Why your Newsletter is Full of Zombies (and 5 strategies to bring back inactive leads and subscribers)

In a previous article we talked about the importance of the email segmentation in order to increase newsletter open rates, clicks on the links it contains, and landing page conversion rates.

The principle behind email list segmentation is simple: get a targeted message acrossor an email to a person potentially interested in it, based on information we have previously inferred.

If the subscribe to your newsletter may have different interests on the basis of which to segment the message, there are a category of subscribers often overlooked: inactive contactswhat technical terms are called dead email subscribers.

How many Zombies are there among your newsletter subscribers?

Inactive members are those who have subscribed to your newsletter but have not interacted with your messages in any way for some time.

What does it mean to interact? There are various forms of engagement in theemail marketingfrom the most basic to the most profound, let's see them together.

  • opening rate: is the basic form of engagement. If your subscribers don't even open the email, there's a problem, we'll see later what kind and possible solutions to the problem. Opening rates are a metric often considered inaccurateunlike the one that follows, the clicks.
  • click-through rate: this is the metric that is often considered among the most reliable in assessing the rating of a newsletter subscriber, or rather his engagement, his active (or not) participation in your newsletter. Clicking on the link contained in an email denotes a deeper interest, if only because it assumes that your subscriber has opened the email, read it and deliberately decided to click on a link.
  • response rates: It often happens that the recipient of your newsletter responds to your email. This is a sign of further engagement with your newsletter, because your subscriber not only opened and read your email, but took the time to respond to it.
  • bounces (bounces): is a term that identifies emails going back to sender. A distinction is usually made between hard bounce, when typically the email no longer exists, or soft bounce When the rebound is caused by a temporary problem. Rebounds are among the factors considered by the email marketing software to identify the quality of an email address, in technical jargon its rating.

The rating of your members

As I mentioned before, many email marketing softwares give a grade to email addresses, deduced from the metrics we talked about above: ESP how to SendinBlue o Mail Chimp, for example, assigns the rating with stars, from 1 to 5, depending on the quality of the email address:

Member Rating MailChimp

In this post we try to understand:

  • because you should focus on the higher-rated members of your list;
  • how to identify "zombie" members;
  • what to do with inactive users, the zombies in fact, with 2 possible solutionsEliminate them by cleaning up the list, or try to stimulate their participation again;
  • some case histories of how "dead email subscribers" have been handled, with even drastic solutions such as that of Hubspot,.

How to identify zombies in your email list

Like we said, One particular way of segmenting your email list is to manage inactive contacts.

Here we are not talking about targeting an email to a segment of subscribers with certain interests, but about managing A problem that plagues a large portion of newsletter subscribers.

If you check it out, you may be in for a bitter surprise: a significant component of the subscribers to your list are only doing numbers, without participating in any way: According to some statistics from Businesstocommunity.com and MarketingSherpa, the percentage of inactive contacts can be as high as 70% - 75% of newsletter subscribers:

Okay, saying "I have 10,000 newsletter subscribers" is cool, but if the 40% are addresses that don't even open your email, beyond the social proof, your email marketing initiatives suffer.

Why? Put another way, what are the good reasons for addressing and managing the problem of inactive members?

Let's look at three of them together.

3 good reasons to clean up inactive email contacts

  • the quality of your subscriber list is not based on quantity: If you ask yourself for a moment what is the purpose of your newsletters, be it to sell a product, create a relationship, inform about news, in no way any of these goals can be achieved by members who do not even open your email, or interact at a minimum;
  • general deterioration in metrics: I'm guessing you look at the performance of your newsletters. And what do you look at? Open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribes...okay, but if 40% of your subscribers aren't participating, that's heavily affecting the overall performance of your newsletters;
  • the third reason is perhaps the most stringent: many email marketing softwares are they charge by the number of members. Ok money is in the list says a well-known motto, but if there are only inactive contacts in the list, where is the profit? Inactive contacts are in this case only a cost.

At this point let's try to understand why there are zombies in your email list and their types: yes, because depending on their degree of participation with your messages, we can distinguish them into first and second level zombies or Never Opener and Ex Opener.

Never Opener and Ex Opener

A A former opener is a subscriber to your list who has not opened or clicked on the link in your email in months. A never opener is a subscriber who has neither opened nor clicked on the link in your email since they signed up.

