For several years now we’ve seen marketers report that a bigger email list isn’t necessarily a better email list. There’s often more value in a smaller list of engaged, responsive subscribers than in a huge list with a significant portion of addresses that never open, click, or convert from your messages.
But a new study from Return Path shows that many email marketers are still hammering unresponsive subscribers with undifferentiated, sales-focused emails — rather than providing more relevant messages intended to re-engage those subscribers, or removing them from their lists.
To observe marketers’ email practices, the researchers at Return Path purchased one item from 40 online retailers and opted-in to their email marketing programs. They kept that email account active for 19 months after the purchase, but did not open or click a single message they received and never purchased another item.
In short, they were totally unresponsive subscribers. But during those 19 months, the researchers observed:
• Retailers sent on average between nine and 11 emails per month during the course of the study
• Only 27% of retailers stopped sending messages during the study period
• Only 12.5% of retailers sent a “win-back” message that attempted to reengage the subscriber
We agree with Return Path’s conclusion: Marketers that don’t pay attention to unresponsive subscribers are missing opportunities and potentially harming their sender reputations.
Instead, identify those non-responders and approach them differently than you do your engaged customers. Here are three steps to take to begin the process:
1. Segment database by recent activity
Monitor subscriber actions to identify those who are engaged, and those who are not. Then, create a special segment for subscribers who have not responded to an email (clicked or purchased) in a specific period of time — say, the past six months, nine months, one year, etc.
2. Send unresponsive segment special offers or win-back campaigns
Once you’ve found your “unresponsive” segment, work to re-engage them with more relevant messages, such as:
o Special offers for win-back campaigns
o Requests for them to specify their email frequency and other preferences
o Requests for them to confirm whether they still want to receive email from you
3. Clean your list
Unresponsive subscribers that don’t reengage after win-back campaigns or re-permissioning emails should be purged from your list. Otherwise, your deliverability can suffer.
As Return Path and other deliverability experts have noted, some ISPs are increasingly using subscriber response rate as a factor in a sender’s reputation. If they see low or no-response from a big portion of your database over time, they may reduce your sender score to the point that your messages are sent to spam folders — or blocked entirely.