3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Sweat Email Unsubscribes

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Do you take it personally when someone unsubscribes from your list?

You’re a smart content marketer, and you know that building a qualified list of email subscribers is an important part of your overall online strategy.

But as you build your list (and consistently send out useful, compelling content), you’re inevitably going to lose some of those subscribers.

A lot of email marketers take it very personally when people drop off their list. They fret and sweat over every lost reader.

But I argue that there are many reasons why you want to celebrate — not mourn — when someone unsubscribes from your list.

Huh?!

Let’s take a look at three of those reasons right now …

1. Unsubscribes save you energy


When subscribers self-select and drop off your list, it saves you energy.

The majority of people on your list are prospects and customers who care about your message and appreciate your content and offerings.

But there are some “energy vampires” on your list, too. These are the people who:

  1. Complain that you send too many (or too few) emails
  2. Consistently ask you for free advice
  3. Write (or call) and ask you to go to coffee with them so they can “pick your brain”

Every time you get contacted by an energy vampire, you have to deal with it. Even if you decide not to respond, you still have to read the note and make a decision about what to do with it.

As an entrepreneur, you are always working from a limited pool of energy. Every time you receive a request, it drains a little bit of that energy.

Now, let me be very clear, answering questions from qualified prospects and loyal customers is a good use of your energy. Dealing with energy vampires is not.

Getting rid of energy vampires on your list allows you to pay more attention to the people on your list who appreciate you, respect your boundaries, and want to pay you fairly for your expertise.

When energy vampires unsubscribe from your list, it’s a good thing. So say “Sayonara” and let them be on their way.

2. Unsubscribes get rid of dead weight

There are a lot of totally valid and understandable reasons people will unsubscribe from any given email list (inbox cleanup, employee turnover, change in direction, etc.).

But there’s another, slightly more sinister reason people unsubscribe — it’s because they get annoyed when you send them offers for paid products or services.

Yes, I said it.

There are going to people who drop you because you want to sell them things. These people want to get great content from you, but get angry or upset when you make offers for relevant products or services.

In other words, these folks want something for free, but aren’t really interested in the next-step solutions you offer.

They want you to continue sending them free advice, but they not only don’t want to buy anything from you, they get bent out of shape when you have the gall to try to run your business like an actual business.

You want these people off your list. As they self-select out, give a little cheer. That’s one less person on your list who wants you to work for free. And that’s a beautiful thing.

3. Unsubscribes save you money

As your list grows, it costs you more. Since most email service providers charge fees according to how many names you have on your list, each contact actually costs you something.

If you’re going to be paying for each subscriber, you need each of those contacts to be to be as qualified as possible. You need a good quality list.

When people voluntarily unsubscribe, it actually saves you money. You’re no longer paying to send emails to people who aren’t interested in your content and will never buy your products and services.

Many email marketing experts actually advise that you manually clean up your list about once a year, anyway — so people who unsubscribe are actually saving you some work, too. As the quality of your list continues to improve as disinterested people opt out, your open and click-through rates also go up … which is always a good thing!

As unengaged subscribers leave your list, the overall quality of that list improves, until you are only left with the best possible customers and prospects.

No excuse to get lazy

There are folks in the marketing world who advise content creators to personally investigate why every unsubscribe occurs (by manually tracking down the people who opt out, and asking them why they were unhappy enough to leave). Their advice is to try to minimize unsubscribes by trying to making everyone happy.

Besides the fact that chasing after someone who just unsubscribed from your list is totally obnoxious (and probably illegal), the idea of trying to make everyone happy is a recipe for total disaster.

Your job is not to make everyone happy — it’s to do your absolute best for your target audience, and let people who are NOT your target market self-select out.

If you take care of your list and make sure you are being an ethical online marketer, you don’t have to chase after every person who unsubscribes and find out why they dropped you.

Send your subscribers high-quality, useful content on a regular basis. Don’t publish junk content. Don’t overpromote. Don’t abuse your list. Be sensitive to burning your subscribers out with too much pushy sales language. Maintain a good balance between cookie content and relevant offers and promotions.

