How to Keep Your Email Marketing
List from Hating Your Guts

image of man with megaphone

(Nudnik: Yiddish for pain in the ass, nuisance, pest, a marketer who sends too many emails to his house list)

Okay, so how do you know when you’re being a nudnik?

That is, how do you know when you’re sending too many emails to your money pot, your gold mine — your email list?

Consider the following …

If your email open rate is lower than the relative humidity in the Sahara Desert … you’re probably being a nudnik!

If after every send, your list shrinks faster than cotton underwear in a hot water wash … you’re definitely a nudnik!

If you send five emails in a row and they all say the same thing — but you change the all-important subject line … it doesn’t matter; you’re still a nudnik!

And finally … if you’re sending emails to your list three times a day, every day of the week … you’re not only a nudnik, you’re an idiot!

Will the “80/20 Rule” prevent you from becoming a nudnik?

If you’ve been a marketer for longer than it takes to read this article, you’ve no doubt heard of the “Pareto Principle,” otherwise known as the “80/20 rule.”

Named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, the principle states that 20% of invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. (You can tell I didn’t write that).

In English, it means 80% of your income as a marketer is typically derived from 20% of your list.

Spinning it even further, it also means that in order for you to receive that 80% from your 20% of readers, 80% of your content should be devoted to valuable and useful information, and 20% should be devoted to your offer or sales pitch.

In other words, as a content marketer, for every 10 emails you send, 8 should contain straight valuable and useful content and the other 2 should be pitches and offers.

So, by following the Pareto Principle, will sticking to the 80/20 rule keep you from becoming an unrepentant nudnik, a degenerate email marketer, a pest and a plague to your list?

No. Absolutely not.

But this I can tell you … if you increase the amount of useful and valuable content in your communications to more than 80% … and correspondingly decrease the space or frequency allotted to your offer and sales pitch to less than 20% …

… you might still be a nudnik!

Content alone cannot save you

Because content — even the most incisive, most noteworthy content — requires time to read. And time is, and will forever be, in short supply.

Even your mother, who loves you and thinks you’re the most gifted marketer in the world, doesn’t want to hear from you three times a day. And if she does hear from you that often, I guarantee, she’ll be the first to affirm — you’re a nudnik!

Furthermore, unless you’re giving away gold bullion (the literal kind, not the metaphorical kind) with free shipping and handling, you will never have anything to say, or anything to sell, that could justify contacting your list so inanely often that your readers would pay to see you shipped off to the remotest part of Afghanistan.

Use your “nudnik-odometer” to discover how often you should send emails to your list

Your nudnik-odometer is your email inbox. More specifically, it’s the inbox of that free email account — Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail — that you never visit.

And the reason you don’t ever go there is this …

You’re tired of getting emails from nudniks!

But these nudniks didn’t become nudniks immediately, now did they?

When you first subscribed to the email lists of these marketing nudniks, you had good reason. An itch that needed scratching. A problem that needed addressing.

And these future nudniks made you a darn good offer.

So you bought their info product, or flea powder, or simply subscribed to a free newsletter or blog from a guru, recognized or self-proclaimed.

But then … after you got rid of your dog’s fleas … these marketers didn’t merely stay in touch with timely offers and helpful insights. They bombarded you!

They invited themselves into your family, your private space, they ate up your time, emptied your refrigerator, and offered you bribes if you introduced them to your friends, neighbors, and significant others.

And every day for two weeks you got an email from them that said only 24 hours left. Every chance was your last chance until your next chance … and for every 300 items left, another 500 were found. Every final offer was followed by Ooops, I made a mistake — there’s still time left!

So how do you quit being a nudnik?

Here’s my advice.

First, study and count the number and frequency of emails received from these nudniks.

And see if in the naked and revealing glare of your computer screen, you see something familiar. See if you see yourself … and how annoying you’ve been to others.

Send often enough that they don’t forget you, but not so often that they get sick and tired of you.

Second, make sure the email you send is worth the time you’re asking for. If you’re sending content people actually want to read, you aren’t a nudnik.

Third, don’t bounce from being a nudnik to being a shlemiel (that’s Yiddish for a shmo, a dope, someone whose mother still dresses him).

