Low Email CTR? Here’s Why You Should Delete Subscribers

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saying goodbye to email subscribers
Saying goodbye to your unengaged subscribers is the hardest part. The second hardest is getting the greasy handprints off your window. Image via Shutterstock.

By 2018, you’ll get over 140 emails each day.

Billions are already sent daily, adding up to trillions annually (how many zeroes is that even?!).

Email service providers attempt to help, scanning and filtering the questionable stuff out before it even hits your inbox.

You thought Facebook’s declining organic reach is bad? Wait until all of your emails go unread, straight into the email abyss (also known as the Promotions tab).

Surprisingly, one solution to improve results is actually through deleting email subscribers.

Here’s why, and how to do it strategically to jumpstart your lacklustre email results.

Why your email performance is declining (and how to salvage it)

Email marketing generates $38 bucks for every $1 spent.

Not bad. And good enough to comfortably place it (still, in 2016) as one of the highest ROI channels available.

Here’s another doozy: Email outperforms Facebook and Twitter combined by 40X in acquiring new customers.

Amazing, right?

Decades after Hotmail’s ultimate distribution growth hack of giving away free email addresses, it’s still at the pinnacle of a marketer’s playbook.

Unfortunately, our primary task — specifically, getting emails into people’s inboxes — is getting exponentially more difficult on a daily basis.

The problem is twofold.

First, the number of emails being sent is at an all-time high. Over 205 billion last year according to one report; expected to grow 3% over the next four years as well.

And second, email service providers, with their savvy foresight, are combating this using techniques like machine learning to automatically sort or filter out most of the stuff being sent.

sort and filter
Gmail uses their tabbed inbox to automatically detect (and re-route) ‘Promotional’ emails. Image via Giphy.

Wait, it gets worse!

Email lists are depreciating by 25% each year as a result. So even if you’re getting the damned things into someone’s inbox, the responsiveness of subscribers is also falling (due to the overwhelming volume of crap they’re forced to process on a daily basis, no doubt).

This is where graymail comes in.

It ain’t quite spam, but peeps aren’t jumping for joy when they see it either. It’s the company newsletters that contain little value, with pathetic open rates and even more pathetic click rates. The obligatory stuff people didn’t really ask to receive and obviously don’t care to read.

Low engagement activity, coupled with a spike in (1) spam notices and (2) unsubscribe rate increases, result in lower deliverability according to this recent Wired article.

The biggest email service providers (think: Gmail, Outlook… and uh, um… do people still use Yahoo or Hotmail?!) use sophisticated algorithms for ‘reputation scoring’ that “ranks the likely spamminess of a server that’s sending an email”.

Therefore, getting your software to send the email is easy the easy part. Getting it successfully delivered, isn’t.

In response, Mailchimp will use a technique they call “taste-testing” to start with sending only a tiny fraction of your overall email blast, assessing performance in real-time to determine if they should continue sending or kill it immediately to avoid any further reputation damaging.

There is almost no better metaphor for this downward cycle of email neglect than sacrificing the golden goose. You’re taking something with amazing potential (re-read the stats above if you don’t believe me), and then completely sabotaging it with piss-poor execution.

(Anecdotally, I’ve even seen deliverability issues affect ALL emails coming from your domain name — even one-on-one sales follow-up attempts with a prospect.)

The first obvious step towards enlightenment is to send better stuff that people actually want to read. (Can you believe people actually pay for advice like that?!)

However, in an age of escalating barriers to inbox-entry, we also need to proactively prune email subscribers; removing the bad apples to make sure you’re still able to quickly and easily access the good ones when it’s time to hit “Send.

Here’s how.

How to prune your email subscribers on the daily

There is no better vanity metric than the email subscriber count. The thought of deleting those precious things, and lowering that number, causes a violent nausea in some people.

In the good old days, you’d see the little cheesy Feedburner box with glowing subscriber count that would undoubtedly make that blogger’s word Gospel.

feedburner
No greater example of social proof in action.

Today, we’ve come to our senses we do the same damn thing. ‘Cept now it’s fueled by Inbound-gamification, re-hashing the same influencer marketing crap over-and-over-and-over-and-over to hit the frontpage.

But here’s the thing.

