who are truly disengaged are just diluting the actual metrics you use to optimize your email performance. Ten thousand disengaged subscribers will completely obfuscate the real learnings from the 1,000 that are engaged.
Opportunity for Improvement: If a subscriber has not clicked through in the prior six months, initiate a last-chance re-engagement campaign. If still no response, then purge and archive them.
2. Email unsubscribes are an indicator of list quality.
How were those emails addressed initially obtained? Under false or misleading pretenses? Were they truly a legitimate opt-in? Were they obtained as the result of a low-commitment sweepstakes or contest entry?
Opportunity for Improvement: Clean up your list-growth processes—the forms, the CTAs, the messaging—to focus on and appeal to the most qualified prospects and customers. Otherwise, you’re wasting their time and yours.
3. Email unsubscribes signal how well you’re doing with email segmentation, content, frequency, relevancy and CTAs.
Irrespective of how the subscriber was obtained, if your message isn’t relevant, the format isn’t right for the recipient’s device or the interval is too frequent and annoying, expect disengagement at best, and ultimately an opt-out.
Opportunity for Improvement: Test each email variable using a repeatable, controlled process—even simple A/B split testing—to help you continually learn and optimize for each audience segment. Unless your total list size is less than 2,500, you should always be testing some aspect during each send.
4. Think of the subscriber relationship like dating. Maybe they’re just not into you—yet.
If things just aren’t quite working for the other person, as an alternative to breaking up completely (unsubscribing), allow recipients to alter the relationship.
Opportunity for Improvement: Let them take a break and pause email for a period of time. Let them reduce frequency according to the recipient’s preference. Allow the recipient to alter the types of content you’re sending. These and more options should be offered in a user-controlled preference center. If/when you get the unsubscribe click-through, offer these alternatives to completely ending the relationship.
5. And if you can’t salvage the relationship—it’s a final breakup—ask “why?”
Of course, you’ll never get 100% of unsubscribes to share their reasoning, but, if executed well (even cleverly or humorously), over time you’ll collect enough data to draw some conclusions about why subscribers are leaving.
Opportunity for Improvement: That final unsubscribe confirmation screen should offer 4-7 options for the fleeing subscriber to tell you why they’re leaving. You can even place it on the initial unsubscribe page so long as the actual unsubscribe button is clearly available right below the optional (never required) check-box selections. It might be them. It might be you. You won’t know unless you ask.