Marketing

23 Effective Ways to Reduce Email Unsubscribes

What factors contribute to the most unsubscribes? Over 50 email marketers weigh in with their top tactics for lowering the unsubscribe rate.

Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik on August 6, 2020 (last modified on August 3, 2020) • 26 minute read

Your email list is your ATM. 

I first heard this while listening to a talk from Noah Kagan a few years ago. 

Email marketing is one of the few marketing channels––outside of your website––that you have full control over. You aren’t subjected to any algorithms like social media.

If someone opts into your list, it means they want to hear from you in their inbox. That’s a privilege.  

So, it makes sense that you want to keep a close eye on the number of people subscribing and unsubscribing from your list. 

Assuming you are attracting the right kinds of subscribers, it is a good idea to reduce the email subscribes. How? We have 23 expert tips for you.

Let’s get to them. Along the way, you’ll also learn the following:

What is the email subscribe law?

There are several laws and regulations that countries have to regulate email marketing. Read on to find the most important one.

What is the CAN-SPAM Act?

The most notable one is the CAN-SPAM Act, which the U.S. passed in 2003, and stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. 

This is a series of rules for all commercial emails, which is designed to protect consumers from fraudulent or spam emails.

The CAN-SPAM Act primarily covers the following three areas: content, unsubscribe, and sending behavior compliance, which includes: 

  • All emails must have an opt-out or unsubscribe link. 
  • Unsubscribe requests must be handled in a timely manner and take no longer than 10 days 
  • The sender must include a physical address in the email 
  • Each email must have an accurate “email from line”
  • No misleading or false subject lines 
  • Identify the message as an ad 
  • If an email contents NSFW content, it must be labeled adult 

Familiarizing yourself with the CAN-SPAM Act is a good idea to avoid any unnecessary fines or lawsuits. In fact, in one case, the FTC fined one San Francisco-based Internet Marketing Company over $900,000 for CAN-SPAM act violations.  

What factors contribute to the most unsubscribes? 

According to all of the email marketers we surveyed, the biggest reason that people subscribe is that the emails aren’t relevant to them. 

Jon Fox of Conversmart says, “Email behavior has changed dramatically over the course of the past 15 years. In the past, email frequency and cadence were important, and the brands that typically had high unsubscribe rates were the ones that were hitting their users with messages too often. 

Now, in an environment where every consumer receives promotional emails daily, content and relevance have become king. Consumers want to connect with a brand that has more than just great products, they want to immerse themselves in a lifestyle and community that is built upon education and information.”

Editor’s Note: If you use Mailchimp, this email metrics dashboard provides you with insights about subscriber growth, unsubscriber activity, and campaign performance.  

Mailchimp Dashboard

23 Ways to reduce email unsubscribe rate

As we mentioned above, one of the best ways to reduce your unsubscribe rate is to ensure that you are delivering relevant content to your subscribers. 

However, there are many other tactics you can use to lower the number of unsubscribers without doing anything shady or illegal like hiding the unsubscribe link or refusing to honor opt-out requests. 

These ways are:

  1. Segment your list
  2. Personalize your emails
  3. Pay attention to email frequency
  4. Know your audience
  5. Think like your subscribers
  6. Prune your email list periodically
  7. Add social proof
  8. Set clear expectations when they sign up
  9. Deliver what you say you will in your emails
  10. Keep your content new and interesting
  11. Be concise
  12. Make sure your copy is approachable
  13. Be consistent
  14. Provide free content and tools
  15. Tease future email content
  16. Focus on quality not quantity
  17. Consider adding 2-factor opt-ins 
  18. Set up an email preferences page
  19. Avoid spamming your list
  20. Resist the urge to use lots of gimmicks or tricks to grow your list
  21. Ask for feedback
  22. Stay out of the promotions tab
  23. Make sure your emails look great on smartphones

1. Segment your list 

“Segmenting your audience to send relevant content is the most important tip in email marketing,” says Brad Harrison of EMBRK. “By doing this, you will achieve higher open rates, CTRs, and lower your unsubscribes.” 

