You’ve overcome some major hurdles to bring your small business to the digital arena. Your website is up and running, your email list is growing, and you’ve seen a bump up in your bottom line.
Despite some serious gains, there’s one number keeping you up at night: your email unsubscribe rate.
It’s hard to come to terms with an unengaged audience (why would anyone not want to keep in the loop about your business?). And frustrations can truly start mounting when you keep trying to find the magic formula for boosting subscriptions.
It’s time for a cold, hard truth: Some people simply don’t like marketing emails. At least not when they’re sent the way most people send them.
You Know Email Marketing Is Powerful Stuff
You’re off to a good start by harnessing the capabilities of email marketing. After all, it garners a $38 return for every dollar invested.
A study conducted by MarketingSherpa found that email is actually how 72% of American adults prefer companies to communicate with them. To put that in perspective, only 48% like getting snail mail from businesses and only 11% ever want to hear from a company via mobile apps.
Despite being one of the most effective ways to inform and nurture specific segments of your market with some gusto, email marketing still isn’t everyone’s favorite. For one reason or another, some people feel compelled to automatically unsubscribe (much to your chagrin).
In short, people have been burned by email marketing in the past and they don’t want to do it again, which means they either a) Don’t subscribe in the first place, or b) Unsubscribe at the first whiff of annoyance.
These people might fill out your forms, but they do so grudgingly. They click to get something they want, not because they’re really looking forward to hearing more from you.
Most of the time, email haters don’t click at all. And we are here to fix that.
Understanding Unsubscribe Rates
Your unsubscribe rate refers to the percentage of recipients who actively choose to opt out of your mailing list. Generally the people who unsubscribe from email lists are the ones who don’t remember opting into it in the first place or those who have lost interest in what your emails offer.
Also, a brand new email list may experience some unsubscribe pains for a bit. The unsubscribe rate will start to plateau after a few rounds of emails, though, as the people who stick around have solidified their interest—for now—and want to hear more.
For any email campaign you implement, you want to stay below a 2% unsubscribe rate. Anything near or beyond 2% should cause some worry and force you to put on your thinking cap for a major overhaul.
If you’re wondering how your email rates stack up, it’s good to know that the unsubscribe rate for your emails will vary slightly depending on what industry you’re in.
For example, a study of 200 million emails sent by Constant Contact customers found that the typical email campaign for an automotive service will garner an unsubscribe rate three times higher than emails for marketing or advertising.
So, if you start comparing your rates with what others are boasting on the internet, make sure you’re not comparing apples with oranges.
7 Surefire Ways to Lower Email Unsubscribe Rates
What do you do if your unsubscribe rate is approaching the danger zone?
You use it as an opportunity to become a more sophisticated email marketer—the kind that can turn email haters into people who can’t wait to get your latest message.
You may live life with the mantra “haters gonna hate” and focus on those who crave campaigns instead, or you could offer the proverbial olive branch to these email standoffs and show them what great marketing truly looks like.
Here are eight ways to turn people from clicking “unsubscribe” to clicking “check out” through the power of effective email marketing.
1. Make Your Opt-in Process Memorable
There are a few reasons your intended audience might not be clicking on your content. Your emails might be too stuffed with sales pitches, they might not be delivering what was promised, or your initial email turned out dry and unappealing.
What could that mean for you?
Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.
One way to overcome these pitfalls is to slow down, take a deep breath, and make sure your opt-in process is one that will deliver to your audience from the very start of any campaign.
Step one to ensuring a high-quality email list sans haters is making sure it’s chock-full of people who actually want to be on it.
For help creating emails that people can’t help but love, download our checklist for how to slash your unsubscribe rates.
Crafting a great list starts with allowing your site visitors to opt into your emails. Opt-in email marketing is like the user giving you permission to contact them with updates, sales and more.
In fact, roughly half of people will unsubscribe from your email marketing if they don’t remember opting into it in the first place.
There are two ways people can opt into your email list:
Single Opt-in: A single opt-in form allows a user to simply enter their email address and click “submit” to be considered a subscriber and added to your list.
Double Opt-in: This option requires a user to fill in the opt-in form, click “submit,” and also click on a link in a confirmation email. Not until then are they considered a subscriber.
