Understanding Unsubscribes

by Dec 22, 2020Mindful Marketing

The dreaded unsubscribe …


We all want to be liked, so it’s perfectly normal for you to have at least some anxiety when a client unsubscribes from your email list. “What did I do?” is the internal question. “Did I over-communicate? Did my special not resonate? Was my content poor? Did the graphics not load correctly?” And it can go on and on until you start hesitating to send your emails out on a regular basis or second guess your content to the point of paralysis. Let’s examine some reasons why unsubscribes occur, what you can do about it and when to really worry (and when really not to!).

Did I over-communicate? Did my special not resonate? Was my content poor? Did the graphics not load correctly?

In my experience, and in the experience of my clients as well as many research studies, the number one reason people unsubscribe from a marketing email list is due to irrelevant content. Irrelevant content can come in two flavors:

1) the email contained content that is good, but no longer relevant to the subscriber’s life status; and

2) the subscriber found the content itself poor or not what they expected.

Let’s break those two scenarios down a little further.

An example of scenario one might go like this: You are a real estate agent, you have a potential client who you met at an event. That client is interested in buying a certain property. They sign up for your list (hopefully for the list that supports buyers!) and they eagerly open your emails. Then they find their dream home and buy it. Even if that buy came from you, the content of your buyer emails are no longer relevant to them. They may not really want to look at what else they “missed” by buying or they might just simply be happy to stay where they are longterm. This unsubscribe is due to no fault of your content. It just simply “is.”

From here you have two choices, offer that person a subscription to an email list that does provide them relevant content (such as a list that supports new home buyers) or bless and release them with happiness.

In scenario number two, you have more control — and more responsibility. In this case, YOU need to ask yourself some pretty serious questions the first of being, “Am I telling people exactly what they are subscribing to when they sign up and then delivering on that promise?” The times in my business when I’ve experienced the most unsubscribe have been when I was inconsistent in sending out content — not matter how good the content was, if it had been six months since the subscriber had last seen content from me, they were more likely to unsubscribe. Pure and simple, they had forgotten either why they signed up for my list or that they even did sign up for my list.

The next serious question you need to ask yourself if you are guilty of irrelevant content is, “What can I do to step up my content game and become relevant?” One way to do this is to carefully consider what offer or call to action you’re promoting and if that offer and the supporting content (if offered) is really good. Many times I see my clients simply send out offer emails — and often these emails contain multiple offers such as six items from their commerce store or three choices from their services menu — with no supporting content and no significant reward for email subscribers.

To correct this, limit the number of things you offer in a marketing email to ONE. Yes, I know that is a difficult proposition, but it will help your customers tremendously. Next, give your email subscribers a reward in the form of content they can’t get elsewhere (such as an article that is not published yet); fresh content that makes access easy (such as a link to your latest blog post); or special in dollars, time, or added service (such as a coupon). All of these make your emails worthwhile for your customers to open and they help you move your business forward at the same time. That’s a win-win situation for everybody. Yeah!

Beyond irrelevant content here are some more things to consider when it comes to unsubscribes:

That unsubscribe may actually be a blessing.


Many times customers who unsubscribe don’t have a problem or complaint, it’s just that they’ve found your brand doesn’t fit them. And guess what? That’s not only okay, it’s a good thing. As entrepreneurs, we feel any customer who leaves without a sale is a failure. That is very much NOT the case. Sometimes that customer will find a better fit elsewhere and rather than be disappointed in your brand (which they may talk about to others) their non-experience will have no negative impact on you or your brand. Bless this customer to go out and find a perfect fit while at the same time, leaving space for YOUR perfect customer to find their way on to your subscriber list.

Sending frequent emails is most likely NOT the reason for the unsubscribe.


Let’s face it, from the consumer perspective email marketing gets a bad rap. Mostly this is because a few rogue apples spoiled the pie for the rest of us by oversending spammy emails or sending emails to people who never subscribed in the first place. If your content is good and relevant to your customers, you can send daily emails and they will stay on your list. Frequency only becomes an issue when you are sending emails without a content reward (ie, information, education, discount, VIP special) too often OR when you go off script from the frequency expectations you set during subscription — meaning you go from sending one email a month to five emails a month, or the reverse where you don’t send an email for months and then send a weekly email for five weeks in a row.

The next serious question you need to ask yourself if you are guilty of irrelevant content is,
“What can I do to step up my content game and become relevant?”

The catalyst which got me to write this article was a moment while I was stuck in stopped traffic waiting on an accident. I was reading my email (I was stopped!) and accidentally hit the unsubscribe link at the top of an email from a business who’s emails I adore reading. Before I knew it, I’d unsubscribed to their list! Sometimes, just sometimes, unsubscribes are a mistake. This is why it’s always a good idea to follow up unsubscribes with a parting email that imparts a nice goodbye, offer to take a survey (so you can learn the real reason for the unsubscribe) and even has a resubscribe button. Most email marketing service providers give you an option of sending a final email to unsubscribers. If you haven’t customized yours, now would be a good time.

Promotional emails are the unloved stepchildren of the inbox.

Promotional emails — those designated by the mere fact they have an unsubscribe link — are shoved in the least visible, least visited tab in many email software clients. As a business, sometimes the best thing you can do is help guide new subscribers to mark their shiny new subscription to go to their inbox. There are tutorials you can refer to on YouTube to help facilitate the conversation with your subscribers. You can link to them in your Welcome email.

Set expectations in your Welcome Email.

Speaking of that Welcome email, it’s the perfect place to head off unsubscribes from day one. Even though you may have said it when they subscribed, say it again in the Welcome email. Use this most read marketing email to give your subscribers an understanding of how often they will receive emails from you; what content and offers those emails will typically contain; and a reward for joining your list such as a special piece of content not available elsewhere, a coupon, or an add-on service.

When to worry …


There are times that unsubscribes can be a great indicator of the poor health status of your list. If you see a spike in unsubscribes on a specific email, ask yourself what you did in that email that was different — and then correct it right away. If things have been status quo with your content, look for other reasons. If the high number of unsubscribes continues you might check competitors to see if they have recently upped their email game and now are appealing better than you to the target market base; also check reviews to see if there is anything negative out there influencing subscribers. Don’t stop until you find the answer.

Email marketing is one of the most successful ways of keeping your sales flow open and moving. Do not let unsubscribes cause you to shy away from sending regular marketing emails and taking full advantage of this fantastic and inexpensive marketing medium.

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