Dealing with inactive subscribers: Here’s what you should do

If your welcome message isn’t opened and your many follow-up emails with promotions and attractive discounts don’t engage your subscribers, it’s time to change your strategy. Perhaps they just aren’t that into you. Like dating, you have two choices – either re-engage them or let them ride off into the sunset.



Imagine you’ve been on that great first date. Everything went beautifully, and you think you’ve found the partner of your dreams. It’s been two weeks, and they haven’t called you. You’ll probably think that they’re just not into you.

The same principle holds true for your daily marketing campaigns. If your audience didn’t open your welcome message or many follow-up emails with promotions and attractive discounts, maybe they just aren’t that into you. And, if you’re dealing with a high volume of inactive customers, here’s your ultimate guide on how to cultivate positive user engagement with our top 10 tips.

How can I know if a subscriber is inactive?

Nobody wants to be ghosted, but it’s a sad reality in the email world. Inactive or disengaged subscribers are former fans who no longer interact with your emails. There’s no one formula for how long a subscriber needs to be unresponsive to be considered “inactive.” However, a rough guideline is as follows: If a user hasn’t opened your email or engaged with your brand in more than 90 days, it’s probably time to let them go.

Why do people sign up for marketing lists?

People join marketing mailing lists for many reasons. They may like your brand, products, or services, or it could simply be the 20% instant discount code you offered at the checkout. You want to leverage this initial relationship through positive engagement and avoid negative engagement. But what are these? Glad you asked:

  • Positive engagement occurs when users open your emails, click on your links, and respond to your messages. As you can imagine, this means a high open rate, click-through rate, and engagement rate.

  • Negative engagement occurs when users report your mail as spam, put your messages in the junk folder, or don’t open your messages. This impacts your email deliverability.

Remember, just because they signed up doesn’t mean they’ll want to stay signed up.

When should you remove disengaged users from your email list?

If a recipient hasn’t opened your emails in 90 days or more, maybe they’re not the recipient of your dreams. In that case, it’s time to remove them from your mailing list. Disengaged subscribers can be the root of many problems, including:

1. Abuse or spam complaints

Disengaged users who don’t want to receive your emails may report them as spam. When you receive a spam or abuse complaint, it looks like you’re sending unwanted content to your subscribers. Since inbox service providers (ISPs) track how subscribers engage with your emails, too many abuse complaints can land you on a blocklist and impact your email deliverability.

2. Spam traps

Sometimes, inactive user email addresses and other credentials are used as spam traps to catch spammers and other malicious senders. If you get caught in one (or more), you risk damaging your reputation. A damaged sender reputation means that ISPs are less likely to place your emails, and your messages might end up in a spam folder.

3. Email hard bounces

There are two types of email bounces: soft bounces and hard bounces. A soft bounce is a temporary delivery issue that will resolve over time. A hard bounce, on the other hand, is a permanent delivery problem.

When you get a hard bounce on your email message, your email service provider (ESP) will usually indicate why your email couldn’t be delivered. For instance, your user’s email address might be an invalid or a nonexistent email address. Too many hard bounces give ISPs the impression that a large proportion of your mailing list is fake or inactive. This, in turn, looks like spammy behavior that can impact your deliverability and land you in a spam folder or, worse, on a blocklist.

10 best practices to re-engage inactive email subscribers

There are several great practices that help you minimize negative engagement and maximize positive engagement, ensuring the good health of your email program. Here are the 10 best you can trust:

1. Perform email validations

Email verification is a quick and easy way to scan your mailing list and take note of any addresses that are inactive, nonexistent, or otherwise deadweight on your list. This way, you can keep your list clean and focus on active subscribers.

2. Use double opt-in

This practice is also pretty easy and a great way for you and your subscriber to double-check. Here, you have your subscriber type in their email address a second time to confirm their subscription. Through verification, they can ensure that their address is correct.

3. Provide an easy way to unsubscribe

We talked about spam complaints above, but let’s circle back. Users tend to mark unwanted email messages as spam, especially if they can’t find an easy way to unsubscribe from your emails. The result looks the same from their end: Your messages no longer appear in their inbox. From a sender’s perspective, the two actions have completely different consequences.

When a user unsubscribes from your email, they’re removed from your email list and don’t receive future emails. There’s no damage to your IP and domain reputations. However, when a user marks your message as spam, they stay on your mailing list, receive future email marketing campaigns, and their inbox service providers (ISPs) redirect your messages to their spam folder. This negatively impacts your sender reputation.

4. Send re-engagement campaigns

If you notice that some of your subscribers are no longer engaging with you, create a quick re-engagement campaign that lets them know you miss them and invites them to stay connected. If they don’t respond, you know it’s safe to remove them from your list. But, if they do respond, great! You’ve successfully re-engaged a subscriber.

5. Have a sunset policy in place

Sometimes, when your subscriber doesn’t exhibit interest in your brand despite repetitive emails, you just have to let them go. Maybe they’re the ones that got away. Have a sunset policy in place to dictate how you end things with your former subscriber on your own terms.

6. Use marketing automation

Marketing automation is a powerful way that tracks customer behavior and the interface with your customer relationship management (CRM) tools to determine if your customer is engaged, losing interest, or completely disengaged. Take advantage of how email automation tools make it easy to send the perfect email to your user depending on their interest level. Most importantly, re-engage users who are losing interest before they become completely disengaged.

7. Create conversations with your users

That’s right. Active engagement is a perfect way to stem the bleed of disengaged users. Specifically, we’re referring to no-reply emails. Ditch them. These shut down conversations with your consumers and prevent them from fully engaging with your product or business.

8. Be available on multiple channels

Just as you should create active conversations with your users, make yourself available on multiple channels across social media. For instance, maybe your users prefer to see an Instagram story or TikTok video instead of an email newsletter about your latest product.

9. Lean on your metrics and logs

Keep tabs on your marketing metrics and email logs to see how your emails perform. Simultaneously, if you have active social media channels, stay on top of those metrics to see how your target audience reacts to them.

10. Make it easy for your users to read your emails

This is pretty simple, but if your users find it hard to read your emails (for any number of reasons), they’re likely to check out. This means making your HTML email templates mobile-responsive, boosting email accessibility in terms of color, font, and alt text, and testing emails to ensure they will render as intended in the reader’s inbox.

Find the perfect match

There’s no one quick fix or universal approach when it comes to keeping your mailing list clean and unengaged contacts out of your hair. However, taking note of best practices and tracking your subscribers’ positive and negative engagement will ensure that you have a list of contacts that’s increasingly interested in your band and content. And that’s a great match!

Ready to get sending? Try out Mailgun for free: See what we can do for your email campaign’s deliverability and how our logs and analytics can keep your readers engaged.

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