Your list exists to create relationships so you can make offers. Don’t be afraid to sell.

It’s not making a pitch that makes you a nudnik. It’s failing to respect your readers’ time and attention.

About the Author: Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter. Read more of his irreverent musings and download a free copy of his new eBook, containing 21 of his most outrageous rants, when you visit his blog: Marketing Wit & Wisdom!

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Reader Comments (60)

  1. says


    There’s some gems today in this blog post.

    1. The 80/20 rule everyone should know about. If you Google Pareto Principle, you’ll get a good Wiki article about this topic.

    2. 8 out of 10 emails should center around content – very good. That’s room for 2 content pitches. It’s a good blend.

    3. Watch your email basket. I like to sign up for different ezines and see what they say. If someone always pitches to me, it’s time to unsubscribe.

    If email marketers would check their metrics (i.e. subscribe rate, unsubscribe rate, open rate, etc.), they will soon discover if they are Nudniks.

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. says

    I believe this is the most important part: make sure the email you send is worth the time you’re asking for. If you’re sending content people actually want to read, you aren’t a nudnik…It should be something really worth reading and interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      You are right Adventures Wench; and here’s another vital part:

      “Your list exists to create relationships so you can make offers…It’s not making a pitch that makes you a nudnik. It’s failing to respect your readers’ time and attention.”

      What makes a nudnik is the failure to build and respect relationships (I think that’s the keyword).

      Thanks for this post.

  3. says

    Well I personally have an big list of subscribers..and my recommendation is to not send out offers no more than twice a works for me to keep my readers..

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  4. Jon says

    Here’s what I absolutely hate the most…

    Someone will sell a piece of software or a membership site subscription. In order to get notified about important updates or changes to the service, you’ll have to subscribe to the list. Indeed, that important information is not also located on a web site, or in a RSS feed, nope. It’s only available on the update list.

    Then spam the crap out of that list with offer after offer, but throw in the once-in-a-blue-moon important update announcement in an attempt to prevent users from unsubscribing.

    Ugh, total Nudniks!!!

  5. says

    Wow, I like this post. The last time I came to copyblogger from my email subscription was months and months ago. Most of the content emailed to me was ignored except for this one which I read all the way.

    • says

      To be honest, what led me here was because of this post’s title that pretty much seemed like it was conflicting with many other copyblogger post updates I received in my email.

        • says

          Oh well I’m not talking about the ratio between content and promotion you send through email. I’m talking about how regularly content and promotion altogether is sent to my inbox. Perhaps it’s more about how the content presented to us through email. I’m checking my inbox and I see 1 post per day. I think that’s nice, but when you’re a busy person getting so many emails and multitasking, and you receive a really well written post in your email, you tend to just save the email for another day because it takes too long to read. And on that other day you receive another good but long content. And it goes on for a whole month and you realize that you haven’t read anything from Copyblogger except for the title of the Posts in each email.

          Perhaps it’s not like that for other people, but it would be interesting if summarized posts are sent to emails. That way you could get more traffic coming from more email subscribers.

  6. says

    @Jon that’s well past nudnik and into p**z territory.

    You CAN email once a day or even three times a day IF (and only if) that’s what people signed up for (like Daily Candy or HARO or Woot). Otherwise, yes, you’re being a jerk.

    • says

      @Jodi – Agreed! All email marketing programs are different, and it depends on the expectations you set up front. Well, that and sending timely, targeted, valuable emails to subscribers to have asked to receive them (that’s our email marketing mantra at Blue Sky Factory). Our answer to many questions here at BSF is “it depends”. It’s not always a popular answer, but it’s true!

      Amy Garland
      Marketing Manager, Blue Sky Factory

      • says

        I agree with that. I like how Barry covered it in the “you may still be a nudnik” even though you’re sticking to certain rules of thumb. You’re really the only one who can assess your audience + their level of involvement + your topic + how valuable you can make yourself to them.

        We make our best guess, we pay attention, and we do our best. :)

  7. says

    Same topic, different medium; Facebook. Some ‘Friends’ are interesting for career information but they post so often I’ve hidden them from view. They take up too much space.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  8. says

    Hi Barry,

    Super stuff here.