Tier 1 zombies: people who don't even open your newsletters.

It is the users who they don't even open your e-mails. How can you identify them? In Mail Chimp, once you get into the list, segment it like this:

email subscribers did not open any campaign segment mail chimp

How can it be that a portion (even a substantial portion) of your subscribers have not even opened one of the previous 10 campaigns!

The reasons can be various. Let's look at the most common ones.

The Promotions and Updates tabs in Gmail

With the advent of Gmail's Promotions TAB, email marketing has lost at least 5 of its 7 lives (like the cat).

If you use Gmail, you may have noticed that many messages are delivered directly to the "Promotions" or "Updates" tab, reducing the visibility they would have in the "Main" tab:

tab promotion gmail email marketing

Do you know what the problem is? Aside from the reduced visibility, the promotions tab is not included by default among the tabs, meaning the user has to enter it of their own volition.

How to identify the extent of the problem? Just segment inactive users by mail client, here's how to do it in Mail Chimp:

mail chimp segment did not open campaign and email client gmail

What did I do? I told Mail Chimp: find me all the subscribers that meet these 2 conditions at the same time:

  • they haven't opened a single one of the last 10 e-mails;
  • they have gmail.

Actually the fact that some of the emails are delivered in the Promotions Tab is not in itself a bad thing, since:

  • is a TAB with a higher propensity to buy (shopping mindset);
  • a Return Path statistics confirms that compared to the 100% of the past Now only a third of Gmail users use the tabbed structure;

The e-mail you have is unused

Tell me the truth: when you sign up for a newsletter do you give out your primary email?

I don't do this myself, I have multiple email addresses, my main one and others for these purposes. Clearly your subscriber has left you an email that he/she looks at very little, hence the low engagement.

Statistics seem to confirm this phenomenon: 17% of people in the US change their email every 6 months and 40% every year.

Emails end up in spam

It's an addendum to the Gmail problem. Your emails may end up in spam. How to solve this problem? We'll look at that in a moment.

They don't care...but they don't unsubscribe.

Here's the fourth possibility: your user doesn't have Gmail, your emails arrive in the main inbox, but they don't even open them.

Then why not unsubscribe?

Maybe they don't want to look bad, or they don't know how, or they're just too lazy to do it. Maybe it's a user you've unwillingly included, who you know and imagine has qualms about unsubscribing.

Or maybe, as we'll see in a moment, it's... a subscriber that perhaps needs to be evaluated beyond classic email marketing KPIs like open rate and click rate.

The sending frequency is wrong

Too many emails (or too few) could lead to reduced engagement:

Source : https://www.slideshare.net/actonsoftware/download-31141751

Your emails are responsive right?

According to statistics, the vast majority of those who receive an email not optimized for mobile do not put it aside waiting to change device ... they trash it.

How to handle 1st level zombies

Okay, at this point it remains to figure out how to deal with the 1st level zombies, who don't open any of your emails.

The possibilities are basically 2: eliminate or attempt re engagement, or user recovery.

#1 Cleaning

The first possibility you have is to provide yourself to discriminate inactive users, but I recommend you to provide this solution not before trying to recover them, let's see how.

#2 Trying to get them to interact again

Here are 3 possible solutions.

#1 Educate your subscriber

Educating your subscriber means asking them, for example, to:

  • enter the sender, which is the email you send the newsletters from, among his contacts;
  • activate the "Promotions" tab in Gmail;
  • if the e-mail should end up in Spam, Tell your mail client that you are not a spammer;
  • give your main mail address.

Here's a possible message, the one I've used in the past for the Web Marketing Academy newsletter:

Thank you for your registration Web Marketing Academy

#2 Don't be fooled by the filters

How come your email ends up in spam? Or in promotions?

Your recipient's email client interprets it as spam, or promotion.

There are various tips to keep your message from appearing as spam or advertising, here are a few:

  • don't overdo the links in the body of the message;
  • don't use capitalised terms or too many exclamation points as the subject of emails;
  • use an email with your first and last name as the sender.

#3 Write a goodbye letter

Last chance? Write a goodbye letter explaining to your recipient that you will remove them from the mailing list because of their participation.