Julia Tiedt of SmartBug Media says, “People most often unsubscribe when they find the content irrelevant to their pain points or challenges. Through segmentation, you ensure that you are sending the messages they care about most in every email. I recommend segmenting by persona or challenges, but industry could also be a good segment as well.” 

“The key to effective marketing is getting your message in front of the right people at the right time,” explains Supriya Agnihotri of SurveySensum. Segmenting your email list can help you do that.

Well-targeted campaigns work the best. And curating content that can help or guide your audience in the right direction is a way to offer real value at no cost to them.” 

Alejandro Rioja of Authority Daily says, “Segmenting your audience means you are aware of their behaviors, their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc. When you segment your target audience based on these characteristics and target them with emails that will spark an interest in them, you will be in a better position to increase your email subscribers, thus lowering your unsubscription rate.” 

Related: Dozens of Proven Email Segmentation Tips for Improving Your Open Rates

Jasz Joseph of SyncShow adds, “Reducing email unsubscribers should always start at the beginning when you first collect email addresses. It is important to log as much information as possible in your CRM or email marketing platform so you can ensure you are sending extremely tailored and relevant content to your subscribers. On top of that, this should be a given, but ensure that your subscribers have opted in to communications from you. Purchased lists of people who have never interacted with your brand are always going to have a higher unsubscribe rate.” 

However, you can still segment your list even if you didn’t capture everything that you wanted when they originally opted in. 

Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions says, “If you already have a large, undivided list, you can send your subscribers a quick SurveyMonkey or Google Forms link to provide input on what areas of your marketing they are most keen on. It lets them know you care and allows you to send more targeted emails while reducing the number of unsubscriptions.”

Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles adds, “Tools like Segment.com can plugin with Mailchimp so you can target cart abandoners and rank users by their buying intent.”

For example, Benjamin Sweeney of ClydeBank Media says, “We have found that segmenting our list by interest not only greatly increases open rates but also decreases the number of unsubs across all of the segments. It is a little more work to produce message variants to fit different interest segments (or creating special messages for each segment) but not only will this approach positive metrics it will also strengthen your relationship with your subscribers and prime them to look forward to your messages.”

Tarun Gehani of Pure Visibility agrees, “It is important to segment your list into smaller subsets (i.e. customers, past customers, leads, highly engaged leads, etc.) and only send out relevant content to each group. But you can also review the engagement and activity of your subscribers to see who’s opened, clicked, or otherwise interacted with your emails in the past to understand what type of content resonates with these individuals, and set up future emails with similar content.”

2. Personalize your emails 

Segmenting your list allows you to personalize your emails based on your subscribers’ interests, challenges, or pain points.  

“Personalize your emails and provide useful, relevant, and concise content,” says Obaid Khan of Content Bruv. “People are more likely to open your emails when you personalize them since they appreciate that email speaking to their actual interests, struggles, or current situations.

At that point, if you can provide them with great and relevant content, you’ll be making sure they stay subscribed.” 

Elene Egiarte of Megaventory adds, “The key to reducing email unsubscribers is the personalization of the email marketing campaign. It has to make the reader feel that they are the only person receiving the email, and that the company knows and cares for them.

However, unlike many people think, to achieve this it is not enough with an email including the recipient’s name. The key of apparently personalized emails is to actually filter out to whom the email is directed to, depending on the message you are sending out and the call to action you are proposing.”

Related: Email Personalization: Tips, Tools, & The 6 Fundamentals For Success

3. Pay attention to email frequency 

“Email with care,” says Corina Leslie of ZeroBounce. “Finding the best sending frequency for your audience can take some time. Test by alternating one to three emails a week and take a close look at your engagement. Keeping an eye on these metrics is crucial to figuring out exactly what your subscribers expect from you.” 

Hugh Beaulac of MC2 adds, “Don’t bombard your customers with emails. Look, modern people receive a ton of emails daily, so you need to keep your emails short, informative, and handy. What is more, don’t forget to reward your subscribers for being on your list and send them promo codes, discounts, or brand freebies.” 