    I say don’t kill ’em with content (too much frequency), simply help them with it. Send out usable information on a consistent but measured basis.

    Great point on the shlemiel mindset too. I suffered from this for a while until I became clear on what I had to offer. You can’t sell something that nobody knows your selling.

    Thanks for sharing!


  9. says

    Love the serious humor in this post! You so perfectly nailed it and kept me glued the entire time.

    Thankfully, I’m not a nudnik. I have been guilty of being a shlemiel in the past, but I’m working at overcoming this, and starting to dressing myself. 😉

    Thanks for an awesome read! (and not wasting my time. haha)


  10. says

    It’s like double-dipping, close-talking, low-talking, high-talking, head-first-parking, shrinkage, regifting, Vandalay Industries, Fastivus bashing and yada, yada, yada, just don’t try any of them.

  11. says


    I hope everyone pays extra attention to the second recommendation you make.

    It’s easy to get into the habit of thinking “email is free” and that there’s no cost to anyone (you or the recipient) associated with sending another email. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Every email involves a transaction: the subscriber gives you time and attention in exchange for something that s/he expects will be more valuable than that time and attention. If you don’t recognize that and treat it with the same importance that you do a monetary transaction, your subscribers will unsubscribe, mark you as spam or otherwise “tune out.”

    And the more time/attention you ask for, the higher the value bar raises. Emails that are sufficiently valuable (to keep subscribers tuned in) if sent once a week may not make the cut if sent three times a week.

    Just as there’s an art to creating quality content, there’s an art to determining/knowing how often to deliver that content to your email subscribers. “Don’t be a nudnik” is a good rule.

  12. says

    The thing that is difficult for some folks to grasp is that what *they* like is not what everyone likes. I work with someone who insists on sending very long, weekly emails, with lots of “fun” stuff in them – links to YouTube videos, jokes from emails, etc. When I suggest shortening each email and only including one “fun” item, he says he doesn’t want to disappoint people. To each his own, I suppose!

  13. says


    I won’t go on like a nudnik about how awesome this post is. I’ll just say that not only did you share great info, you also managed to bring a big smile to my face. Though you didn’t talk about it in words, through your humorous actions you added even more value.

    I learned from Tony Hsieh and the relational marketing nijas at Zappos that humor is a powerful way to connect with your prospects. You sell more – without being a nudnik.

    You and Copyblogger rock!

  14. says

    Is there a name for an allergic reaction to a nudnik? I think the symptoms include a compulsive grinding of the teeth and an irrational need to destroy your own property just to escape unwanted emails. However I’m so afraid of becoming a nudnik that I’ve yet to send out an email selling something, it’s a little bit of a problem.
    Thanks for the post :-)

  15. says

    @ Tara dillard- like the ones who post quote after quote after quote…..

    I send one newsletter a week and maybe 1 ‘special” one a month.

    Many of my subscribers are on my Facebook or Twitter so I’m kept in front of them pretty regularly.

    • says

      It’s true up to a point, although there’s a flip side you need to be careful about. If you go too long without sending, most of your readers will have no earthly idea who you are.

  16. says

    I stopped sending newsletters. I focused on building email subscribers and writing articles of good content.

    My articles do not contain sales pitch. I think I should consider your 20 percent.

    I get regular clients, but it won’t hurt to have more.

    Thank you.

  17. says

    This made me smile.

    As from today, I have sent my list an invitation to my first product – a web writing workshop in London in December (too bad most of you are in the US).

    Vilfredo will not be impressed ‘cos by my own admission, I am way, way off 80/20 re. content v product promotion. More like 99/1.

    And ironically, I teach my students about 80/20 thinking.

    BUT…at least it’s now no longer 100/0

    A wonderful post.

  18. says

    Agreed that this is the most valuable tip:

    “make sure the email you send is worth the time you’re asking for.”

    And then thank them for reading it as well.

    Very well-written articles – thanks for sharing!

  19. says

    An important point is that it’s impossible to really know the correct open rate for your newsletter.