Here's an example I used myself a few years ago:

Here is a format, consisting of a series of 3 emails, which allowed us to Reactivate a 5% of inactive members valued at $13,000:

Reactivate Your Nonprofit s Email List Nonprofit Marketing Getting Attention

Here's another reactivation workflow and below the success rates you might expect:

Source : https://www.slideshare.net/actonsoftware/download-31141751

2nd level: they open your newsletters, but never click on the links

Here's the 2nd level: it's the user who opens your emails, but has never clicked on a link in them.

Here's how to find them in Mail Chimp:

did not click any campaign mail chimp segment

I create a segment where I ask Mail Chimp to identify who hasn't clicked on any of the last 5/10 campaigns.

How come these people don't click?

One reason may be that your anchor text and call to action are sluggish.

What makes a user click on a link? Call to Action and anchor text.

How can you improve them? For example by testing different onesand seeing in the statistics which work best

Here's a report from Mail Chimp that tells me which links are the most clicked in an email:

click chimp mail link

As you can see in the example above, the most clicked links are often the ones at the top, so another suggestion might be to place links to your email higher up.

One last suggestion? Diversify the links!

There are various types, text links and banners for example:

button and textual link mail chimp

How to reactivate Zombies with retargeting

Okay, we've seen a few initiatives to reactivate inactive contacts on your email list.

We did it with the same emails though: in case the situation doesn't unlock within the same tool, you can try to re-engage inactive contacts with some strategies: let's see which ones.

Retargeting with Facebook Ads Custom Audiences

You know the Custom Facebook Advertising Audiences?

Among its features is the ability to show your Facebook ad to a list of email addresses, which you can also upload from Mail Chimp:

custom audience facebook ads.

Well, at this point you will have understood: you can create a list of your inactive contacts and make them an Audience, to whom you can address an ad of Facebook Advertising, aimed at stimulating your user's re-engagement or their subscription to your newsletter with another email.

To delete or not to delete? That is the dilemma

Let's recap the rows of our discourse.

We've seen how Zombies, or inactive users on your mailing list, are a phenomenon that is anything but rare, reaching even 70% of subscribers.

We've also seen how not fixing this situation can lead to negative consequences in terms of the performance of your email marketing campaigns and costs.

We also saw how to define inactive users and how to re-activate them, either through a series of emails or through retargeting.

But in the end what do we do with those we have not been able to recover? The solutions are basically 2: keep things as they are or delete.

Solution #1: keep inactive contacts

But how, didn't we say that inactive contacts are bad for you?

According to SmartInsights, inactive contacts would be able to generate $120,000 and a return of 14%.

According to a statistic from Mail Chimp, inactive leads still perform better, in terms of order frequency, order value and retention, than the unsubscriber:

The reasons? Beyond classic KPIs (open rate, click rate) the brand keeps getting into your lead's inbox:

There's more to the story than just opens and clicks. Your inactive subscribers might not be actively engaging with your email, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they haven't noticed your message. or skimmed through your subject lines. Even without a single email being opened, your brand can still make billboard-like impressions on subscribers from the inbox.

Source : https://mailchimp.com/resources/inactive-subscribers-are-still-valuable-customers/

But with the exception of this rare (and poorly explained) case, in most cases you just have to say goodbye. Let's see who did it and how.

Solution #2: Unsubscribe inactive contacts

Let's start by specifying when it's time to move on to removal: a possible guideline could be the one suggested below:

Source : https://www.slideshare.net/actonsoftware/download-31141751

The Hubspot case: 250,000 emails deleted

Hubspot is a courageous example of someone who has deleted 250,000 of 550,000 subscribers, the 45% of its mailing list, noting that a large proportion of subscribers belong to the "greymail", i.e. people who have signed up for your mailing list but don't actually want it.

The Entrepreneurs-journey.com Case: 30,000 deleted emails

Another courageous case is that of  Entrepreneurs-journey.comwhich, noting that half of its members were inactive and at the same time noting the costs of maintaining them, decided to cancel them, reducing the list of members from 65,000 to 35,000.


Now it's up to you: it's time to figure out how many subscribers on your mailing list are inactive, try to re-activate them and possibly clean up and delete them.

Have you ever had this happen to you? Let's talk about it in the comments.

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