HubSpot ditched 250,000 subscribers. That’s probably more than any of us will delete in our entire lifetimes. If you’re keeping score at home, that was nearly 45% of their total list! And yet they took solace in the fact that most of these people weren’t engaging anyway, so it’s not like they were going to lose tons of email traffic overnight.

Routinely ditching the bottom ~5-10% of our lists probably won’t kill us, either.

So here’s how to do it.

Tip #1: Get rid of the obviously bad stuff

Previously unsubscribed, but still hanging around? Routinely bouncing? Purchased contact lists?

Get rid of them all.

The first two are easy and obvious. Simply login, find and delete.

Personally, I like a clean email list free of pollution. What I mean is, if you must use purchased lists to perform outreach (this is a judgment-free zone), isolate those peeps in a different tool like PersistIQ.

PersistIQ
Add touches in PersistIQ for automation and scale.

Not only is it 1,000% more suited for scaling outbound outreach (yay increased productivity!), it will also keep your email database free from poor performers bringing down future results.

Then, you can always send these people a targeted campaign (like a webinar or similar) designed to get them to willingly opt back into your email database, turning a cold contact into a warm subscriber.

All this subscriber pruning making you sad?

Grow your subscriber list and fill up the top of your funnel with quality leads with the Smart Guide to Lead Generation.

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Tip #2: Segment emails with the lowest engagement scores

Now let’s take care of the most inactive subscribers remaining.

Open rates are notoriously unreliable. So go with engagement instead.

If people haven’t clicked on any of your last five email campaigns, it’s a safe bet that they don’t care about what you’re sending them.

Many email tools will also let you sort based on some kind of activity or rating-metric as well (like the MailChimp example below).

Mailchimp
Mailchimp allows you to sort subscribers based on ratings and activity (or lack thereof).

So segment these people with a few different criteria to be safe, and then you can most likely just delete them straight away.

At the very least, get them off this list and into some kind of re-engagement campaign, where the objective is exactly that: send them something different or interesting to win back their attention and engagement.

Here’s how to do that.

Tip #3: Send re-engagement campaigns to subscribers with the lowest engagement

Subscriber recency says that the longer people have been a subscriber, the less active and engaged they’ll be.

The trick then, is to identify these people ahead of time, before they lapse into email obscurity, with some kind of re-engagement campaign.

You can (and should) pair this with marketing automation techniques to automatically begin filtering these people.

Here’s a real example to illustrate.

Off-screen, and prior to anyone seeing this example, somebody downloaded an ebook, guide, etc. that’s typically on the end of a blog post. Then like every good little marketer says, those people received a top o’ the funnel (TOFU) email workflow after getting their hands on the shiny new lead magnet.

Now here’s what’s about to happen in the image below:

  1. The first trigger you see in this example references “35 days”. Basically, we only want this workflow to kick in after people have already progressed through the original TOFU workflow.
  2. Our next step is to make sure these people haven’t filled out any other offers, which on this site includes two different middle of the funnel (MOFU) options (a Services Overview and Website Evaluation) and a bottom of the funnel (BOFU) one (Quote & Proposal) which are often located on your primary website pages like the About, Services, etc.
Re-engagement campaign
Example of a re-engagement TOFU campaign in HubSpot.

In other words, we’re saying: Give us all of the people who (a) have already received a workflow of drip emails for 30 days but (b) didn’t sign up for anything else.

There’s a high probability that these people will churn or that engagement will lapse because they haven’t taken us up on any other offer so far. So we want to preempt that by sending them timely reminders, incentives or breaking news; hopefully piquing their interesting enough to ‘win back’ their attention (and hearts and minds).

These messages can vary in style, ranging from sending over your most interesting blog posts to a more targeted promotion.

Discounts are a popular choice, as are surveys to get some feedback on how you can tailor messages more effectively for that individual.

You can even send a preemptive unsubscribe warning that lets them know you’re going to automatically un-enroll them if they don’t tell you otherwise.

Bonus tip: Combine with remarketing/retargeting

Just because you’re purposefully unsubscribing segments of people doesn’t mean you have to give up or throw away those email addresses entirely.

Instead, you can still attempt to win back these lapsed subscribers with offers in other channels, like using remarketing or retargeting with Facebook custom audiences.