While single opt-in may seem like the quickest way to get someone onto your email list, it isn’t always the best. Since someone has to enter any email address to get to what they want, single opt-in forms are at a higher risk for fake email addresses, which would send your bounce rate soaring.
Likewise, you could get incorrect email addresses if someone mistyped the first time around.
Double opt-in reduces those risks as well as provides an overall healthier list. Subscribers have to take an extra step to access your content, which means they’ve put at least a few seconds of extra thought into how much they want access to what you’re offering.
Alternatively, you can ward off fake email addresses by using email to deliver whatever signup freebie you’re offering. (As a bonus, it makes opting in more compelling because there’s an obvious reason for people to provide an email address.)
Step two of building a solid list is keeping up your end of the bargain.
You’re responsible for making sure your email strategy stays true to what was advertised. Nobody likes being deceived, especially email haters.
To ensure your email campaign starts off on the right foot, set up an automated welcome email that will get sent to a subscriber’s inbox once they’ve submitted an opt-in form. This email could be a one-off or a whole campaign, but consider it your first impression.
Welcome emails should remind the subscriber what they’ve opted into, what they can expect and what they can do should problems arise. A super simple automated workflow like this one ensures that everyone gets the same red-carpet treatment automatically.
Step three to creating a loyal list: Provide something valuable right away. A subscriber on the verge of leaving won’t wait around for a few weeks of irrelevant content to get value from your email, so within your welcome campaign, make sure to include a special “Welcome to my company!” promo coupon, a limited edition guidebook, or exclusive access to some other awesome offering.
Here are some examples of killer welcome emails that truly make the opt-in experience memorable, which is sure to keep your list healthy for the long haul.
Also double check that you’re sending a link to the content that was requested by the subscriber. The last thing you want to do is get someone excited for a free e-book only to disappoint by sending a link to a one-page PDF.
They could feel shorted or, worse, they could feel like they were tricked. Either way, trust is compromised.
2. Don’t Send Emails Only When You Need Something
Good marketing doesn’t just happen when a catchy headline meets up with a slick logo. It’s born from a need to inform and educate your customers, which is exactly what you want to do.
Not every email you send should be product-based or end in a big “Buy Now!” button. In place of a sales pitch, give your readers content they’ll want more of—even demand more of—from you.
Here are some notable types of content that give a lot of value to email subscribers:
Clutch.co found that 83% of companies send email newsletters and it’s easy to understand why. Email newsletters are one way to send updates about your business and industry on a consistent basis. Newsletters are a great way to build relationships with subscribers as well as establish yourself as a thought leader in your space.
Drip asked 1,000 people what type of newsletter content they most looked forward to, and while no one answer took the majority, “news and updates” was the winner. With nearly 50% of people looking forward to company news, other types of anticipated content included product info and promos.
Depending on your specific business, your information-based newsletters might see more opens than a news-based one. Send some of each type of newsletter and, over time, you’ll be able to determine what type of newsletter garners more opens and clicks.
Providing content that can help or guide your subscribers is a way to offer real value at no cost to them. Sending easy tips and tricks about how customers can get the most out of your products is one way to keep subscribers coming back for more.
How-to guides are also a great way to really show that you know what you’re talking about as well as build trust with those on your email list.
Surveys & Open-ended Questions
Asking for input from your email list is one great idea to boost engagement. Not only do surveys and open-ended questions make your subscribers feel involved, but they can provide a lot of insight into what you can do better, too.
Surveys can ask questions about certain products, services, events, promos and more. Asking questions is a surefire way to learn more about your subscribers and what they like or want to see more of, which will help fuel your email marketing creativity going forward.
How to automate survey responses is discussed in more detail below in Section 7, but it is never a bad idea to ask for feedback in any format.
Prove your worth through informative, personal and valuable content that a subscriber would genuinely miss if they vanquished you from their inbox.
3. Ensure Your Emails Work (on Any Device)
The 2016 Consumer Adoption and Usage Study by Adestra found that 86% of people ages 14 to 67 check their email on their smartphones. In fact, 84% of 14- to 34-year-olds sort through their emails on their mobile device first, choosing what they’ll dig into later on their computer.
