Sunset policies: Allowing unengaged recipients to ride off into the sunset

When should you allow unengaged subscribers to move on? We'll tell you how to use sunset policies for maximum engagement and deliverability.

In the final scene of the classic Western Shane, the titular character rides off into the sunset. Is he riding off to die after being mortally wounded? Is he leaving his gunslinging days behind to begin a new life? The ambiguous ending has been debated for decades but the result is the same. Shane is moving on, and we will never truly know his fate.

Like Shane, you should consider when it is time to move on – in email terms, that means letting low or zero engagement recipients “ride off into the sunset” via sunset policies that clean unengaged contacts from your mailing lists.

Email engagement: The secret to good email deliverability

You may think engagement isn’t very important as long as you make it into the inbox, but the truth is that your email deliverability needs engaged contacts. ISPs use engagement metrics (like open rates and click-through rates) to decide what messages make it into the inbox, what they consider spam, and more. 

Good email engagement rates = good deliverability. Bad email engagement rates = bad deliverability. It’s as simple as that. If you have good engagement, you’ll enter a cycle of good, ISP-approved deliverability into the inbox, which gets more engagement, then more deliverability, and so on. If you have low or no engagement, prepare for the spam folder, which means low engagement, etc.

Because of this, you must always stay focused on your active, engaged subscribers – subscribers who are lazy and don’t unsubscribe on their own will hurt your list, so you need to do it for them.

When it comes to your email program, engaged subscribers are the people who will open and interact with your emails through their consumer lifecycle, thus keeping your engagement high, your ISPs happy, and your messages at the top of the inbox where they belong.

How can sunset policies help with your email deliverability?

Now that you know why email deliverability is so important, you can understand how sunset policies benefit the health of your email program.

What is the goal of a sunset policy?

A sunset policy is an email list segmentation strategy used to ensure you stop sending emails to unengaged subscribers. The goal of implementing a sunset policy is to improve your engagement rates and, thus, your coveted email deliverability. In 2021, as people continue to receive large amounts of electronic mail, sunset policies will help you focus on the best part of your audience… and give a quick, easy goodbye to the unengaged contacts who aren’t interested.

How can sunset policies benefit you?

Preventative “maintenance” like a sunset policy ensures you are always sending to recipients that want your mail. An optimized sending list leads to better engagement with the end goal of better deliverability and inboxing. While all use cases and businesses are different, there is no single policy to fit all needs.

And, aside from helping you deliverability, implementing a sunset policy provides convenience. It can be done whenever you want, whether on a schedule or as you move through your email campaign or program. Additionally, it structures your list cleaning and gives you a clear idea of which subscribers to let go, and which ones to keep to maximize your rates and deliverability.

However, structure needs planning. No matter why you choose to use it, when implementing a sunset policy you should establish the following:

  • Define what an unengaged recipient is to your company.

  • Determine how long it is appropriate for your business to send messages to a recipient who is unengaged.

  • Decide if you will silently let these unengaged customers leave your lists, or if you can send them a final permission pass to unsubscribe or winback reminder, asking them if they would like to continue to receive mail.

How do you implement a sunset policy?

After you’ve established the above definitions, it’s time to implement your policy. You’ll need to divide your mailing list into segments based on your rules of engagement and the subscribers that fall into each “unengaged” or “engaged” category. Using tags to segment messages can help you keep track of email types and audiences.

Once you’ve segmented your email list, you can implement the guidelines you’ve planned for. It’s important to note that one sunset policy does not fit every organization, and you should tailor yours to your audience size and message frequency. A possible schedule for your policy’s list removal or final re-engagement may look like one of the following:

  • Sunsetting recipients of daily emails who have not engaged in three weeks

  • Sunsetting recipients of weekly emails who have not engaged in two months

  • Sunsetting recipients of monthly emails who have not engaged in six months

Sticking to a consistent sunsetting schedule helps you stay organized and regularly clean uninterested subscribers from your lists with minimal fuss.

Implementing sunset policies with Mailgun

What’s that? You’re wondering how you can get started with sunset policy-making right now? Luckily, you’re in, uh, luck. Mailgun’s segmentation tools can easily separate your lists and help you send highly-targeted messages to your subscribers based on engagement (low-engagement subscribers versus high-engagement subscribers), demographics, and more. As mentioned above, you can also use tags to organize your mailing list and your messages.

Once you’ve segmented your list, you can see how different messages perform in engagement metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and more.

Separate from the chaos of 2020 and start fresh in 2021 with advanced segmentation and easy sunsetting and analytics. 

Wrapping Up

A proactive, preventative approach to email list hygiene via a sunset policy is important to ensure you are always sending to recipients that want and will engage with your email. ISPs, now more than ever, rely heavily on their users’ engagement of email to determine inboxing and spam filtering from different brands. And, in the new year, you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping that engagement high by sending to subscribers who want what you have to say.

So, in order to put your best foot forward in 2021, make sure you send to those who matter most... and allow the rest to ride off into the sunset.

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