Silverpop - Why People Unsubscribe and How It Affects Your Email Growth
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Why People Unsubscribe and How It Affects Your Email Growth

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
03 September 2014

Marketers tend to think that when people attempt to unsubscribe, they're really saying, "Lemme outta here!" Many times, they are … but that doesn't always translate to "I don't ever want to hear from you again."

Knowing why people unsubscribe can help you design a program that answers the concerns unresolved by a simple one-click unsubscribe.

Frequency, Relevance Drive Most Unsubscribes

Frequency – too many emails – is the No. 1 reason why people opt out of email. Relevance, or the lack of it, is a close No. 2. Every survey we reviewed for this series, from 2001 to the present, cited one or both of those reasons for driving unsubscribes.

While the actual percentages varied from survey to survey depending on wording and question structure, the percentages were clear and consistent: typically 50 percent or more of respondents cited frequency or irrelevance, or both, as the reasons they wanted out.

It’s important to consider that relevance and frequency are interconnected, in that if emails are deemed very relevant, then subscribers will accept a higher frequency of mailings. So, frequency itself is often not the problem. Rather, it's an increase in frequency that’s not deemed equally relevant or valuable.

Here's where the unsubscribe motivation can get more complex. Yes, your subscribers are saying you send too many emails, or you're sending irrelevant email. But those two reasons also open up a wide range of options that you can address to retain more subscribers.

These are just a few of the thoughts that may be running through your customers’ heads when they click on your unsubscribe link:

  • "I need to change my email address, and I don't know how to do it, so I'm going to unsubscribe and then resubscribe with my new address."
  • "I like your emails, but I don't want to get so many of them."
  • "I like your company/brand, but I'd rather get emails on other topics."
  • "My life/interests/needs have changed. So, I'm no longer interested in your products/services/content."
  • "I want to stay in touch with your company, but not necessarily through email."

An unsubscribe program that offers alternatives to simply opting out can retain more of these subscribers in your database. I'll address those in a future blog post.

Know Your Unsubscribe Numbers

Why expend all of this time and effort on the end of the subscriber journey? After all, you're getting lots of new subscribers to replace them, right? As your unsubscribes increase, however, it can be a challenge just to have your database stay at the same level, let alone grow.

To get a handle on what unsubscribing is costing your email program, you need to understand two key numbers: your unsubscribe rate and which way it's trending, and the number of new subscribers you need to attract in order to achieve true list growth.

1. What's your unsubscribe rate?

Silverpop's “2014 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study” found that unsubscribing was negligible among the best emailers. Marketers in the middle were seeing mean unsubscribe rates around 0.15 percent. Even for the bottom-quartile senders, the median unsubscribe rate was 0.50 percent.

Half of 1 percent doesn't sound like much until you see how many subscribers that really represents. If you have a database of 1 million email addresses and an unsubscribe rate of 0.50 percent, you're losing 5,000 subscribers every time you send a message to your entire database.

2. How many subscribers do you need to add to achieve true list growth?

If you send one message per week, you're losing 260,000 subscribers every year (the math assumes you're adding an equal amount of new subscribers).

This doesn’t even include the amount of subscribers you need to replace because of losses stemming from spam complaints and hard bounces.

Let's say you've been given a mandate to grow your 1 million-record database by 20 percent a year. That means adding 200,000 subscribers plus the additional 260,000 lost to unsubscribes plus those lost to spam complaints and bounces.

That means you'll need to add 500,000 or more new subscribers to grow your database 200,000 records and 20 percent, or nearly 42,000 new names every month.

Retaining even half of your potential unsubscribers relieves some of the burden your opt-in and re-engagement programs carry. It's definitely worth the time and money you spend to develop options for unsubscribing.

In my next blog post I'll outline the legal and regulatory issues that govern email unsubscribing under both CAN-SPAM (United States) and CASL (Canada).

In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, please send me a note @LorenMcDonald. I'll address them via Twitter or in a future post in this series.

Related Resources:

1) Blog: “How an Effective Unsubscribe Strategy Can Make Your Email Program Stronger

2) Video: “Do You Have an Unsubscribe Problem?

3) White Paper: “2014 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study


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