If your emails aren’t optimized for mobile devices, whether they be smartphones or tablets, you won’t make it past the triage phase. Making sure your emails can be seen where people are likely to look at them should be one of your top priorities.
You don’t necessarily need a fancy, full-color email template loaded with images and other bells and whistles. Simpler email formats present a lot less room for things to go wrong on different screens and in different inboxes. (And many Drip users have found that they even perform better.) Your emails just have to be readable and get people where they need to go.
4. Take a Person-to-person Approach
Nine out of 10 people will reward a brand for remaining authentic, according to research from communications firm Cohn & Wolfe. Consumers reward the brands they trust with prolonged loyalty, word-of-mouth praise, and more.
At the very least, it could be enough to boost your email open rates. To remain authentic, though, your campaigns need to echo your reliability.
First, remember that you’re a person trying to reach out to other people. This means you should be signing emails with your name, giving your readers some personal anecdotes and even being open to email replies (instead of a cold “DO NOT REPLY” in your footer).
These are simple changes that can turn a cold company email to a warm and personal one.
You probably have a mission and maybe even some core values for your business, beyond just making money. Don’t forget to reiterate those values in your emails, too.
5. Let Subscribers Choose How Often They Hear from You
A study conducted by TechnologyAdvice took a closer look at email marketing subscriber behavior and found that 46% of consumers flagged email subscriptions as spam if the company emailed too often.
In fact, research from Leadpages indicates that a minority of email users will actually take the rational step of unsubscribing from your list when they get tired of your emails. The rest will lash out with spam complaints or drag your list down by deleting or ignoring them.
When asked how companies could improve their emailing strategy, pollsters of the TechnologyAdvice study cited sending emails less frequently as the number one way toward improvement.
How can you find out how much is too much, though? While one person might think your newsletter comes too often, another might think it comes too infrequently. Luckily for you, there is a way to resolve this dilemma.
Let the subscriber choose!
One way to let someone choose how often they hear from you is to include delivery frequency options in the footer of your emails. Before the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of your emails, add a link that will redirect subscribers toward a menu of subscription frequency options.
Placing this link before “unsubscribe” is a good way to intercept those who think their only choice is to opt out entirely.
We made a Leadpage for this very purpose.
Each button is linked to a trigger link that automates one of the following actions (in order):
1. Sets the “blog_frequency” custom field to “each” (so that the subscriber will be included in the segment of recipients for broadcasts sent for each post)
2. Sets the “blog_frequency” custom field to “weekly” (so that the subscriber will be included in the weekly broadcast segment)
3. Removes the “blog_subscriber” tag (so that the subscriber will not be included in segments for any blog-related emails)
4. Adds the subscriber to a campaign about using email automation with Drip
When selecting recipients to Broadcasts or Campaigns, you can segment by a subscriber’s preferred email delivery frequency.
Make your frequency preference page as easy to use as possible. If it gets too complicated or messy, the user could be tempted to head back for the “unsubscribe” link.
With a tool like Drip, it’s also possible to click into your campaigns and manually adjust the delay between emails. This feature gives you a lot of flexibility and control over individual campaigns and how often your subscribers are hearing from you.
For any campaign you create, remember to give it a great public-facing name. In many email marketing platforms (Drip included), people who click your default Unsubscribe link will see all the campaigns they’re subscribed to. This means if you campaign has a name like “Great_for_suckers,” someone could see it when unsubscribing.
These tactics are even better if you’ve already given subscribers a chance to tell you how often they’d like to recieve content up front. You can include multiple options on your opt-in form, or send out a trigger-link survey on email preferences as part of your welcome email.
To sum up: Start by empathizing with what your audience wants, then give them opportunities to tell you what they want directly. Stay in touch with their preferences and you’ll stay out of their junk mail folder.
6. Use Dynamic Content
Personalizing emails for subscribers is another way to tug at their e-heartstrings. This means avoiding generic subject lines, broad greetings and cold signoffs while embracing the power of dynamic content.
Drip features Liquid templating so that every email can be customized for every subscriber. Liquid is used to load dynamic content into your email template. Instead of starting all of your emails with a cold “Hello, first_name!” you can pull in that information from your email list and have a greeting with your subscriber’s real first name.
An email market study by Experian found that “emails with personalized subject lines have 26 percent higher unique open rates than non-personalized emails.” That’s an impressive lift with just one simple change.