Facebook custom audience
Win back lapsed subscribers using Facebook’s custom audience feature.

Again, the best approach might be to try targeted offers, promotions and discounts to cut through the noise and get their attention.

You can even pair these messages around key holidays (like those fast approaching) to rekindle that old flame; reigniting those warm and fuzzy feelings all over again.

Conclusion

It’s incredible to think that email marketing still outperforms almost every other digital channel.

However, that profitable future is showing signs of waning.

The exponentially increasing volume of emails people get on a daily basis has given rise to new advancements for filtering by email service providers.

This, coupled with increasing unsubscribe rates and decreasing engagement scores, means priority #1 for most marketers (and the email marketing software they use, as we saw from MailChimp) is to make sure our graymail emails aren’t just being sent, but delivered.

One of the best ways to keep deliverability on the up-and-up is to regularly remove unengaged subscribers, keeping your Opens and Clicks as high as humanly possible.

Routinely deleting subscribers might be panic-inducing, but it will help ensure that the people who actually want to read your stuff (and give you money) will continue receiving emails for years to come.



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7 Eye-Catching Email Subject Lines to Catapult Your Open Rates

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email-subject-lines-post-650
“OMG, that email subject line totally reached out and grabbed me!” Image source.
Psst: This post was originally published in 2013, but we recently gave it a refresh during our two-week publishing hiatus. Since launching the Unbounce Marketing Blog, this post has become one of our top-performing posts of all time. We hope you enjoy the read.

The first thing I do when I wake up is grab my phone and check my email. I go through and delete all the unimportant emails so that when I get into the office, a fresh inbox awaits.

However, when I see a subject that catches my eye, I typically read that email right away. That’s the power of email. Social networks come and go, but email marketing has been and still is a great way to connect with, engage and convert your audience.

But how do we cut through the noise and the huge amount of SPAM that hits your prospects’ inboxes every day? Let’s explore seven powerful email subject lines that you can use to better engage with your list.

1. Your AMAZING photos

I used the subject line above in a cold recruitment email and received a 70% open rate along with a 25% conversion rate.

Because it was a cold email, I made sure to tell the recipient where I came across their photos in the body of the email, followed by a quick introduction to the company.

This subject line shows that flattery is a great way to get your recipient’s attention. However, you want to make sure that you are not baiting your recipients with this subject line and then trying to sell your services.

I like to use flattery when I’m either recruiting someone or trying to interview an influential person for my podcast.

Key lessons:

  • Use flattery to your advantage.
  • Do NOT bait and switch. For example, do not use the subject line “Your AMAZING website” and then try to sell your SEO services.
  • Flattery is best used for recruiting someone or to land an influential person for your podcast, blog or web show.
Subject line cheat sheet

Worried your subject line is less than stellar?

Download our FREE Cheat Sheet to learn how to identify bad subject lines… and how to fix them.

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2. Were we boring you?

email-subject-lines-post-2-650
Were we boring you? Image source.

This was a subject line used by Sperry Van Ness. At the time, they were receiving an average open rate of 30%, which is above industry standards. However, the company felt that it was mostly the same people who were opening the emails.

So, in an attempt to clean their list, the company drafted an email with the subject line, “Were we boring you?

The opening paragraph included a message about how many of the subscribers were not opening the newsletter.

Sperry Van Ness then asked subscribers if they wanted to stay on the list or if there was anything that the company could do to better communicate their message.

The open rate skyrocketed to over 50% and they surprisingly did not receive as many unsubscribes as they originally thought.

In fact, people actually apologized for not being more involved.

Key lessons:

  • Try using a subject that is completely unexpected.
  • Using a question in your subject lines is a great way to get someone’s attention.
  • Don’t be afraid of being different.

3. How I grew the KISSmetrics Blog from 0 to 350,000 readers a month

Neil Patel is a master of writing catchy blog headlines, and if you’re an email subscriber to his blog, the headlines also become the subject lines of his emails.

In fact, email marketing is how he built his first business. In his blog post, he goes into great detail on how you can use email marketing to launch your first business. It’s a must read.

The reason why I love this subject line is that it tells a hero’s journey. We all start out as someone looking to build an audience. We don’t have any readers, any listeners or any viewers.