Here’s the only metric that really matters, when it comes to unsubscribes:

Your list should be growing over time.

As long as the overall numbers are going up (even if it’s slow going), and you’re retaining more people than you lose, you’re on the right track.

And when unsubscribes happen, don’t weep — rejoice. They’re good for your mental health, your business, and your wallet.

About the Author: Beth Hayden is an author, speaker, and social media expert who specializes in Pinterest marketing. To find out how to get more traffic to your website or blog using Pinterest, grab your free copy of Beth’s e-book, The Definitive Guide to Driving Traffic with Pinterest.

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  1. Beth, your advice about email unsubscribes reminds me about how I feel when someone stops following me on Twitter. I want a proper targeted list of Twitter followers, who share similar ideas and are more likely to respond to my updates, just as I would theirs.

    Another no-concern reason why people unsubscribe is that they go over to updates by RSS – something I’ve done en masse myself just recently.

    Finally, you’ve really gotta keep the standard of free content up to stand any chance of selling your paid stuff.

    From experience as a buyer I know that this really does work. I recently signed up to the exclusive paid member area of a website because of the quality of the free content on the blog. Get it right and you make signing up almost irresistible.

    • I completely agree, Kevin — that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this post. If content marketers keep their focus where it belongs (on creating great content) it serves them far better than if they pull their hair out over every unsubscribe. And your phrase “Get it right and you make signing up irresistible” should be the subtitle for this post! :)

      • Please feel free to use my phrase any way you like Beth. I’m sure, both consciously and subconsciously, I’ve picked up loads of cool phrases from Copyblogger then adapted them and incorporated them into my own writing.

      • Beth, I see the point you’re trying to make in the article, but doesn’t it contradict that “get it right and you make signing up irresistible?” The sense of the article, correct me if I am wrong, is that a marketer should ignore opt-outs and concentrate on HIS target.

        Now, the question arises: does his target coincide with the target of those who are in his or her list? The aim of a marketer should be to identify a group of people who have a problem and try to solve it for them. Providing a solution to that problem is the way to make it irresistible. If people opt-out from a list, it means that the marketer is not delivering what he/she has promised. In other words, they are not “getting it right”.

        Take into account that along with a group of people who opt-out, there may be others who don’t read the emails. I’ll speak from personal experience. I believe I am on like 100 lists. I open emails only from a few people to tell the truth: Eric Gati, Pat Flynn, Joseph Archibald, Darren Rowse and a couple of others I am forgetting at the moment, one of whom is the best of them all, but I really can’t remember his name (sorry!!!)

        For all the others, I have opened up the emails to begin with, but the content was so poor that I stopped reading them after two or three emails. Why? Because they did not deliver what they promised. I don’t unsubscribe simply because … I am lazy. This is why on my own squeezepage, for my own list, I don’t make promises I can’t keep, and I actually try to over deliver when sending out emails to my followers. Opt-outs may be a sign of a much greater problem and ignoring them may only harm a business.

        The article does make some great points, though. It’s just not the kind of ‘customer is always right’ philosophy I run my business with.

        Arthur

  2. Carolin Geissler :

    Isn’t it also better for your ‘spam reputation’? I read somewhere that the rate of unopened emails plays a role in whether or not you’re being blacklisted by certain providers as potential spam. So people that actively unfollow you instead of just ignoring and not opening your emails are helping you up your credibility, right?

    • I don’t know for sure, Carolin — I’m not that well-versed in email blacklist rules. But it certainly makes sense, the way you’re describing it. I know for sure that getting rid of the dead weight on your list will help your open and click-through rates.

  3. A divorce is better than a restraining order, and an unsubscribe is better than a spam report. Good breakups should be celebrated.

  4. This is so true. It’s also true for Twitter unfollows. Well, except for the saving money part.

  5. An “unsubscribe” is nothing to worry about. All it takes us one sentence to annoy someone with a different perspective of yours and then it’s an unsubscription. There’s no point getting upset over something like that, unless you lose hundreds in one go. This would suggest you need to change your attitude!

    • Agreed! I almost added a section in this post that basically said, “If you get WAY more unsubscribes than usual for a post or email broadcast, you might want to see if something is amiss” but I figured that was a subject for another post!

