I Just Deleted Half The Subscribers From My Email List And You Should Too


In the constant race to build the list, Build The List, BUILD THE LIST! - a task that generates much panic in marketers, but which is necessary is eliminating email subscribers with whom you are not getting the results.


One of the most important things I have learned in digital marketing over the years came from a post by Brian Clark of Copyblogger. This tip has helped me get better average results from my list than any other thing I’ve every done. Brian reiterated this tip recently in a Master Class with Michael Hyatt on Platform University. When you focus your message on the right recipients you achieve optimum results. Measuring, testing and adapting should be your principal allies when nurturing and keeping your list healthy. Make no mistake, it is absolutely necessary to do a thorough analysis of your email database at least every 6 months and cull the users who are not opening your emails. This time-frame can be adjusted based upon how frequently you send emails and how quickly your list is growing. 


When you suggest this to your clients/boss the vast majority of people would throw their hands up. In those situations, be respectful those who only seek volume and help them understand why we do this with data. Show them we are looking for results. Results are not obtained with volume alone, but with the right mix of volume and quality. Think about it, what good would 20,000 email subscribers do for you if they have not event opened an email for over 6 months? Perhaps when they signed up they genuinely wanted to receive your newsletter. However, maybe their day is too full of information now. Maybe they have forgotten why they even subscribed to your newsletter. 


I understand it’s a bitter pill to swallow. But for years now, I take all my social media accounts and cull ALL my follows. I then “start over” by engaging with the accounts and people I am currently interested in. It’s a nice way to do some spring cleaning and make sure the information I am receiving is what I am actually interested in. 


Culling inactive subscribers from your email list is similar. Of course, you are doing this in reverse order. But this process ensures that your list is active and healthy and that your open rate is well above the norm for your industry.  


Just so you know I put my money where my mouth is, over the past ten years, I have collected over 150,000 email addresses from websites, contests, speaking engagements, classes, etc. However, on average, at the peak of my list, I would average between 10% and 14% open rates per email. While the headlines of the email newsletters determined who opened the email, after reviewing my list stats, I saw a very large amount of subscribers that signed up for my lists but who had NEVER opened a single email from me. 

So, quite arbitrarily, I decided a few years ago that once a year I’d split up my lists between those who had opened an email in the past 6 months and those who had not. The folks on the list of subscribers who had opened an email in the past 6 months would just stay on my main list and be none the wiser. 


The folks who ending up on the list who had not opened an email in the past six months would removed from my subscribers list and put into a new list. These folks would then receive a one-time email from me letting them know that I didn’t want to be unnecessarily sending them emails if they were no longer interested in receiving them. I let them know that they had be automatically unsubscribed, but that I really wanted them to resubscribe if they found my newsletter beneficial to them. 


By doing this I lose over half my subscribers every single year. However, the list I currently have now has an open rate of about 36% on average, well above the 11% industry average. 


As Brian Clark said to Michael Hyatt in the Master Class I mentioned above, (paraphrased) “I’d rather have 500 interested site visitors a day than 50,000 uninterested ones.”


Why do you need to eliminate half or more of your subscribers?

Optimize Your Database

You do not want any subscribers who are not actually interested in you, your brand or your content. We want to build as much inbound volume as possible, but only of that volume includes as many truly interested users as possible. If the subscriber is not interested (i.e. actively consuming your content) you can not utilize that subscriber base effectively for campaigns or lead nurturing. So having a list that isn’t optimized means your operate inefficiently and worse that you generate metrics which show artificially negative results.


Email list building is not a competition to get to all the market users. This is not a zero-sum game. Email campaigns should generate results. And anything that separates us from achieving our desired results needs to be removed from the campaign. There is no reason to keep a user has not interacted with our content in the last 6 months on our list. If there is no evidence that the inactive subscriber is going to suddenly become active one day, we should not let their subscription bring down the average performance of the entire list. This is not meant to be a negative action towards the user. It is just us, as list builders, taking the subscriber’s lead and removing them from a list they are clearly not interested in.

Measuring The Right Metrics

Many email marketers are obsessed with the wrong metrics. Having a healthy list is not about the overall lists’ ”open rates” or "CTRs”. You need to be looking at the percentage of subscribers who have opened any of the last 20 communications AND who have interacted in some way with the last email. Consider this: never think of the entire data set. Think of “active” datasets.


I live and die by internalizing digital experimentation. When I talk about experimentation I am also talking about eliminating what is not working and trying something else. This cyclical learning process is something you must never lose sight of. It is what makes average marketers into great marketers. 


While this is the last reason, it’s not the least important. Yes, cost. HubSpot, MailChimp, AWeber and most email marketing providers charge based on the size of your database. So keeping the list small shows that you are a good steward of your resources. 


For example, if I never culled my list, I’d be spending over $675 a month today instead of the $150 I spend on a list which is active and which enjoys an average open rate that is twice the open rate of the industry I’m in. I get twice the performance for a quarter of the price.