4 Ways to Reduce the Dreaded Email List Churn

Email list churn is very nearly considered one of the few ‘givens’ in life (next to death and taxes that is). No? Ok fine, maybe it’s not that dramatic but it is something that most marketers have to deal with and likely on a regular basis. List churn refers to the number of subscribers who are ‘lost’ to your list over a given period and it’s measured by the number of hard bounces, unsubscribes, or spam complaints you receive. Other factors that add to list churn include email content relevance, frequency of the campaigns, inactive subscribers (though this can be hard to measure) and ineffective opt-in processes, all of which in turn affect deliverability and your bottom line. On average a marketer will experience 20-30% list churn every year, but you can work out your rate by following this simple equation:

Tally up your hard bounces, unsubscribes and spam complaints for the time period you’re interested in (usually a month or year) and divide this total number of ‘lost’ subscribers by your current list size and presto, you have your churn rate. A basic example looks like this:

  • 3,000 (‘lost’ subscribers) / 10,000 (current list size) = 0.3 x 100 = 30% list churn rate.

While list churn is inevitable to a certain extent, there are steps you can take to reduce it and although they aren’t necessarily ‘quick fixes’ (if there is there such a thing in email marketing?!), if you make a concerted effort to employ these tactics you should start to see positive results.

1. Tell your subscribers everything they need to know

If you don’t have a preference centre where subscribers can decide which newsletters they receive and how often, then tell them what they can expect from you when they first sign up, and stick to this. Email marketing is all about developing a long term online relationship with your subscriber, and this is where it starts. This would also be a good time to lay out your privacy policy, in layman’s terms. No need to go into 5 pages of indecipherable text, just let your subscribers know that you aren’t going to sell, rent or disclose any of their details to anyone else. It’s really that simple.

2. Learn from your mistakes

If someone unsubscribes, politely ask for feedback or comments about why they’re opting out and what you could do better, and then do what you can to implement those suggestions into your campaign. It all helps with customer engagement and while you might have lost this particular subscriber, the constructive criticism can be used to adapt your strategy and help ensure you meet the expectations of the next customer who signs up.

3. Make things easy for your subscribers

Quick and simple opt-in and unsubscribe processes along with reliable contact details are what your subscribers are initially looking for, so get off to a good start and make sure these aspects of your campaign are optimized for ease of use. It’s also a good idea to offer a simple preference centre so your subscribers can easily update their profile or change their preferences in terms of what their interests are, which newsletters they’re interested in, how often they want to receive them etc. Not only is this a good way of engaging with them, but the data is hugely beneficial to you too, because you can use it to segment your audience and target them more effectively.

4. Re-engage inactive subscribers

The term ‘inactive’ is open to interpretation, but generally if a subscriber hasn’t clicked on any of your emails in the past 6 months (based on say 1-2 campaigns a month), then you could assume that they now fall into the ‘inactive’ category. It’s not a train smash, rather see it as an opportunity to re-engage with them and get them interested again in what you had to offer. They obviously liked something you did otherwise they wouldn’t have signed up in the first place, so work off of this. Assuming these subscribers are perhaps bored with your current email offerings, your reactivation campaign needs to jump out at them and offer something truly irresistible that’s going to guarantee a high open rate. This would also be a good time to find out if they are still interested in receiving your emails or if they’d prefer to reduce their subscription or unsubscribe completely.


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