Cut Your Email List and Make More Money
As media professionals, we’re used to measuring our impact by our reach. More print subscribers are good as long as it makes financial sense. And of course, the more social media followers, website traffic, and email subscribers the better.
Or so we think … but more isn’t always better.
An email that is unopened doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the person receiving the email, doesn’t help your publication’s perception in the market, doesn’t help your advertiser with their objectives, and doesn’t drive traffic to your website or your advertiser’s website.
However, unopened emails have significant negative impacts on you. You have to pay to maintain unresponsive people in your email/CRM system. You annoy people who don’t want your emails. And you drive down your open and click rate metrics.
Even more importantly, unopened emails drive down your sender reputation and old email addresses are often used as spam traps…triggers that indicate to email systems that you are not cleaning out your list. This makes it more likely for your emails to be classified as spam/junk and when that happens, it also harms the people who actually do want your emails.
An Email List Cleansing Strategy
In general, you should look for an average 20-30% unique open rate on your emails. That’s unique opens which counts each unique person once, not total opens which counts an open every time someone opens an email. If your unique open rate is better than 30%, then congratulations … you’re knocking it out of the park.
But if your unique open rate is lower than 20%, you should take a closer look at cleaning your list (amongst other things).
Strategies for cleaning your list can vary, but in general, I recommend that you identify everyone who:
- Has been on your list for at least six months
- Has never opened one of your emails
- Has never clicked a link in one of your emails
- Has never visited your website in the past six months (you can only do this if you’re using an email/CRM system that can track web activity as well as email activity)
Segment these people off your main list and setup a win-back campaign. First, send a “gain” email telling the unresponsive people that you miss them and ask them if they’d still like to get your emails. Then, a week or two later, send a second “loss” email telling them that you’re going to take them off your list if they don’t respond.
All someone needs to do is simply open one of these two emails and you can consider them “re-engaged” and put them back on your main list. They don’t even have to click. By the way, don’t expect a win-back campaign to recover more than 5-10% of your unengaged list.
Once this initial list cleansing is done, you’ll want to repeat the process on a regular basis -- monthly or at least quarterly. But if you’re using a good automation tool, you can set this up to run automatically each and every day so that you don’t even have to do it manually.
Real Results from a Publisher Who Cleaned Their Email List
A few weeks ago, I helped a publisher clean up their email list. It took courage because they knew that their email circulation would be radically reduced. But this publisher understood the benefits and was committed to educating their staff and advertisers as to why they did it.
Prior to the clean-up, the publishers sent approximately 19,000 emails to their daily newsletter. They averaged around 2,200 unique opens … a 12% unique open rate.
We identified everyone who had been on their list for at least six months, but with no record of them opening an email, clicking an email link, or even visiting their website.
The results were profound. The chart above shows data two weeks before and after the email list cleanse. As you can see, we reduced their list size by nearly 1/3, from 19,000 to around 13,000. But there was absolutely no change to the actual number of people opening their emails after the list cleanse. Even though we cut their list size by 32%, the data clearly shows that the only people we removed were dead weight who never opened their emails anyway.
Their open rate, however, shot up by 50%, from 12% on average to over 18%.
Remember that email systems look at the percentage of people opening emails. Low email open rates hurt your sender reputation and make it more likely that your email will be put in the spam/junk folder. Cleaning their list helped improve their sender reputation.
How Email List Cleansing Makes More Money
Most sales teams and advertisers still think that bigger email lists are better. However, many advertisers and agencies are starting to understand that the number of emails sent is irrelevant …only the emails that are opened actually matter.
The publisher above is now using their increased open rate to go back out to advertisers and tout it as a strength. Their open rate is now significantly better than their competitors and is getting attention. The advertisers appreciate this approach and are starting to put pressure on the publisher’s competitors as well.
On the cost-savings side, this publisher can now remove these unresponsive people from their database, which reduces their operational expenses. Remember, if your company operates at a 20% margin, every dollar saved is worth five dollars of revenue.
In addition, once we rely on emails opened instead of emails sent, we can now use ad serving systems to deliver ads into our newsletters instead of manually placing ads in each campaign. This simplifies the production process and has the added benefit of a single reporting interface across both web and email.
Take the First Step: Email Cleanup
If you’re not cleaning out your email list on a regular basis, take the first step. Identify how many people are on your email list who haven’t interacted with you at all over the past six months. Talk about it internally and continually remind everyone that these people aren’t helping you or your advertisers at all.
Once you’ve overcome the shock and have buy-in from your organization, start that win-back campaign and then trim out the unresponsive readers. Train your sales team on how to best position this with your advertisers and use it to their advantage.
But above all else, be bold. Don’t just ignore this problem. Doing nothing is actually hurting you but taking action can make and save your company money.
Eric Shanfelt is the founding partner of Nearview Media, a consulting firm that helps publishers with their digital revenue, audience and platform development. Eric is a 25-year digital media veteran and has been the Chief Digital Officer for several large publishing companies. You can reach Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.