Andrea Loubier of Mailbird adds, “One thing to keep in mind is that no one wants to be inundated with a high number of emails – even if it’s for a product or a service for which you have genuine interest. Haven’t we all looked at our inbox and thought, ‘Enough is enough already!’ If you send out more than one or two weekly emails, only do so if there is an important reason – like a last-minute sale or a vital notification.” 

Valerie Frolova of Snov.io agrees, “Most recipients unsubscribe when they get too many emails. That is why it’s better to fix the frequency with which you send your email campaigns. One of the best ways to do that is let your subscribers choose how often they want to receive your letters.” 

For example, Yash Sharma of LearnerzHub says, “People generally visit my web pages while searching for discounts or reviews of online learning platforms. When they reach the website, they find a subscription form for regular discount and sales update.

Over a period of time, I have realized that people look for discounts but they do not like to be bombarded by emails.

Earlier, I used to send 3-4 emails every week to improve conversion and generate affiliate income. But, this backfired. I noticed that there was a huge dropout rate – about 23%.

There on, I reduced the email frequency to a maximum of one email per week. This not only increased the click rate and conversion rates but also the unsubscribe rate fell to nearly 6%.” 

Editor’s Note: If you use HubSpot, keep an eye on email frequency and overall performance using this dashboard. 

Hubspot email performance dashboard

4. Know your audience 

“When building your email list, not every name or email you gather should be viable,” says Chris Gadek of AdQuick. “Know your market and fully understand the demographics that are the most receptive to your email efforts.

In doing so, you can tailor your emails to those groups. You may even want to consider multiple email lists with different offers for certain demographics.” 

5. Think like your subscribers

“Put yourself in the shoes of who you are sending the email to,” says Amelia Whyman of Global App Testing

Daniella Pozzolungo of PupDigital adds, “Write your emails with the needs and wants of your customers front of mind. If you provide content that helps them in some way, rather than if you spoke about your company or products, they are likely to continue to subscribe.” 

Ashlee Rolkowski of Lone Fir Creative adds, “Don’t send emails to your audience that you want to send. Send emails that they want to receive.”

6. Prune your email list periodically 

“Most people are trying to grow email subscribers, not reduce them,” says John Frigo of Supplement Warehouse. “That said if you have a large and largely unengaged list, I’ll normally create a new list or segment based on people who’ve opened an email in the last 120 days or if I want to trim it down even further only people who’ve bought in the last 120 days.

By trimming down your list you’ll pay your email service provider less and also have higher engagement rates which will improve deliverability.” 

Tyler Burch of BoardActive adds, “Check the history of your contacts’ open rates and read rates. If people have not read the first 10 emails you send, they will not read the next 10 either. Remove these people from your list. Now you can begin to identify trends for who finds your emails most valuable.” 

Will Laurenson of Monkey Blocks agrees, “Segment your list properly, filter out all those people who never open emails, then split the remainder into relevant segments. These might be based on a Recency Frequency Monetary model, or product categories, subscribers vs purchasers etc.

Segment the groups and then make the content in your emails relevant to those segments. By providing content that is relevant to your subscribers, you’ll drastically reduce unsubscribes.” 

7. Add social proof 

“I fell for the Daily Carnage newsletter for Marketers because of their simple survey that opens every edition,” says Michael Sols. “It’s a genius social proof trick every brand should try to stop people from bouncing off.

If we encourage readers to share their opinion inside of the newsletter, they will come back to see what’s the popular opinion among professionals who receive it.

It’s worth a try as a newsletter fanbase can be the most loyal when compared to followers on other branded platforms. What makes the survey work is that it takes place within the email, so you can get back to lurking without fighting off your web browser app.” 

8. Set clear expectations when they sign up 

“Be extremely transparent in your welcome email,” says Andrea Moxham of Horseshoe + co. “Let subscribers know who you are, what you’ll be sharing, how often, and what they can expect to achieve with the content you’re sending to them.”

David Tile of Article Writing Co.says, “Make it crystal clear what the user is signing up for and stick to your script. Forcing users to hash of opt-out and opt-in options drives away subscribers and can lead to an increase in accidental subscribers- and subsequent unsubscribers.”

