Understanding Unsubscribes

You've worked really hard on creating an interesting website, you have cultivated a substantial list of subscribers, and you send content on a regular basis, yet still you lose subscribers with every email. Unfortunately, you can't completely stop unsubscribes, but if you understand why they are happening, you can reduce the number of valuable contacts you lose.

Recent research by GetData shows that receiving too many emails is the single biggest reason why people unsubscribe from email mailing lists.

Pie chart of unsubscribe reasons

Let's take a closer look at each of those reasons, and see what you can do to reduce their effect on your list.

Too Much Email

By far the most common complaint comes from readers who unsubscribe because they feel like they  are receiving too much email from you.

Perhaps you didn't communicate effectively about how often you would email when your reader signed up, or maybe you did and they didn't understand properly. Either way these folks receive more email from you than they want to receive. The trick is in figuring out how often you should send emails for optimum results, and then making sure your readers know how often you'll be emailing.

Marketing Sherpa surveyed over 2000 people on their preferred email frequency, and they found that the vast majority of people want to receive marketing emails at least monthly (86%). However, there is a wide variety of people who want to receive emails at different frequencies:



You need to work out how often you are going to send emails to your contacts. Can you generate unique content every week, or would a monthly schedule work better for you?

Once you have decided how often you will be sending marketing emails and newsletters, make sure you tell new subscribers how often you will be emailing them. You can do this easily on the sign-up form, using simple, clear language/

Another option is to segment your subscribers into groups depending on how often they want to receive emails.

Follow these steps to do this in the system:

1. Create two (or more) lists to segment your subscribers by email frequency.

2. Create a new subscription form.

3. On the Subscription form options page, select all the lists you created in step 1. Also check "Form Show Lists" so that the lists will be visible on the subscription form.


This is what your form will look like:



Looks Like Spam

We've spoken at length about what constitutes spam email. Readers will delete any email that resembles spam, even when it isn't. Make sure you avoid spam red flags; words like "Free" or "Special", exclamation marks, or all-caps.

I'd never open these emails, and nor would your subscribers:


The solution is easy: Don't send emails that look like spam.

Avoid sending any of these types of emails:

  • Content normally associated with spam, such as online pharmacies and pyramid schemes.
  • Messages that are designed to look like "bounced message" responses.
  • Messages sent from IP addresses that are known spam originators.
  • Spam reports from other users.
  • Content similar to spam messages (subject matter, formatting, attachments).

Irrelevant Content

You may not realise it, but your emails may constitute spam, even if your subscribers signed up for your list. How is this possible? It's simple, most people understand spam as email that is unwanted or uninteresting.

That's right. If your content is not interesting, your readers may consider your emails to be spam.

You want to send the right content, to the right person, at the right time. The best way to do this is to segment your list effectively. Segment by demographics, behaviour and preferences, and give new subscribers an opportunity to subscribe to lists based on their interests.

I Didn't Know I Was Subscribing

It's happened to all of us at least once; you start receiving emails from a company that you never signed up for. It's annoying, it's confusing, and those emails are on a short trip to the spam bin.

If you've added an email address to your list without that person's permission, you are sending unsolicited email. It's not only bad practice to subscribe someone to an email list without their permission, it's against the law.

Section 69 of the POPI Act (South Africa, Act 4 of 2013) states that in order for individuals to receive unsolicited communication, they must have either consented to the use of their personal information (opt-in), or there must be an existing relationship between the parties. Even where there is an existing relationship between the parties, this does not result in a freedom to make repeated advances.

There are two very easy things you can do to avoid this:

1. Only add contacts who sign up using the double opt-in feature.

2. Remind contacts of why they are receiving your emails. A simple line in the footer of your email will suffice.

Not Tailored to My Preferences

This point specifically refers to how well your email adapts to your contact's reading preferences. Specifically, formatting, language, and platform (desktop/webmail/mobile).

There are a bewildering number of email clients out there, and you can't account for every preference, but you can do a few things to minimise the danger of sending emails that don't render correctly on your contact's preferred platform.

1. Allow new subscribers to tell you whether they would prefer email in HTML or plain text format.

2. Use some form of responsive design in your emails.

Please read our article on responsive design for detailed information on how to choose the right approach for you.

Too Much, or Too Little Content

How much is too much content for a newsletter? In many cases, this is a subjective judgement. Although we can be certain that 3000 words is too long (that's ten pages in your average novel), what is the real difference between three and four paragraphs?

The answer is the quality of your content. If you are producing high-quality, relevant content, your readers will enjoy reading your newsletter. Whether it's one sentence long, or five paragraphs.

If you're experiencing high unsubscribe rates, look at your emails and your lists, and try to minimise these six errors in your sends.

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