Drip is fully stocked with specific syntax you can easily implement to add the personal touches you see fit.
Once your email has a warm greeting including the recipient’s name, send yourself a test email so that you can see first-hand what your subscribers will see. If something seems amiss, change it before sending it to your whole list.
7. Let Subscribers (and Their Actions) Decide What Kind of Content They Get
The key to lowering unsubscribe rates is staying relevant.
Relevance requires more than good content. Your email subscribers aren’t all looking for the same thing at the same time, and your email strategy should reflect that.
How? Assuming you have a good email automation platform, you can use a mix of explicit and observed signals from your subscribers to determine what emails they get. These three tools can help:
Tagging is like applying a label to people on your list so you can better segment them. If you use Drip or another tag-based email platform, you can give subscribers as many tags as you like.
Within Drip, you can apply tags to subscribers based on their actions, time zone, email and website activity, and more. Under the “Automation” tab within Drip, you can create your own rules.
When you use a formula like “If subscriber does X, then tag Y will be applied,” you easily make tagging an automated process. This means you’ll never have to dig in and manually place every subscriber into a certain group or segment.
In this automated rule, a subscriber will be applied with the tag “lead_kittens” if they visit the “adopt a kitten” page on my website.
Now when I create content specifically about adopting kittens, I can make sure I send that niche content specifically to subscribers who have shown interest in adopting a kitten.
With tags, you are able to pinpoint who would find specific pieces of content most relevant.
Instead of trying to send emails you hope will speak to everyone on your list, this feature lets you send the focused emails your subscribers are craving.
2. Trigger Links
We saw one use of trigger links up in Section 5, where we used them to adjust email frequency. You can use the same tactic to let people choose what topics are relevant to them, either on a preferences page or in a trigger-link survey.
Alternatively, if you don’t love the idea of sending emails about emails, you can use trigger links more subtly.
For instance, say you own a pet-supply shop, and you know that most of your customers have dogs and cats—but you’re hoping to cultivate a larger customer base of parrot owners.
In your next newsletter, you could include an item about parrots and link to your hub of parrot info on your website. If you make that link a trigger link, you can automatically tag people who click as parrot-interested subscribers. Then, the next time you’re sending a parrot-specific campaign, you can send it to these folks only.
You could even turn a homepage link to your parrot-hub page into a trigger link—it’ll function the same way when a known contact clicks
Not sure what your subscribers want from you? Just ask.
The moment you start sending out-of-touch emails is the same moment you’ll see unsubscribe rates boon. To make sure you don’t fall into that nasty habit, send out a survey asking readers what they want to see more of.
To make sure you’re in touch, you could plan to send a survey every year, twice a year, or as often as you see fit for your industry.
Drip integrates with intuitive tools like Interact and Gravity Forms to make simple surveys or more complex quizzes possible.
Interact can send quizzes you make through your Drip account. Then it will automatically place subscribers into different email marketing campaigns based on those quiz results.
A tag indicating the subscriber’s quiz results can also be applied, which is useful for when you want to send emails specific to those with certain results (remember how useful tags are from above?).
Gravity Forms is ideal for making surveys that rate or rank something, e.g., “On a scale from 1–10, how much did you like X?” With Gravity Forms’ survey add-on and integration with Drip, you can automatically add subscribers to your list, tag them and send them email campaigns.
Through automated survey and quiz integrations, Drip can send subscribers the right content at the right time based on results. And by creating questions on your own, you can find answers to all the questions you want to ask specific to your business.
Send Emails Your Contacts Can’t Help but Love
Ben Franklin once said, “Love your enemies; for they shall tell you all your faults.” Odds are slim he was referencing the world of email marketing, but the application is uncanny, right?
Considering why your haters have abandoned ship (or never even boarded) won’t just decrease your unsubscribe rates—it’ll improve your email marketing overall. The right research, information and marketing tactics will help you engage with every customer (and prospective customer) when and how they want.
Need a hand getting started? Download our free “Slash Your Unsubscribe Rate” Checklist below to quickly develop an action plan. Block out 10 minutes to check off what you’re already doing, then look at the empty boxes to see exactly where you need to focus to retain (and attract) more subscribers.