The subject line also implies that Neil will provide tactical action items that we can use to grow our respective audience.

Key lessons:

  • Use a subject line that relates to your audience’s current state of business.
  • Inspire them with real numbers and show them how you did it so they can do it themselves.

4. App business kit (60.34% opt-in rate)

I recently saw this subject line used by Trey Smith of GameAcademy promoting his free app business kit. Trey used this subject line as a follow-up email from the previous day.

The 60.34% opt-in rate immediately caught my attention.

Within the email, Trey explains that he A/B tested five different landing pages and that the one included in the email converted at a whooping rate of 60.34%. Makes you want to click on the landing page doesn’t it?

He also goes on to state that it’s one of the highest conversions he’s ever seen.

Lastly, he talks a bit more about the free app business kit and ends with a call to action to download the kit (which I did from the first email he sent).

This is a great subject line to use when you’re following up on those who haven’t registered for your webinar, downloaded an ebook or signed up for a course.

You don’t necessarily need to be A/B testing your pages. You can also share the amazing results you’ve seen from the previous email.

Key lessons:

  • Use mind-blowing stats in your subject lines to build intrigue.
  • Stats in subject lines are great to send reminders to those who have not engaged with your product or service.

5. Pat’s super secret way to find content to write about

Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome uses the above subject line in his first auto-responder email, and he provides AMAZING content within this email. Pat knows that to build a loyal audience you have to give them your best stuff at the very start on the relationship.

And since his audience is primarily comprised of bloggers and online marketers, he understands that at times we all go through dry spells of coming up with great content to write about.

That is why Pat shares his super secret tip a day after you sign up for his email. He knows once you read this content that he has your attention for the full span of the auto-responder series.

Key lessons:

  • Share your best content in the beginning of your auto-responder series.
  • Use “secret” to attract attention, but use it carefully as not to disappoint your readers.

6. Would you like to unsubscribe?

I know what you’re thinking, the money is in the email list! Why in the world would I ask anyone to unsubscribe?

Well it’s simple. We want people who want to hear from us.

We often get email addresses from lead generation sources such as conferences and webinars. And while these leads may have been interested in the initial offering, they may not be interested in hearing from us ever again.

What we’ve found is that these people will most likely unsubscribe the next time you send any type of email, so we make it easy for them by sending an email dedicated to unsubscribing.

By doing this, we scrub our list from those who will likely never engage with us and also earn the trust of those who open the email and didn’t unsubscribe.

As an example, think of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant. He is also famously featured in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

He attracts sushi lovers from all around the world who call months in advance and pay top dollar for a coveted seat at his 10-seat restaurant.

However, there’s a twist. Customers must eat whatever Jiro is serving that day and are not allowed to add anything to the sushi, which means no soy sauce and no wasabi.

He treats sushi as an art and spends hours and hours crafting the perfect piece. While he could easily expand his space and triple his revenues, he wants to make sure he attracts the right customers, so if you’re looking for a bento box Sukiyabashi Jiro is probably not the right place for you.

Key lessons:

  • Scrub your lead list of those who will likely never engage with you.
  • Don’t be afraid to be bold, it will earn trust with those who stay on.

7. Steve, where are you?

I used the subject line above to send a final reminder email for a webinar. It’s the very last email in a sequence of four emails I send promoting a webinar.

With this email I was able to achieve a 43% open rate and a 15% click-through rate. To give you a little perspective, the industry averages are 24% and 4% respectively (according to Mailchimp).

This subject line uses the psychological trigger (or internet slang) called FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s the feeling that one gets when you stray away from your normal social routine.

FOMO is emblematic of the social age, made popular by sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

When we scroll through photos and status updates, the worry that tugs at our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational” and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.

While the subject line will gain your recipient’s attention, you must make sure your content is also worth the attention.

Key lessons:

  1. Personalize the subject line with the recipient’s first name to amplify the fear of missing out.
  2. Provide valuable subject matter within the body of the email.

Even with the proliferation of social networks, email marketing is still a powerful tool. The problem is crafting the right subject line to cut through the noise and get your readers’ attention.

Use the subject lines above as a template or as an inspiration to craft your own.

What successful subject lines have you used in the past? Of the list above, which one is your favorite and why? Share your comments below.



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