  6. hmmmm…. interesting stuff Beth.

    I’m not sure if I would go as far as rejoicing when I lose a subscriber, although your points are good. Maybe if I had more subscribers I wouldn’t care so much!

    I guess you’re right – as long as that subscribers number is going up the way it’s all good.

    Loved the phrase ‘energy vampires’ – I’m going to try and drop that into a random conversation in the pub over the weekend :-)

    • I have the feeling “energy vampires” is not my term, but I have no idea where I picked it up. I like it, though! :)

    • If you lose a subscriber … you didn’t really have them anyway. Sorry to sound like a 70s greeting card, but it is true.

      They weren’t going to buy, they weren’t going to benefit your business. Better to face it and look for the *right* people.

    • It seems to me Dan Kennedy might have been talking about energy vampires way back in the day. They’ve been with us a long time. :)

  7. Thanks! I never thought of unsubscribes that way, but all three points are true.

    Totally agree with Hashim about unsubscribes being best than spam reports, too.

  8. Brilliantly put. We share the same sentiments on a number of issues highlighted on here.

    I have never had an issue about people unsubscribing as they weren’t the right target market in any case. One should always look at their own message first (carefully) before hitting the big red ‘send’ button. However, if you have clearly stated your product/service on offer without too much information around it, then you shouldn’t feel bad if you get a few unsubscribes.

  9. Great advice, Beth. My marketing experience and research has also shown that high unsubscribe rates often accompany high open and click rates. In other words, the more people act…the more people act. In many ways, it’s a sign you’re doing something right.

  10. Exactly! I periodically go through and unsubscribe emails that haven’t opened an email from me in six months or so. And like Hashim, I don’t want to get spam reports. That is why I include an unsubscribe sentence at the bottom of each email. After all, I unsubscribe from lists all the time myself.

  11. This was an “Ah ha!” For me several months ago…I would literally do a little cheer and think, this creates more space and energy for someone who does resonate with me and my message. Also, I had the same good feeling I have when I clean off my desk! I like the financial perspective too! Great article.

  12. Hi Beth,

    If the fine folks at Copyblogger have taught me anything, it’s to think like a wise sage, teaching your customer how to outsmart and blow past their impediment to greatness (their big problem) ;)

    And you do this over time, because trust is part of love and takes time to develop. You want love, right?

    So, just like the wise Hashim wrote, good breakups should be celebrated.

    I say, love thy customer, but “energy vampires” are not a match made in heaven.

  13. I gave up worrying about unsubscribes. If I got a lot on one particular email, then I would analyze the email content to see if I sent something that could be considered offensive. But if it’s someone who thinks 2 emails a week is too many, I don’t worry about it.

  14. Love this post. When Mail Chimp sends me an unsubscribe the title says “oh nuts”. At first I thought this is what the person was saying… : ) I still get a bit squeamish with unsubscribes….

    • Esther – there might be a way to turn off those unsubscribe messages in MailChimp. If there is, I would do it — I turned off my unsubscribe notifications from my email provider a while back, and it feels really good not to have them popping up in my inbox!

    • Turn off those notifications! They just clutter your inbox and your mind!

  15. And an unsubscribe doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you. They may be trying to clean out their inbox or they want to read your stuff a different way. It’s not usually personal.

  16. Great post, I completely agree that if someone unsubscribes it’s not the end of the world. I also think that as long as your getting new subscribers you should not be worried about how many people are subscribed to your emails.

  17. Beth,

    Thanks for putting “unsubscribes” in perspective.

    I used to take it personally when someone would unsubscribe, but I don’t anymore. I’d rather people unsubscribe than me beat my head against a wall trying to please them. Plus, people unsubscribe for a myriad of reasons from an overloaded inbox to change in industry. It happens.

    Don’t sweat it when someone unsubscribes from your email list. Keep providing valuable content and move forward with your business and life.

  18. Thanks Beth,

    This is something I can definitely relate to. I’ve had a few unsubscribes this week and I always find it disappointing.

    Thanks to your post I can now see I am better off not having them on my list.

