List Growth Challenge: Lapsed Subscribers

From the eec's Member RoundtablesDuring the eec List Growth & Engagement Roundtable‘s most recent meeting, we discussed an email challenge common to members and email marketers everywhere: What do you do with subscribers who have not responded to your emails in six months or more?

Initially we had a good discussion over what really defines “active.” Because of image caching by the ISPs and the reading of emails on mobile devices or text-only readers, it was decided that you can’t only look at opens as an indicator of someone being engaged. The best definition was any person who opens, clicks or makes a purchase (any purchase from any channel) from your company.

Now that you have defined your active email base, it’s time to start looking at the inactive subscribers. Some suggestions of what to look for when trying to determine why they are inactive were:

Deliverability issues. Are your emails not getting to people’s inboxes? Do you have unknown IP issues that need to be addressed? One suggestion is to look at the domain counts for the inactive subscribers. If you look at the domain counts for your active vs. inactive subscribers to see if there is any clustering that could indicate delivery issues. For example, if your total database contains 30% AOL addresses, but your non-responder domains are 65% AOL, is that difference something that indicates email filtering at AOL may be an issue?

Mobile devices. This is probably more of an issue for B2B marketers, but are more of your subscribers reading emails on their mobile devices? One idea is to include something like “click here to read this on your mobile device” at the top of your message. That would link to a short ‘mobile friendly’ version of your email with short body text and links to pages with more details. You could then track clicks on that link so you know who your mobile readers are.


Explore segmentation tactics. One-to-one communication and segmentation are so easy to do with email. It’s highly recommended that you start categorizing your non-responders into various cells, and start testing different content and subject lines for each cell. When you identify a strategy that starts to show positive results (getting people engaged), use that strategy for the remainder of the cells.

Consider a survey. Inviting subscribers to participate in a survey can be an effective tool for re-activation programs. Ask your subscribers for information that can be helpful in providing them content and offers they will find valuable.

Get a new email address. Is the fact that the subscriber is not responding a sign that the email address is going to be invalid soon (abandoned email account)? Should you try to find a new email address for that subscriber? Over the last 6 to 8 months, there’s been an increase in the number of customers that are submitting their “chronic non-responders” for email change of address and email update services. One reason for this trend is because of slowing list growth. As a marketer’s growth rate of their opt-in house file slows down, the loss of emails due to bounces and non-responders start to really show their impact in terms of lost revenue. Therefore, finding a new email address for a non-responder has been a strategy that’s being adopted by more companies.

Is there a risk if you continue to email non-responders? This question came up. The general consensus was that there probably is not a risk that the non-responder will press the automated complaint buttons or report you as spam. However, abandoned emails do sometimes get converted to “honeypots” or “spam traps” by the ISPs. The ISPs don’t tell us good guys which addresses may have triggered a spam trap, so you don’t know which ones to remove from your list. A suggestion on the call was to do a 1-year purge—anyone who hasn’t shown any action (as defined above) could be suppressed from future campaigns.

This is only a summary of the conversations we had. We talked for about an hour and could have gone longer, so there was a lot of good information shared by everyone on the call, which included eec members DJ Waldow of Bronto Software, Luke Glasner of Robin Publishing, and Stephanie Miller of Return Path.

Join the conversation! Do you have any comments or advice to add regarding this challenge? Is there a list growth challenge that you’d like to see discussed at our next Roundtable meeting on April 9 at 1pm EST? If so, please comment below. Thanks.

—List Growth & Engagement Roundtable co-chairs Dan Babb of Walter Karl Interactive and Austin Bliss of FreshAddress

One thought on “List Growth Challenge: Lapsed Subscribers

  1. Besides the point of assuring that the email address is not valid or going non-existent, my suggestion is to keep your email subscribers engaged. The point I am making is that your email subscribers may be accustomed to just deleting the emails when they come through. This can occur from sending too often or providing too much information in the email for them the chew on. There are many ways to keep your subscribers engaged: 1) offer a forward to a friend incentive 2) leave your subscribers with something to look forward to in the next email campaign (i.e. answer to a question or unveiling a contest winner). Some of these methods can not only turn your campaign around, but also help grow an email list through the buzz that it creates with the subscriber base.

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