Isaac Lauritsen of Online Optimism adds, “Be clear about the intentions of the emails from the start and stay consistent. If a person signs up for a newsletter to get updates about your business, they don’t want to see sales or “spammy” emails. And vice-versa, if someone signs up for an email to learn about sales, they don’t need to know about updates at the company. 

By staying consistent with the types of emails your company sends, your subscribers know exactly what to expect.”

Jakub Rudnik of Shortlister agrees, ”Set clear expectations with subscribers, both when they subscribe and when you send them emails. If you’re transparent about exactly how often you will email someone, they’re far more likely to accept your emails without friction.

And if you tell a subscriber how often you will reach out to them, don’t break your promise. If anything changes with your cadence, get buy-in from subscribers by asking if they would like to receive your more frequent emails.” 

9. Deliver what you say you will in your emails  

Liam Barnes of Directive says, “Never oversell what you are going to email them from the beginning. If you say that you are going to provide them one thing and deliver another, your audience will quickly fall by the wayside.” 

“The biggest reason why people unsubscribe from your emails is because you’re not delivering upon the expectations they have from you,” adds Hans van Gent of User Growth. “They subscribed to your emails because they are looking to get an inside scoop into the value that you’re bringing and an interval of their choosing.

So the moment someone subscribes to your list and you tell them you’re going to send them X amount of emails, or you’re going to bring value to them every Monday morning and you don’t deliver on that promise, is the moment they begin to doubt your integrity.

If you want to keep the privilege of ending in someone inbox you need to set an expectation for when and how frequently you’re going to email… and then deliver on that promise

Not delivering on that promise, by for example sending twice the amount of emails, or by not sending anything for months (this way they forgot who you are and why they subscribed in the first place), is a great way to lose those valuable subscribers.” 

10. Keep your content new and interesting 

“Keep your content new and refreshing,” says Nathan Claire of Momentum Realty. “This can be achieved by writing intriguing and interesting content on trending topics, accompanied by easy to view pictures and captions. You want your subscribers to look forward to getting your emails and not dread it.” 

Alex Birkett of Omniscient Digital adds, “It sounds so simple, but the fact is you’ve got to do two things: write valuable emails and capture the right subscribers in the first place. 

In our quest to optimize micro-conversions, we often pick up more email subscribers at the cost of them being less engaged and valuable over time. This is typically the case if you have overly aggressive lead capture mechanisms or irrelevant (but compelling) content offers. Beyond that, if you’re not providing value, you’re going to get unsubscribes. Very simple.” 

For example, James Pollard of The Advisor Coach LLC says, “My most effective tip for reducing my number of email unsubscribes is to stick to stories and entertainment about my niche. The biggest marketing sin is being boring and I’ve discovered that as long as you’re talking about things that interest your subscribers, you’ll be fine.

This tip seems too simple, I know. But it’s often the simple things that have the biggest impact. I’ve sent and tested more than 2 million emails in the financial advisory space and the ones that mix niche-specific stories and entertainment are routinely the most effective.” 

11. Be concise 

“When writing emails, be concise,” says Tiffany Schultz of Lake One. “Sounds simple enough, but it can be easy to get keyboard happy and write way more than you should. We all have a lot to say, but not everyone has the time or energy to read it.

Emails that are too long, even if they are relevant, seem to be a red flag to people that it might be spam or they just don’t have the time to read it. So they won’t and instead will scroll to the bottom to unsubscribe.” 

12. Make sure your copy is approachable 

“The copy and content of your email from subject to body has to portray value, but it also has to fit a tone that is approachable and lacks the salesman quality people deter away from,” says Cierra Flythe of BoardActive. “This is why a copywriter is your email campaign’s best friend.” 

Related: 6 Strategies Marketers Use to Write High-Converting Email Copy

13. Be consistent 

Consistency is the answer to reducing unsubscribers and increasing subscriber retention,” says Jacob McMillen. “When people know what to expect from you and when to expect it, then you are going to collect people who like what you are doing long term, rather than having every new email be a ‘will they or won’t they’ scenario.”  

Oleksiy Kuryliak of Rioks adds, “Be consistent. Be transparent. Don’t spam. Ask before sending. Deliver meaningful content that your subscribers expect.