    Cheers

  19. I actually DO send an email to unsubscribers just letting them know that I am sad to see them go and if they would like to share with my why they unsubbed, that information can help me better tailor my information to what is desired. Out of the dozen or so people in the past year for whom I have had to do this, eight said they clicked the wrong link and immediately resubbed, two had life changes that made my information no longer relevant and the others were dead air.

    I have my “sorry to see you go” message ready to send as a draft and I am really glad I followed up since three of the eight have been steady purchasers before and after their oops……

  20. Could not agree more! In fact I’ve taken this a step further and once a quarter I purge my list of subscribers who haven’t been opening their email. Just to cover my bases and be professional about it I let subscribers who that’s my policy and haven’t had a single complaint.

  21. When you set up a squeeze page giving away a free giveaway, you are bound to end up with freebie seekers.. But with “product creation” you get “buyers” on your list.. Those are the subscribers I love..

  22. Hi Beth,

    I really enjoyed reading that. I think most of us understand why people unsubscribe but it still stings anyway.

    Recently I wrote a post on my blog titled Why I Deleted 400 Subscribers from My List (It is the latest post if anyone cares to have a look). I got rid of all these people for the exact same reasons you mentioned above.

    Thanks for putting this into words ..

  23. I could not agree more. I actually go through my list a couple of times a year and purge the dead weight. I delete those who have not opened their emails in over three months. Send a “Sorry to See You Go” to those who have not opened their emails in less than three months with a small promotion. If they do not become active (not opened their emails in 2-3 mos), I say GOOD BYE and keep working on growing my list with those who care to open my emails.

    I prefer to have a responsive list rather than a large list with low open/conversion rate list. It only makes business sense.

  24. Don’t worry, make good content.

  25. Archan Mehta :

    Thanks for a remarkable post: I really enjoyed reading it and your ideas resonated with me. Way to go.

    The important thing is, don’t take it personally. Just because a few people unsubscribe, it is not the end of the world: it is not a slur against your good name. Not at all. Don’t believe it.

    Just as I have signed on, I have unsubscribed for a variety of reasons from blogs and websites. One of the reasons is that I did not find the information relevant nor appropriate any longer. There are so many other reasons too.

    It is better to have a target audience that is in alignment with what you have to offer. We make friends in much the same way: we tend to choose people who are on the same wave-length. Not everybody gets invited to our homes. We should be picky and choosy about the company we keep. Same is the case for your mention.

    Cheers.

  26. Great reminder. I use to take unsubscribes personal, especially the ones where they added a comment that put down my email. Now I know that that it is best for them to go where they want to be.

    Now I only pay attention if I get a spike on a particular email. That should raise flags.

    Great content, a regular, not too heavy schedule will keep the ones who want/should be subscribed.

  27. I used to sweat losing subscribers, and now I don’t really care as I unsubscribe (or try to) from many newsletters / feeds all the time.

    I found if your subscriber list isn’t shrinking drastically it’s nothing to worry about. Either way, treating subscribers as you’d like to be treated is a good way to maintain a healthy subscriber base.

  28. John Clayton Caris :

    Bravo for your Post. If one is presenting content that is “unique”, by definition, it will be acceptable only to those who resonate with your “uniqueness”. Others, you do not want on your lists. I believe too much is made of LARGE numbers of Likes, Followers, +ers or whatever. To an unknown ancient Master is attributed the statement: “Those who are meant to hear will understand. Those who are not meant to understand will not hear.” I believe 1) you want on your list only those who can “hear” you; and 2) you want to have “unique” content that also has an inherent Growth Potential underlying its “uniqueness”.

  29. I have enjoyed reading your post Beth and you make some valid points in not taking to heart when someone removes themselves from your mailing list.

    I think it is important to deliver engaging content to your chosen target audience and build relationships with them, as this will retain them as a subscriber.

  30. I have never thought losing subscribers could be positive before, but this post has made me see things in a different light, I will probably never be comfortable losing subscribers but will try not to let it bother me as much. Maybe trying BRENDA’s method of sending out a final email to unsubscribers would be the way to go in the future