What if I told you it might make sense to delete a bunch of email subscribers from your email list?

Would you think I was nuts?

Well, let me explain why it isn’t nuts. And, in fact, it might be something you want to do on an annual basis.

Engagement > Numbers

Simply put, the number of email subscribers who are actually paying attention to you and act on what you say…. is FAR more important than the size of your list.

I’d rather have a list of 1,000 people who open every email I send them than a list of 50,000 who mostly don’t open my emails and just send my stuff to their spam folder. And I bet I can make far more money with those 1,000 engaged subscribers than a non-engaged list of 50,000.

Now, those numbers might be a little extreme. After all, if I had a list of 50,000, I’d be doing a pretty piss-poor job if less than 1,000 of them actually care about my emails.

… but, it goes to show that the size of the list isn’t what’s important. It is how engaged they are with you. Do they open your emails? And do they click on things?

The fact of the matter is that a majority of the emails you send to your email list are going nowhere. They’re not being opened. Yet…

  • It is probably costing you money to have those emails on your list.
  • It is reducing your open rates.

Almost all email list services (including Aweber, which I use) charge more for the number of emails in your database. Why pay for them to be there if they’re never opening your emails?

But, then there’s the effect on open rates. Not only does it artificially deflate your open stats, but it could be harming the open rates of perfectly valid subscribers. See, in the ongoing battle against spam, ISPs are now taking into account people’s open habits to determine whether you’re a spammer or not. So, if they see that a bulk of their clients are not opening emails from you, then they’re more likely to just flag all your emails as spam. This means you’re less likely to get through even to perfectly valid, interested subscribers. Not good!

The Solution Is…

It is a re-engagement campaign. The idea is simple…

Most email list services (like Aweber) provide segmenting options based on a number of factors – including whether a subscriber is opening your emails or not.

So, what you can do is run a search for all subscribers which haven’t opened an email from you  before a certain date (say, a few months ago). You save those leads into a segment. The result is a segment of your list which contains the “aged leads”, or those subscribers who (according to the system) aren’t opening any of your emails.

A small note: It IS possible that a subscriber is opening emails yet isn’t being counted. This is because most services use a tracking image to detect an open, and most web-based email services (like Gmail) block images by default. So, open rates are inherently inaccurate. However,  a CLICK counts just like an open. After all, if they clicked on a link, they’d have to have opened it to do that.

Once you have this segment, you then begin a series of emails to them over the course of 2-3 weeks which invites them to “reengage”. You can do this however you like, but the entire point is to get them to either open the email or click something. By them doing that, it shows they’re indeed still there and Aweber will automatically remove them from the “aged leads” segment.

After 3 or 4 emails trying to get them to do something… if they still haven’t responded, then it means that their email address is old, they’re not checking it anymore, or they’re indeed not interested in hearing from you. This, of course, means you can delete them from your list and save them and you the hassle.

An Example From Me

The idea of running a campaign like this just entered my world 2-3 months ago. And, over the last month or so, I’ve been working on it for my PCMech.com email lists. Once that is done, I’ll be running a similar cleanup on the DavidRisley.com lists. In fact, I’m changing some things with how I interact with my list (but, more on that later).

Being in this business as long as I have, I had several different sub-lists created for various purposes.

With PCMech.com, I have the main weekly newsletter list. I also have a daily alerts list and a forum list. These lists are all used presently. Now, I had 3 lists associated with PCMech which were no longer in use. Collectively, these 3 lists had over 4,000 people on them. I had no way to know whether they were getting my weekly newsletter or not. They were just…. there.

PCMech Reengagement Squeeze Page
PCMech Reengagement Squeeze Page

So, I started out by sending a series of 4 emails to each of these 3 lists. I set up a simple squeeze page for the main newsletter (using OptimizePress, of course). The entire point of the emails was to inform them that their subscription was queued for removal, and if they want to continue hearing from us, to please subscribe to the newsletter on that squeeze page.

That squeeze page is pictured above. Or you can click here to see the real thing.

Since Aweber provides inclusion/exclusion options for multiple lists, I just make sure that each email EXCLUDED the weekly list. After all, if they’re already getting the newsletter, I don’t want them thinking I’ve gone bonkers by acting like they’re not getting it.

I sent these 4 emails over the course of about 3 weeks. Over the course of those 4 emails, I could see the open rates going down… and down. Which means it was working and I was truly whittling the lists down to the truly inactive subscribers.

