A well-oiled email marketing strategy can be unsurpassable in terms of ROI and audience engagement.

So, what are the myriad ways companies can keep their database plump and receptive and reduce unsubscribes?

Here are 10 ways.

1. Make it clear what the user is signing up for

There’s a balance to be had between maximising ease of email sign-up and offering the user options for subscription.

Giving the user tick boxes to choose from, for example, male or female fashion updates, newsletters or sale alerts, weekly or monthly updates, could potentially decrease conversion of your signup field, even if it stands to increase subsequent engagement of subscribers.

What is paramount is that users know they are indeed signing up to receive emails, and understand what these emails will include.

The example below is from Next and shows a muddled mix of opt-out and opt-in experiences during account registration.

All such confusion does is increases the number of people who subscribe in error and then swiftly unsubscribe, unnecessarily blurring engagement rates in your data.

Next mixes opt-out (not advised) with opt-in.

next email opt-in

2. Send fewer emails. Send more emails. (i.e. conduct frequency testing)

Testing email frequency is important, and indeed it will be one of the main factors influencing unsubscribe rate.

However, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to frequency - implications of engagement levels can be difficult to tease out.

For example, users sporadically interact with some services and companies (e.g. we may buy a holiday on average once a year), but that doesn’t mean these companies won't benefit from a branding perspective by emailing every week. Customers, too, may be happy to keep these companies front-of-mind, in preparation for a big annual purchase, or simply on the off chance that an enticing promotion is offered.

In one of Parry Malm’s fantastic email articles for Econsultancy, he discloses positive results for the so-called re-send method, used by MusicRadar.

Re-sending a newsletter daily for seven days to non-openers was shown to be advantageous, giving a 255% uplift against control, with greater than 99.9% confidence.

Re-sends in this experiment were also more successful than re-activations (using different creative to encourage a recipient to re-engage) in this experiment.

MusicRadar's reactivation email was less successful than re-sending its newsletter to non-openers.

reactivation email

3. Get feedback from unsubscribers

A rather obvious one, this, but there are different ways in which you can do it. It’s common practice to offer users a list of reasons for unsubscribe and necessitate that one is chosen in order to complete.

However, I quite like the approach taken by Kogan.com. As the screenshot below shows, I was allowed to unsubscribe before being presented with an open text field where I was asked to provide feedback.

This appealed to my vanity (my opinion matters!) and I’m sure it will garner some instructive feedback.

kogan unsubscribe

4. Allow for a change of heart

Kogan.com again. Immediately after I’ve hit unsubscribe, I'm allowed to recant.

I’d love to see data showing how often the 'no' option is chosen. My hunch is not very often, but it’s an interesting tactic, making sure that no recipients unsubscribe in error.

unsubscribe kogan

5. Take a break or promise to take it easy

Okay, this is my last use of Kogan.com, though it’s a technique used by many, including Zalando.

Unsubscribers may not want a complete cessation of messaging. If they’re unsure whether a regular email is of use to them, they make take the opportunity to enjoy a break for a week or two.

There's also the option of changing email frequency here, which is best practice for email preferences.

kogan unsubscribe

6. Automate

Tying email timing and content to the customer lifecycle / sales cycle allows brands to deliver more relevant messaging that can help to increase engagement and reduce unsubscribes.

This can include:

  • A programme of welcome emails
  • Notification of products back in stock
  • New stores opening near you
  • Incentivising product reviews
  • Basket abandonment emails
  • 'Recently browsed' emails
  • Loyalty rewards

For more automated email types, see 20 Automated emails your customers won't delete.

A basket abandonment email from Boots

boots email

7. Recognise unsubscribe trends and re-engage

Set criteria for what an inactive subscriber is and move these recipients to a re-engagement segment.

The soon-to-unsubscribe might be characterised by a drop-off in opens and clicks at certain points in the customer lifecycle.

Looking at hurdle rates can help e.g. 30% of purchasers have clicked or opened within the last six months. 

8. Segment

Segmentation may be considered by some to be the old-fashioned cousin of automation, but designing content for different audience demographics is obviously still a valuable strategy.

For example, if an estate agent wanted to send out some content/research about UK house prices, it would get more engagement if it tailored and targeted this content to specific regions in the UK.

A B2B company may want to segment an audience into purchasers, decision makers, CEOs etc. knowing that each audience desires different information.

Ultimately, a marketing department should be able to use knowledge of its products, content and audience to ramp up customer interest.

Segmentation by doggy size, from Doggyloot (more examples here).

email segmentation

9. Test subject lines

Optimising open rates by testing subject lines doesn't mean unsubscribes will dwindle. Just because more recipients are opening your messages, doesn't mean they're any more relevant.

However, it's clear that the more intriguing subject lines are, the more an impression of value is conveyed. This may be enough to placate some users.

People are attracted to 'sale', 'save', '% off' and 'free delivery' in subject lines. It's often this FOMO attached to unsubscribing that keeps recipients engaged.

10. Establish comms elsewhere

Lastly, it's important to note that relevance doesn't have to be created solely within the email channel itself.

Communicating with a customer offline or through other online channels can add context to email comms.

Partly, this is rationale for automation, but it's also a reminder that a phone call or direct mail can be your most powerful engagement tactic.

For more on email marketing, download the Econsultancy Email marketing Best Practice Guide.

Ben Davis

Published 17 March, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (3)

Phil Monk

Phil Monk, Email Marketing Consultant at Phil Monk - Email Consultancy

Some good points here, I would have changed 6. Automate to 6. Send Relevant content, that's the important message here. You can automate but making sure the content is right for your subscriber is key

almost 2 years ago

Oskar Kleine-Kalmer

Oskar Kleine-Kalmer, Marketing Manager at Oskar Kleine-Kalmer

Fully agree on the automation part. Point 3 is a great thing to implement, at the same time it is the most difficult one to get right. Remember, when people are leaving, very few will take the time to provide valuable written feedback...

almost 2 years ago

Guy Hatton

Guy Hatton, Director at Clinic

Maintaining a consistent tone of voice across your emails is so under-rated. Unexpected messages will trigger an "I don't want this" response. Variety of content is needed, but keep the brand message the same.

almost 2 years ago

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