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8 Ways to Reduce Email List Churn

Chad White
September 23, 2020

3 minute read

Growing your email list is a challenge. Email list churn makes that challenge even harder. That’s because you have to replace every subscriber who unsubscribes, reports your emails as spam, or becomes chronically inactive just to keep your list size steady, much less grow it.

It’s like walking up a down escalator. The more your list churns, the faster you have to go to avoid losing ground. And that escalator is moving pretty fast for most companies. According to Return Path research, 44% of new subscribers will typically churn before reaching their first anniversary on your list.

Fortunately, here are 8 steps you can take to reduce your email list churn:

Set clear expectations during your signup process

People don’t like surprises. If you’re seeing elevated churn from new subscribers, examine your signup page, signup confirmation page, and welcome series to see how well those are setting expectations for email content and frequency.

Use double opt-in, where appropriate

Double opt-in (DOI) processes involve sending an email to anyone who signs up that asks them to click a link in the email to confirm that they indeed would like to receive your marketing emails. DOI is best for clarifying signups collected on social media sites, co-registration forms, and other subscriber acquisition sources that tend to attract low-value subscribers who are prone to complaining and unsubscribing. It also protects you from spam traps, as well as inaccurately transcribed email addresses collected verbally or via hand-written forms.

Capture subscriber preferences

Your signup process should focus on getting consent in a clear, frictionless way. Don’t muddy that process with anything but the most essential details. However, after you get that opt-in, use your subscription confirmation page and welcome series to gather key preferences that you can use for some initial segmentation and personalization.

Create functional subscriber experiences

If your emails aren’t easy to read and easy to interact with, subscribers won’t stick around. This is a common issue with the mobile version of brands’ emails, which sometimes use font sizes that are well below the 14pt recommended by Oracle Consulting’s Creative Services team. Dark mode for email also creates serious readability problems.

Reduce email frequency to inactive and fatigued subscribers

When a subscriber isn’t in the market for your product or services, you’ll see that they stop opening and clicking. Rather than continuing to send these subscribers every email you deploy, you’d do well to send them less. That boosts your engagement metrics, which helps your deliverability, and it also reduces churn because you’re lessening the chance that your emails will annoy your subscribers into opting out. Reducing your email frequency to inactives is part of an overall strategy of finding the best email frequency for your audience.

Pause your marketing campaigns when subscribers are likely to react negatively

Subscribers will opt out if they’ve had a negative customer experience, they’re upset by a scandal or controversy at your company, or if they feel you’re being insensitive to local, state, or national issues. You can reduce this by risk by pausing your marketing emails during these times. For instance, Patagonia, REI, and other brands paused their email and social media campaigns when the Black Lives Matter protests were the most widespread in early June.

Use reengagement campaigns

Sent to people who haven’t opened or clicked in a while, reengagement emails have the goal of getting subscribers to open or click again. These campaigns are best used to determine why they’ve disengaged and what would make them engage again.

Give subscribers options other than opting out completely

If your unsubscribe page only gives your subscribers the option to opt-out, then that’s likely all they’ll do. If they have other options, they’ll sometimes choose those. Here are some choices to consider offering:

  • Opt-down so they receive emails less frequently.
  • Snooze their subscription for 1, 2, or 3 months or until the end of an event or season.
  • Change email address rather than forcing them to unsubscribe and resubscribe, which messes up your subscriber records.
  • Stay subscribed, where you convince them to stay by detailing what they’d be missing out on if they left.

Because retaining subscribers is less expensive than acquiring new ones, these 8 tactics can help you grow your list faster and more cheaply.

For a deeper dive and to discover what drives email list churn, check out Email List Churn: How to Reduce Both Passive & Active Opt-Outs on Oracle’s Modern Marketing Blog.

Chad White
Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. He’s also the author of “Email Marketing Rules” and more than 3,000 articles and posts about email marketing. Chad was named the Email Experience Council’s 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn @chadswhite.
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