At Rioks we always create multiple lists of subscribers, based on their interests and engagement levels, to make sure the subscriber receives only what they were expecting and stays on a list.” 

14. Provide free content and tools  

“One way to reduce your number of unsubscribers is to veer away from trying to get sales in each of your emails,” says Rajdeep Dosanjh of Rentround. “Instead, provide free content or tools.

If your email list is always seeing content focused on you gaining sales, more and more will unsubscribe. However, if your emails provide value that your readers can utilize, it’s a great way to engage them and get them to favor your emails.

In the future when you send more sales-focused emails, readers will be far more tolerant and unlikely to subscribe.

One way to provide value is by providing guides or calculators to your readers. For example, a rent calculator tool can be created relatively quickly & cheaply. If your readers are in the rental market, they would appreciate the free tool.” 

Freya Kuka of Collecting Cents adds, “I make it a habit to always add at least one piece of information that will not benefit me financially in any way. A lot of subscribers feel like emails they receive are extremely salesy and only have one purpose- to make them spend.

Making sure you are benefiting your subscriber is imperative. I try to include at least information that I think would better their life while organically adding affiliate links only if relevant.

I rather have 100 subscribers that trust me than 1000 that are half annoyed whenever they see an email from me.” 

15. Tease future email content 

“An easy way to reduce unsubscribes from your email campaigns is to allude to future content value,” says Michael Alexis of Team Building.

“For example, in a P.S., you could mention that next week you are going to send tips about an important topic, or provide some kind of personal insight. The more future value your subscribers anticipate, the fewer will unsubscribe from your campaigns.” 

16. Focus on quality, not quantity   

“Focus on quality vs quantity with your emails,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers. “Don’t send emails to your subscribers just for the sake of it.

Make sure that your emails are targeted and bring value to your list. You don’t just want to send salesy emails but you want to have a mix between insightful emails, helpful emails (Nurturing) and sales ones.” 

Related: 23 Proven Email Marketing Tips From Top Digital Marketers

17. Consider adding 2-factor opt-ins

“Always enable two-factor opt-ins,” says Kenzi Wood of Kenzi Writes. “Yes, it can reduce the number of subscribers, but this ensures only the most interested folks are on your list.

Second, it’s okay to send an email every day, but it has to deliver a TON of value. If you don’t have something mind-blowing to share, wait until you have something important to say.” 

Dean Levitt of ThymeBase Event Planning Software shares, “If your email list follows best practices like double-opt-in, and is sanitized quarterly, your unsubscribe rate will be close to nil.

You can’t trick people into remaining subscribers, and low open-rates actually hurt your deliverability, so the best thing you can do for your email marketing is to ensure you’re only ever emailing people who want to be emailed, and you’re removing those that are unresponsive.” 

18. Set up an email preferences page 

“A best practice for reducing lost email subscribers is to create an email preferences page that gives customers detailed control over the emails they receive,” says Bruce Hogan of SoftwarePundit. “This page should describe the emails the customer will receive by subscribing to each list and a corresponding email frequency.” 

19. Avoid spamming your list  

“Our main tip is to ensure that you are not selling your audience,” says Alex Cascio of Vibrant Media Productions. “We go with more informative and visually appealing layouts that will effectively get our message across. This helps people not feel pressured and can move them through the sales process quite a bit smoother.

Also, this one is obvious but not spamming people with emails more than once every week or two. If you come into their inbox say twice a week, unless you have premium content and info, you are far more likely to get unsubscribers which we all hate to see.” 

20. Resist the urge to use lots of gimmicks or tricks to grow your list

“Unfortunately, many companies use tricky ways to get more email subscribers to grow their email list fast,” says Val Razo of Signal Hire.

“However, when people don’t recall signup up to your email list, they are more likely to unsubscribe. If you want to reduce the number of email unsubscribers, you need to have a solid list of reasons to be on your list. For example, you can offer free shipping, brand freebies, early access to sales, etc. When people feel special, they will never lose interest in being on your email list.” 

