Should you Remove Subscribers from your Email Marketing List?

Published: 26-Nov-2021
Last Updated: 25-Nov-2021
Should you Remove Subscribers from your Email Marketing List?

It’s nice to report to your boss that you have doubled the size of your email marketing list or humblebrag at a marketing conference that you have a list of insert impressive number here.  

But… bigger isn’t always better. MarketingSherpa has found that marketing email lists depreciate by 25% annually. Email list health suffers when subscribers take a new job or switch email service providers, leaving you with a subscriber email address that is no longer in use. 

You, your boss, and your colleagues’ focus should be on subscriber engagement. Having a list of 1,000 subscribers who look forward to every email you send can easily have more business value than a list of 100,000 with low engagement and unverified email addresses. 

Prioritize Email Engagement over Email List Size

lady working on charts and graphs to promote her email list success

If your subscribers are unengaged, they aren’t very valuable to you as a marketer. According to Mailchimp, the average email open rate for all industries they analyzed was just over 20%. If your email open rate is below the average, inactive subscribers could be dragging you down. 

These inactive email subscribers are probably hurting the marketing power of your email marketing list if you're routinely including them in email blasts.

As your ratio of inactive to active subscribers increases, email service providers (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) will take notice. Failing to purge inactive email subscribers on a regular basis is a sure-fire way to put your email metrics on a downward trajectory and end up in the spam folder.   

That’s why you should be thoughtfully and routinely removing subscribers from your email list. We understand this can be hard to do; you have invested your time, money, and energy into growing your list. It feels like throwing away the contact information of a potential customer. 

But if an email contact never opens or reads your emails, they aren’t much of a potential customer. 

They may have been interested at one time, but through further research eliminated your solution. Or the incentive you provided for subscribing was valuable regardless of their interest in your product/solution. 

If an email subscriber is signaling that they are uninterested and unengaged, it is on your marketing team to recognize and respond. 

If you don't, your email marketing will suffer from high bounce rates and lower email deliverability rates. 

Getting Started with Email List Cleaning

cleaning lady ready to remove scum off the floor

Aweber, suggests cleaning your list every 3 - 6 months, depending on the regularity of your email messaging. If you're sending regular emails you may want to scrub your list even more frequently. 

Remove Problem Email Addresses

The first step to maintaining a high level of email list hygiene is removing email addresses that are invalid, generic (, or duplicates. It's easy to end up with a list filled with email addresses that will never make it to a real potential customer.

If you're using lead magnets, someone could have entered a fake email address to grab your new ebook while avoiding your funnel. If you build your email list at conferences, the email address could have been entered into your CMS incorrectly. 

Bad email addresses are going to enter your system. It's going to happen over and over, but an email marketing team that regularly checks their list for these types of email addresses will eliminate hard bounces that damage your sender reputation. 

Once you handle bad email addresses, we suggest defining what an inactive email subscriber is to your business and when an inactive email subscriber needs to be removed from your list. 

Define Inactive Email Subscribers

What subscribers do you clean from your list? The answer is different for every business, but you need to have processes in place to identify inactive email subscribers, duplicate email addresses, and invalid email addresses.

Here are two basic ways we recommend categorizing inactive email subscribers:

  • A subscriber who hasn’t performed a specific action (opened, click, read) in a set period. 
  • A subscriber who hasn't purchased in a set period. Take into consideration how often your product needs to be replaced and its seasonality. For example, if you’re managing email marketing for a Christmas-themed amusement park, you should expect sales to be lower in July. 

Re-engage then Separate Subscribers 

Don’t automatically remove a subscriber when they match your definition of inactive. Once they reach this definition, attempt to reach them with a re-engagement campaign. 

If they are still incommunicado at this point, remove them from your active email campaigns to prevent further damage to your sender reputation.

But you don’t have to completely throw out these leads. That is one of the great things about email automation software. You can simply stop sending emails to these subscribers and put them on a separate list. 

This list can be handled in a multitude of ways, depending on the nature of your business. Are you selling software to enterprise accounts? Then the battle may be over, but not the war. Have a meeting of the minds and draw up a new strategy for reaching these accounts. For example, you might want to have a member of your sales team email them on an individual level. However, if you’re selling a product at a lower price point that has a larger market, it may be too much trouble to continue reaching out to these leads. 

Learn to Let Subscribers Go

A lot of marketers get caught up in the sunk costs of acquiring these leads. We understand not wanting to lose money. You already paid the tech giants to help funnel traffic to your site, the cost of attendance for the trade show, or for a social media giveaway. And you managed to capture email addresses from the campaign. But the longer these inactive subscribers are contacted, the more you lose. 


What's Next?

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We've got plenty of articles that discuss many of the topics that we'll talk about over the phone!

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