7 Ways to Reduce Your Email Marketing Unsubscribe Rates

Anyone who has dipped their toes in email marketing understands that unsubscribes are a part of the business. However, it is deflating to see a once-promising lead unsubscribe from your campaign. When this happens, marketers are left scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong. Let’s consider the motivations behind email marketing engagement and then identify the seven ways you can reduce your unsubscribe rates.

Reasons for Subscribing

Valuable Content

This is the most basic reason. People subscribe because they find a company’s content to be educational, insightful, relevant, or even entertaining. Subscribing to receive this content is more economical than contacting a business representative, searching a company website, or scanning social media. The content is free, direct, accessible, thus, valuable.

Exclusive Value

Several weeks ago, I needed to buy a new pair of running shoes. I discovered that Dick’s Sporting Goods has a deal where first-time mailing list subscribers receive a 20% off coupon. Great! I subscribed, got my coupon, and bought a pair of sneakers for a huge discount. It was an exclusive value that justified my decision to subscribe.

People subscribe to email campaigns to get something they cannot get elsewhere. Common incentives include:

  • App or paywall access (i.e. “submit your email address to download”)
  • Exclusive content or insights (i.e. white papers, guides, etc.)
  • Membership or account creation
  • Incentives (i.e. giveaways, coupons, discounts, etc.)

Brand News and Announcements

If someone wants to know about a company’s brand, receiving company email alerts is one method for the toolbox. These individuals could include clients, investors, media members, and even competitors who are trying to stay up-to-date with your company. These email alerts are essential to the business function, but they also provide opportunities for cross-selling and building product awareness.

Reasons for Unsubscribing

Too much Frequency

We’ve all seen it happen—you subscribe to a mailing list, and next thing you know, your inbox is full of 20+ emails. Sending too many emails is the fastest track to having your leads bolt. The million dollar question here is, “How many emails should my company send?” There is no universal answer to that question. However, the theory behind unsubscribes is simply economics.

Email Marketing Supply and Demand

In the curves above, engagement rate is on the Y-axis and overall traffic is on the X-axis. The ideal frequency of emails is marked with the green dotted line; it maximizes both engagement rate and overall traffic. When a company sends too many emails, that equilibrium shifts (as marked in red). This results in greater overall traffic from emails, but less engagement per email. While the increase in traffic is desirable, the lowered engagement means that your subscribers are being hit with too many communications. If this over-communication increases or continues for an extended period of time, this will cause unsubscribes.

Lack of Overall Value or Relevancy

Why would your leads take time out of their busy day to read your content? How will it help them? If you were busy, would you come back to read this email later in the day? If you don’t have a strong response to any of these questions, your content is probably not as valuable as you think it is.

Furthermore, what is the common thread between contacts on your mailing lists? Are they segmented by location, industry, or interest? Does the content you are sending apply to all of them or just some of them? A big problem for many company’s email marketing strategies is that creating and sending the content is highly automated and efficient, but the segmentation is lacking. This means that individuals are receiving content that is not necessarily bad—it is just not relevant to them. That is a quick way to seem like spam and to lose a lead.

Exclusive Value Obtained

Remember my Dick’s Sporting Goods story from earlier? After I received my coupon for discounted running shoes, I was subscribed to the company’s mailing list. The next email I received from the company was for softball gear. I’ve never played softball, and I have no intention of starting anytime soon. The only interest I had in Dick’s products were the coupon I received by signing up for the list. As so, I unsubscribed.

This is a common problem for companies that build mailing lists by offering exclusive one-time offers. After a user subscribes, they get their incentive and bolt.

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How to Reduce Unsubscribe Rates

  1. Slow down the amount of content you are sending. This will help you determine a baseline for your metrics. You can gradually increase these campaigns to identify your “sweet spot.” (as shown in the graphic above)
  2. Analyze Your Metrics. Consider the most important metrics for email campaigns on both automated and non-automated campaigns. Filter this data for recent unsubscribes. Is there a trend worth considering?
  3. Know why your content is valuable. Ask yourself why your clients want to read your content. Does it feel like spam or a sales pitch? Email marketing needs to finely balance subscriber value with selling your product.
  4. Re-evaluate Your Segmentation Strategy. While most firms are segmenting data and conducting A/B testing, have you identified your lists with high unsubscribe rates? Consider how these can be better segmented to maximize relevancy.
  5. Personalize, don’t be creepy. When you think of a personalized email, are you thinking “Hello «NAME»” or are you thinking of tailoring the content to the data you have on your client? Personalization should aim to provide value for your client, not show how much data you have on them.
  6. Don’t Spark Out. When building your mailing list with exclusive values, don’t build one-time strategies (like our Dick’s example). Make sure that the value-added is an ongoing concern. If value is added over months, you will keep your subscribers hooked in.
  7. Unsubscribe with Grace. As I said, unsubscribes are part of the business. When they happen, you should (a.) make the process as easy as possible/compliant with CAN-SPAM laws and (b.) offer a chance for contacts to provide feedback for why they are unsubscribing. That is valuable data.