21. Ask for feedback 

“My one tip is to first presume that you don’t know the optimal email frequency to have, so you get the least amount of unsubscribers,” says Nikola Roza of Nikola Roza- SEO for the Poor and Determined.

“And, then ask the people on your list what they think about your emails. It’s a rewarding feeling for normal people when the marketer they like, or a brand they love and whose products use daily, ask them for their honest feedback. It makes those subscribers feel important like they’re of value to the brand.

So, if you do ask, you’ll find that a significant percentage of your list will respond saying what they like and don’t like about your emails.” 

Afterward, you just need to sort through their replies and extract general themes of what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and how to proceed from that point going forward.

22. Stay out of the promotions tab 

“As outlined in our article, one effective way to reduce your number of email unsubscribes is by avoiding the Gmail promotions tab,” says William Chin of MyWifeQuitHerJob.com.

“A main source of email unsubscribes is Gmail traffic and when your e-blasts are considered a little too promotional for a user, Google filters into this special tab. From there, it might as well be labeled spam as a user will quickly turn that promotional content into an unsubscribe or spam.

Therefore, try these steps to stay out of the promotional tab on Gmail:

  • Ask A Question And Encourage A Reply – If your recipient replies to your email, your next email will have a much higher likelihood of making the main inbox. So pose a question to your customer and ask them to reply. For example, you can request feedback or ask your customers whether they want to receive a free gift with their purchase.
  • Keep The Number Of Links Less Than 5 – The more links you have to different domains, the more likely it will be sent to the promotions tab. In an ideal world, you should structure your emails to promote a single product in your shop and use only 2 or 3 links.
  • Change The Name Of Your Unsubscribe Link – Gmail parses your email and looks for common phrases like “Unsubscribe From This List” for the promotions folder. By changing this link to just “unsubscribe” can fix some of these issues.
  • Encourage People To Drag Your Email To The Main Inbox – This tactic has the same effect as having someone reply to your message. The more it happens, the more likely your email will escape the promotions tab.” 

23. Make sure your emails look great on smartphones  

“Make email mobile-friendly,” says Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls. “The world is moving to mobile-only, fewer people are accessing email on big screens so tailor your message and content accordingly with more video & rich content.

In a mobile-first world, you have less time to grab people, attention spans are shorter than ever so video will be used even more, show don’t tell for maximum impact, rich content drives email engagement.

Live video will only grow in importance – live streaming is available on every major social media platform and it is only getting bigger to hook in users with short attention spans.” 

How to measure subscribe/unsubscribe rate in Databox

Now, if you ever find yourself frustrated with how to track and visualize subscriber and unsubscriber data, you can see these metrics in Databox for free. 

  • Subscribed Contacted – This is the total number of subscribed contacts, which is useful for being able to spot cumulative trends. For example, are you adding more subscribers each month? 
  • New Subscribed Contacted – This is the number of new subscribed contacts during the specified date range. You can use this data to identify week over week, month over month, or yearly trends. 
  • Subscribed Contacts by Campaign – This is the total number of subscribed contacts split up by individual campaigns. For example, if you have multiple products with their own welcome drip campaigns, you can monitor how many subscribers you are getting for each product. 
  • Unsubscribed Contacts – This is the total number of unsubscribed contacts. Just like you spot cumulative trends around subscribed contacts, you can do the same for unsubscribers. 
  • Unsubscribed Contacts by Campaign – This is the total number of unsubscribers split up by campaigns. For example, if you notice that one of your products has 3x as many unsubscribers as another product, you can investigate and address the root cause – whether that’s targeting the wrong audience, weak positioning, less than stellar copy, etc.  
  • Sent emails vs unsubscribers – This is a Datablock that you can configure, which shows sent emails and unsubscribers. This allows you to visualize which emails resonate the best and worst with your audience.  

If you want to start tracking all of these metrics in Databox, you can do it for free. Just create your free account here and get started connecting and visualizing your data.

About the author
Jessica Malnik
Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik is a content strategist and copywriter for SaaS and productized service businesses. Her writing has appeared on The Next Web, Social Media Examiner, SEMRush, CMX, Help Scout, Convince & Convert, and many other sites.
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