    Desktop and web email clients block the tracking pixel for privacy reasons so we’ll always get lower numbers than reality.

    – Tyrus

  20. says

    The easiest and potentially most profitable way to avoid being a nudnik, is to ASK if you are!

    Open a dialogue with your list. Ask them what they want, and how much of it.

    Show them you care — and that their opinion matters to you.

    Why guess? Request feedback!

    And then reward them when they answer you, both in the short term, with a heretofore promised incentive when they respond, and longer-term — with a better communication strategy!

  21. says

    Oh god, oh god, I’m a shlemiel. I was so sick of nudniks before I even started marketing, that I have tentatively tiptoed into e-mail marketing like a shlemiel.

    The good news is that by paying attention to the e-mails I read and the ones I immediately trash or unsubscribe from, I’m getting a sense of what works.

    Is there a name for an e-mail marketer that does it just right? Goldilocks, perhaps?

  22. says

    I generally do not send out email to my list, only about once a month and on my blog I have no email list (when starting out) until I establish myself.

    I often do not open email from who send out too many aff, links in emails, it gets tiring.

  23. says

    There is another point about newsletters that makes me long for the days when people told you what they thought about you with a broadsword or a halberd.

    There are these sites where you sign up to be a member and opt-in for newsletters. The stink starts when the site starts being a nudnik. You ignore the mails for some time, wanting to give them the benefit of doubt and hoping that they will clean up their act.

    But no, once a nudnik always a nudnik. So you hit the unsubscribe link and you get taken to (gasp) a form where you have to enter your username and password. Grrrrr.

    Create filter, report as spam,trash

  24. says

    I’ll add one more point to this: there will always be some readers who think you are a spammy PITA (even if you send one email a year and it includes only visualizations for world peace), and there will always be some who wish you’d mail more often and that they had more chances to buy stuff from you.

    I see too many people get one complaint or one spam flag (and realize, many people mark email as spam to mean “I don’t feel like reading this any more”) and immediately back way off. That’s not wise either.

  25. says

    Loved the post – like the 80/20 bit also. Not sure if I have been a the most respectful of my email lists time but do not think I have been to much of a nudnik – either way I will be keeping an eye on it from now on!

  26. says

    Hi Barry. I think your advice will help me from becoming a “nudnik”. I am finally getting around to trying to complete creating a newsletter campaign/series and then creating a list, so this advice will come in handy. I wasn’t planning on bombarding prospective subscribers anyway but I guess I was wondering how often I should send out an email.

  27. Rosanna Tarsiero says

    May I add another suggestions to the great ones you’ve posted so far?

    ***no kid talk***

    I’ve seen this trend of inserting stuff about one’s kids in blog entries and newsletters and I want everybody to know that there are people like me who don’t like to read it. Actually, who would move your newsletter to the trash folder as fast as they can the first time, and would unsub the second time they read that nonsense.

    I mean if something your kid did or said is interesting to your audience, by all means do share. However, parents need to keep in mind that nobody else is as into their kids as they are, and behave accordingly.

    As rule of thumb I use the “kids and bowel movements” rule. That is, ask yourself “under which conditions would I share my bowel movements?”. You will INSTANTLY understand that – unless it’s an explanation on why you can’t make a deadline or had a very poor performance or you need to skip showing up for an appointment, you wouldn’t share such a detail.

    Then, apply it to your kids – share ONLY major things, and only when you can preface those lines with “sorry if I couldn’t publish my newsletter in time, but I had to rush my kid to the doctor” and keep the freaking rest for yourself.


  28. says

    Thanks Barry

    I’ve made my newsletters so far 95% informative content and 5% sales – and I’m wondering what a “good” open rate is? 30%? 50%? 90%?

    What has been everyone else’s experience?

    Regards, Olwen :-)

  29. says

    LOL! I love this article. It is well written, pokes fun with style and makes a very important point. This will be very helpful to my readers so I am sharing it on my blog. Thank you Barry.

  30. says

    Hi Barry well said, It would have to be a balancing act that could easily backfire. I am not sure how to judge the right amount either. It’s like everything I guess, if you are in the looking zone you are open to information.
    Best regards Steve

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