Decreasing Email Unsubscription Rates

As a marriage slips toward divorce, couples often seek out counselors. You can avoid a split if you understand and then address the reasons for drifting apart.

So it is with email. If you understand why people might want to leave a list, you can take steps to address the problem and keep them happily married to your offers and content.

Here are four typical reasons for unsubscribing and how you can best respond…
Reason 1 – I like your emails but I just get too much email and something has to give
Problem – Unless you’re one of the lucky few, it’s highly unlikely that your recipients see your emails as utterly indispensable (sorry, but that’s the reality of email life).

Of course, you do your best to encourage subscriber loyalty, but people get a lot of email. And sometimes they go on a subscription purge.

Solution 1 -  Show them other ways they can stay in contact with your business or brand. For example, on the webpage confirming the unsubscribe, list links to your blog and web feed.

Solution 2 – They’re unsubscribing from your emails, not from your communication. If you have other legitimate contact data, use it.

Reason 2 – You send too much email
Problem -  The subscriber is not disinterested, but you’re overwhelming them with emails. They’re using the unsubscribe link like a “stop” button.

Solution 1 – This is where a “subscriber preference center” comes into its own. When they follow the unsubscribe link, the page they reach should allow them to manage their subscription as well as simply confirm they want to get off the list. This might include an option to stay subscribed but change the mailing frequency.

Solution 2 – Offer this choice of frequency at sign-up, too, so emails start off at intervals the recipient is comfortable with.

Solution 3 – Look at your historical campaign reports for associations between changes in email frequency and results. Or test frequency changes to see the impact. This will give you a feel for the optimal frequency.

Take care here, for two reasons.

First, given a choice, many subscribers will pick lower frequencies. But in practice they may still be happy with a higher one.

Second, gradual increases in frequency often seem to lead to increases in end results. Up to a point when the gains are outweighed by increasingly disillusioned and fatigued (ex)subscribers. There’s also a tipping point which can see results suddenly collapse. See this post for an explanation.

Reason 3 – I have a new email address
– They don’t want to leave your list, they just want to change the address the emails come to. If there’s no easy way to do this, they just unsubscribe. If you’re lucky, this act is followed by a new sign-up using the new address. If you’re unlucky.

Solution – Put “how to change your email address” information in your email’s administrative footer. If you have a subscriber preference center which allows people to change their address, point to that. If not, give them alternative instructions (such as sending you an email).

Reason 4 – You’re not sending me what I want
Problem – The subscriber opted-in to your program with certain expectations. If those aren’t met, they have no incentive to stay subscribed.

Solution 1 – Check your sign-up processes to make sure the expectations you set match what you actually send. Email strategies change with time, but subscription forms and welcome messages are often left untouched for years and may no longer reflect your current email content.

Solution 2 – If you’re sending informational newsletters, beware of promotional creep: the tendency to slip ever more (and ever more prominent) promotional messages into the content.

A rule of thumb for such newsletters is at least 70% sales-free content. Alternatively, use teaser summaries to get people to visit a website for the full article. Then ensure the website does a good job of selling.

Solution 3 – Let people choose what kinds of email or content they get by giving them a choice of lists or content topics in the subscriber preference center.

Solution 4 – Let people selectively unsubscribe only from certain types of email or email content.

Solution 5 – Monitor your campaign reports to see what content or promotions resonate best with your audience and adjust accordingly.

Solution 6 – Investigate more advanced email marketing techniques like trigger emails, segmentation etc. All are designed to make the messages more relevant to the recipient.

Two more tips…
You want people to use subscriber preference centers, as they let recipients express their needs so you can adjust what they get accordingly. The problem is people hardly ever use them, unless they want to unsubscribe (when it may be too late to rescue the situation).

One way round this problem is to give people a reason or incentive to update their subscription profiles. For some ideas, check the examples posted by Chad White.

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