It’s a familiar story – Your emails are responsive, coded perfectly for every browser, and full of witty, enticing content… but your subscribers just aren’t opening, clicking, or purchasing.

Email subscriber open rates

Low open rates, and low click-through rates: a sign of an unengaged email list and a constant fear for all email marketers

“But my list is permission-based! My subscribers want to hear from me! Why is my list unengaged?” you ask.

The reality is that list management is a task that is never complete – it’s something that needs to be worked on over time. If subscribers feel like you are not targeting their specific interests, they will become stale, and will just stop paying attention.

Every list is different, so every solution needs to be custom tailored to make an impact. While there is no “one size fits all” solution for lack of engagement, there are key themes across many unengaged lists – whether it’s how you collect subscribers, what you know about them, or their reaction to your sending schedule.

List management is never complete – it needs to be worked on over time. CLICK TO TWEET

The first step to fixing a list is figuring out what’s wrong, so let’s dive into the main reasons your list may be unengaged and what you can do to improve it.

1. Your subscriber collection methods produce cold subscribers.

Not all subscribers are built the same. Depending on how they were collected, each subscriber is at a different part of the sales funnel and at a different level of familiarity with your brand. Here are some examples:

  • Current Customer – hot lead, fully engaged with the brand, wants to know more
  • Opted in Through Site – warm lead, somewhat engaged with the brand, wants to know more
  • Opted in Through a Contest – cold lead, may not be aware of the brand, just wanted to enter the contest

If you have a list that is predominantly the 3rd type of subscriber, but you’re only sending them purchase-based product information, it’s not likely to invoke much of their interest. Instead, divide the contest entrants/cold leads into their own segments and start sending them more top-of-the-funnel email content. Some great top-of-the-funnel emails include:

  • Highlighting social activity – ex. Instagram photos people have taken of your products
  • Providing content/guides/videos about products – ex. Youtube product demos
  • Company updates + information – ex. Message from the CEO about new things to look forward to

2. You don't know anything about your subscribers.

The first rule of creating engaging emails: personalize, personalize, personalize. 

If all you’ve been collecting about your subscribers is their names and email address, the only way you can personalize your emails is by filling in this blank: “Hi _______”.

It takes more than a first name to personalize and email. Personalization means more than a couple of name drops and changing the colour for male vs. female. You need to know more, like what are their interests? Do they want advice or products? Have they purchased? How much have they purchased? The list can go on and on.

Gathering this type of information will help you send targeted emails to relevant segments, instead of just sending one email to your entire list, and hoping for the best.

This information can be collected in a couple of different ways, including:

  • Adding fields and checkboxes to your opt-in form – remember to only include fields you really need so potential subscribers are not overwhelmed
  • Sending surveys to your list – this can be done periodically, or through a workflow, to let people fill in the blanks once they’re already subscribed.
  • eCommerce/API integrations – most email service providers have the option to connect their API with your eCommerce platform, allowing you to collect valuable purchase data.

Most Email Service Providers (ex. MailchimpSmartMailDotmailer) usually have fairly advanced database systems that allow you to accurately collect and store everything from demographic data to subscriber interests.

3. You're sending too much or you're not sending enough.

There’s a fine line between letting subscribers forget about you, and overwhelming them with too many emails. If you go weeks or months between new emails, there’s a high chance people could forget they subscribed, forget who you are, or may have even changed their email addresses.

Avoid this by finding the optimal frequency for your subscribers (spoiler alert: it could be different for different segments!).

Finding the right frequency for your subscribers comes through continuous testing and feedback. Start with a standard schedule like 1 email per segment per week, and increase or decrease in increments to find what works best.

To streamline the process, you could always give subscribers the option to tell you through a data field or survey how often they’d like to hear from you.

Give your subscribers what they want.

So you’ve figured out what type of subscribers you have, what they want to see, and when they want to see it – now it’s time to start putting this knowledge into action! Use this shiny new data to create an email marketing program that targets these interests and allows you to connect with subscribers more personally.

As a result, they’ll start opening, clicking, and purchasing – turning your list from stale and unengaged, to a fresh, data-loaded, conversion-driving machine.