Once the whole thing is done and I can tell I’m not really squeezing anymore valid people from these old lists, I simply de-activate the lists in Aweber. They hold the list for 30 days (unless you contact their support and tell them to just delete it). After that, those old leads are gone and will no longer be affecting open rates or your monthly bill.

Now, here’s the part which makes people nervous….

Once I handled the old sub-lists, I was faced with the main weekly email list. It has about 25,000 people on it. However, when I ran a search for aged leads (using August 1, 2011 as the cut-off dates for opens), I came back with a little over 11,000 leads. That’s 11,000 people sitting on my list which, according to Aweber, haven’t opened or clicked on anything since August.

That’s pretty freakin’ substantial, but also not surprising. I had NEVER done a re-engagement campaign before! So this is literally YEARS of buildup.

Here is the email I sent to these 11,000 leads:

You are receiving this email because you are subscribed to the PCMech.com Weekly Newsletter. You subscribed back on {!signdate long}.

According to our records, you haven’t opened one of our newsletters in quite some time. In the interest of making sure we’re only sending to people who truly want to hear from us, we’re sending you this email.

Do You Want To Continue Receiving PCMech.com’s Free Weekly Newsletter?

As a reminder, here’s the summary of the newsletter:

=> Sent every Wednesday
=> Running for well over 400 issues (and counting)
=> Keeps you up-to-date on the latest news from the world of computers and technology.
=> Includes an article of the week, a weekly rant from our head writer, and a download of the week (usually free)

You’ll be able to stay informed, get announcements on tech deals you may be interested in, and learn new ways to use your computer.

So, all we need for you to do is select one of the following answers:

YES, I want to continue to receive your weekly newsletter.
(this click will take you to our homepage, but the click will register your interest to continue your subscription. It is free and you can unsubscribe at any time.)


NO, please unsubscribe me from your list. I’m no longer interested in your free newsletter.

Please take a moment to respond.

If we don’t hear from you at all, we’ll assume your email address is no longer valid and it will be queued for deletion in the next couple weeks or so.

Thanks for your time.

– David Risley
Founder, PCMech.com

So, I gave them a clear yes/no option. Clicking “yes” will take them to our site, but will register the click and therefore remove them from the aged leads segment. Clicking “no” is a direct link to unsubscribe. You can see I also showed them WHEN they subscribed, reminded them of the benefits, reminded them it was completely free.

If you wanted to get all “ninja” on this, you could make the “yes” option take them to an offer of some kind. Hmmm…. 🙂

But, you get the point.

The open rate on this email is pretty low (considering I’m sending it to inactive subscribers), but the good news is that about 80% of the people are clicking the “yes” button. 🙂

Freak Out Time!?!?!

There’s a solid chance that, when this whole thing is done, I’ll be removing close to 10,000 people from the PCMech main email list.


Some might think so. It certainly does hamper your bragging rights. 🙂 When people ask how big your list is, you don’t have as impressive a number. If you’re in the internet marketing arena, you’d need to consider that. After all, getting nice joint ventures often comes down to how big your reach is.

But, that is a tradeoff you have to consider. It seems to me that if your open rates are low (and many people are now considering a 20% open rate to be good… which is rather sad, really), then having a big list is irrelevant. Your REAL list size is only the number of people who open your stuff. The rest of them might as well not even be there. You’re just paying more to keep them there. Plus, their presence can negatively effect delivery for everybody else.

Constant care of your email list is the secret to high open rates. 50%… 60%, 70% and higher… those kind of open rates only happen when you really take care of your list. That includes sending them valuable information which they look forward to…. as well as removing those who aren’t interested.

I’m probably going to start doing this once per year or so. You may want to consider it as well.

To end off, a few relevant links for you:

  • Aweber. The segmenting abilities of Aweber are awesome and make running a reengagement campaign a fairly trivial matter.
  • Optimizepress. If you’re trying to merge lists, you want to point people to a high-converting squeeze page for your main list. Optimizepress is awesome for this.
  • Master Your List. To learn how to really get the most out of your list, keep them engaged, and know what to say, check out my mini training course: Master Your List.

Got A Question? Need Some Assistance?

Have a question about this article? Need some help with this topic (or anything else)? Send it in and I’ll get back to you personally. If you’re OK with it, I might even use it as the basis of future content so I can make this site most useful.

Question – Lead Form