How to Better Manage Unsubscribes with Email

Nothing causes panic for an email marketer like seeing their unsubscribe rate spike. After all of their efforts, the prospects of future success now look grim. What should they do? How can they plan on managing unsubscribes?

Well, there are actually a few solutions, but none of them are nearly as effective as managing your subscribes correctly to begin with.

Don’t let your unsubscribe rate grow out of control

Building your email list to the point that it becomes a consistent source of revenue for your company can take a lot of time, dedication, and money. Of course, given email marketing’s legendary ROI, it’s worth it.

Nonetheless, both factors–the work required and the ROI to be enjoyed–are why you should closely monitor your unsubscribe rate.

Obviously, no email marketer wants to see people opting out of their list. Those are lost opportunities. They might even be lost opportunities you paid to generate (e.g. through paid ads) who will now never convert through your list.

At the same time, a higher-than-average unsubscribe rate is probably a sign of things to come, meaning this number tends to snowball.

That’s because, if people are leaving your list, it means your emails aren’t providing them with the value they wanted. If you don’t take steps to change that immediately, the problem will only get worse. Eventually, you may have to practically start from scratch to reinvigorate your list.

What’s the average unsubscribe rate for email lists?

The average unsubscribe rate is 0.25% across all industries.

Here’s what that looks like by each one:

  • Education/College: .45%
  • Gambling and Gaming: .43%
  • Nonprofits: .42%
  • Business Services and Training: .42%
  • Professional Services: .41%
  • Travel and Hospitality: .36%
  • Real Estate: .29%
  • Government: .29%
  • Food/Beverage Industry: .27%
  • Manufacturing: .26%
  • Automotive Services: .23%
  • Financial Services: .20%
  • Insurance: .19%
  • Legal: .18%
  • Medical, Dental, and Healthcare: .18%
  • Agency/Marketing: .16%
  • Entertainment/Events: .12%
  • Religious Organizations: .09%
  • Sports Teams/Leagues: .08%
  • Retail/B2C: .04%

Find your industry and use that benchmark to monitor the rate at which recipients unsubscribe from your email list.

4 ways to keep recipients from unsubscribing

  1. Segment your list
  2. Send a welcome email
  3. Pay attention to your CTR
  4. Send a reengagement email

While you should never welcome a growing unsubscribe rate, it’s still important feedback. It’s a sign that your email marketing efforts have room for improvement. Act quickly and you can stop the problem in its tracks, or even reverse its progress completely.

Of course, it’s better to manage unsubscribes right from the beginning, so you never find yourself in a dire situation.

Fortunately, there are four practical ways to manage unsubscribes effectively so their number never gets out of hand.

1. Segment your list so the right information gets to the right people

Without a doubt, the most important rule for keeping unsubscribes to a minimum is segmentation.

No matter how niche your market is, it’s still made up of different types of prospects. Treating them all the same by sending everyone the same email is a sure way to lose subscribers.

Here are just some of the ways you can segment your email list:

  • Demographics
  • Time Zone
  • Amount Spent
  • Past Purchases
  • Website Behavior
  • Frequency of Purchases

The better your segmentation is, the more each recipient will feel their content is personal. The more they feel this way, the more they’ll look forward to each email, and the less likely they’ll be to unsubscribe.

2. Send a welcome email that creates the right first impression

According to CIO, one of the main reasons people unsubscribe from email lists is simply because they didn’t know or remember they’d subscribed.

We all know the feeling of receiving an email and wondering how the sender obtained our address. In the case of emails, this generally equals a quick unsubscribe.

Therefore, one of the easiest ways to manage unsubscribes is to abstain from shady practices like buying lists or scraping email addresses to add to yours. Doing either is going to cause more harm than good.

Once you have a clean, segmented list full of people who want to receive your emails–you should be sure to send a welcome email to each new lead as they come in.

Here’s a great example from Craftsman.

manage unsubscribes


It also sets the stage for the value that’s yet to come: “What matters most to you?”

3. Pay attention to your CTR (click-through rate)

Every email marketer needs to keep a close eye on their open rates. If you see yours falling, you know it’s time to make some changes.

However, it’s just as important that you watch your overall CTR. You want to know that people aren’t just clicking to open your emails but are also clicking through the CTA (call-to-action) you’ve included.

That’s not to say every email needs a CTA, but whenever you do include one, review the CTR.

When CTR begins falling, subscription rates aren’t far behind. That’s because a lackluster CTR speaks to an audience who isn’t very engaged with your content. It’s not encouraging or exciting them enough to want more from your company.

If your emails are being opened, it means the general topic and subject are probably fine.

Instead, check your length. It might need to be shortened.

Next, look at the format of your emails. Are you splitting up the paragraphs, so it’s easy to read? Or is it just all one big block of copy which might be intimidating for your readers to wade through?

You might have to play around with it a bit, but never simply accept a falling CTR. Know that you have to start making some changes before your next email goes out.

4. Send a reengagement email when recipients quit opening your emails

As we just touched on, the other big metric you need to watch at all times is your open rate. If you see that number start to wither, you know the problem is probably what you’re mentioning in your subject line.

Either you need different topics, or you need to convey their value better. You may need to segment your list more closely, too.

Then there’s a slightly different problem: some recipients may have simply given up on your emails. They may not have unsubscribed yet, but for whatever reason, they’ve decided it’s not worth their time to read your messages.

Before you decide to remove them from your list–which we’ll cover next–try a reengagement email. As the name suggests, it’s an email literally designed to reengage someone who has quit opening your messages.

One of the best examples of an incredible reengagement email comes from Mini:

how to manage unsubscribes


“Are you out there?” pretty much captures the whole intent of the email.

The company also does an absolutely fantastic job of offering numerous options for engagement. Recipients can choose the reason they haven’t been opening Mini’s emails.

Better still, the email is entertaining. Questions like “Are you in jail?” or “Are you too busy selling fundraiser candy bars?” are definitely good for a chuckle (the corresponding choice of actions are humorous, as well). It might even be enough to encourage recipients to look out for other emails from MINI in the future. Are they all this funny?

Finally, the very last option is, “Are you just holding out for the right deal?”

In that case, MINI provides a CTA to find out about their financing options and pre-owned vehicles.

Don’t give up on recipients who seem to be ignoring your emails. You have nothing to lose by sending them a reengagement email to see if you can spark their interest.

The most important thing to remember about unsubscribes

Managing the number of recipients who unsubscribe to your company’s emails is absolutely essential for its overall ROI.

However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that people dropping out of your list is always a bad thing.

Surprisingly, unsubscribes can be phenomenal for your email list. Just like you sometimes need to prune a plant, it helps to trim down your list every now and then to ensure it’s made up of actual prospects.

Here’s how Wave manages their unsubscribes:

 manage unsubscribes


They actually send an email telling prospects to either start engaging or they’ll quit receiving email messages.

Wrap up

No list is impervious to recipients dropping out.

However, using your industry average as a benchmark, you must manage unsubscribes so that the number doesn’t get out of control.

Keeping it to a minimum won’t just keep your list valuable–it will also show you how to continue providing value to recipients, which is ultimately how you’ll end up converting them.

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