To Unsubscribe Or Not To Unsubscribe, That Is The Question

Best practice rules tell us that we should regularly scrub our lists of non-performing names to ensure that our messages are landing in the inbox of only those who are ready for our messages. But, at the Mailchimp Partner Community Kickoff meeting in 2020, I shared the story of a client who proved consistently that the only subscriber who is truly disengaged is one who asks to be removed from the list. Until that point, they may not be quite ready for what you offer, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the reminder that your organization is there for when they are ready. 


I don’t think you should easily “give up” on a subscriber who has opted in to your list and asked to receive your messages, but do make sure that unsubscribing is clear and simple, so that they can do so whenever they like.


But to ensure you’re maximizing your list potential, I believe that re-engagement campaigns should be run regularly, at least once per year, to remind audience members that we know they are there and to ensure that our messages are relevant to them. Re-engagement campaigns are  great for taking the pulse of your less-engaged subscribers to find out what more you can offer that might make your content more appealing to them, and others.


That’s my philosophy, but it’s not the only one. Asking some of my Mailchimp Partner friends this same question yielded some very interesting answers...


What do you consider a disengaged subscriber, how do you re-engage them, and at what point should you give up?


Reward “good behavior”...

I would look back at the last 3-6 months, you'll be surprised how many people are completely disengaged and haven’t opened a single email campaign. There's a habit among business owners to hold onto all subscribers in case they come back at some point, but I would look at rewarding your engaged subscriber base, and remove anyone who hasn’t opened a single email in the past 3 months.


Doug Dennison

CEO & Co-founder


Sort the wheat from the chaff...

There are a few ways... The one star rating in Mailchimp is one of them, but it's not always right. Mostly I look at the person's opening rate of the last 5 campaigns and the revenue of this subscriber.


I make a new campaign for the non-openers with a subject line and message they cannot miss. If they mail still hasn't opened, it's bye bye for the non-revenues.


For valuable non-openers, I will make an offer they cannot refuse.


Nick Beuzekamp

CEO and Founder


Measure twice, cut once...

A disengaged subscriber will meet different definitions for different brands due to the frequency of their communications and how often it is expected for a subscriber to engage. For brands that send a lot of communications and get frequent purchases, someone who is disengaged may be identified rather quickly. But for brands where purchases only happen every few years (think computers, automobiles, appliances, etc.), it might not make sense to label someone as disengaged for a long time. In any case, once you have defined a disengaged subscriber, I recommend sending a re-engagement series to try and regain their interest. Make the language and offers more serious as the series progresses, and if after multiple attempts with no activity (at least 6-10 emails over several weeks), then removing those that haven't re-engaged is likely a smart move.


Adam Q. Holden-Bache

Director of Email Marketing


Use your Mailchimp tools...

It’s important to always TRY to re-engage people that are inactive or just not engaged with your emails. I love to use Mailchimp’s “segments” to target “Subscribers who didn’t open the last 10 campaigns” with a special email. We’d typically say - “We missed you. Would you still like to hear from us? If not, no problem. You can always unsubscribe, but if you stay, we promise you’ll enjoy our upcoming emails.” If this segment of people ends up NOT opening the re-engagement email, then we typically “archive” them. We never unsubscribe anyone (unless they ask). Archiving will keep your list clean of inactive users and help your overall sender score, which is important.


Emily Ryan

Co-Founder and Email Strategist


Evaluate, measure and re-engage...

I normally evaluate openings; the time range I consider depends on the frequency of emails. If you send a monthly newsletter you’ll probably mark as disengaged those who didn’t open the last 4-5 newsletters, if you write weekly or daily you should raise a warning after a month or less.


When subscribers receive a mix of regular newsletters, DEMs and automated emails, it’s sometimes complicated to define the right segmentation clauses, so I rely on Mailchimp rating, which is calculated automatically by the platform depending on the open and click frequency of each subscriber.


When I do a list cleaning, I try to prepare a reactivation message which is radically different from the usual ones and I try to make the subject really attractive, if possible, with personalization. In the reactivation message, I ask to actively confirm one’s willingness to stay subscribed, and after a week or two, I unsubscribe those who didn’t react. I don’t send more than one reactivation message, but sometimes I send an “unsubscribe notification” with a link to re-subscribe in case of last-minute decisions.


Alessandra Farabegoli

Digital Strategist, Co-Founder


Think about frequency...

In my opinion, someone who hasn't opened an email for 30 days or more is disengaged. You need to have your retention plan in place and automated if possible. Easy with Mailchimp. For example, on Day 30 they receive an email, "Hi! We've missed you. Are you still keen to hear from us? What could we be doing better?". Use language that works for your business and test this out. Send another on Day 45 where you could ask if they're receiving too many emails and give them the option to receive less. 


Have a think what frequency will work for you with these emails and remember there's only upside here so test, test, test.


Glenn Edley

Director & Email Strategist


Kill the zombies...

Disengaged Subscribers (or Zombies as I call them) are a plague on your audience. Anyone who hasn't opened any of your recent emails could be a Zombie. You need to give them an option to "cure" themselves (opt in) or "kill" themselves (opt out) - so a series of emails asking them that would be a great step... but sometimes, after you've tried a few emails, you might need to kill them yourself.


Robin Adams

Owner & Founder

Know your sales cycle...

Disengaged subscribers are different for every industry/business model. For instance, in Real Estate, just because someone hasn't opened for a while doesn't mean they're not taking notice of your emails and filing them away for future use. The sales cycle for listing a home can be 5 years long or longer. And regular emails are needed to make sure you stay "top of mind" when people want to sell even if they're not opened. 


Look at your typical sales cycle (how long it takes to make a sale from initial contact to purchase) and double it. That's the time I use to consider someone a "disengaged subscriber."


Anyone who hasn't opened an email after that time period should get an email asking them to open the email if they want to stay on the list. It should clearly say in the subject line... If you want to keep receiving emails from me, open this email. 


I create an automation that sends the same email to my disengaged subscribers. If people don't open the first one I automatically send another about 3 days later and I tweak the subject just a bit. About 3 days later I send the same email to disengaged subscribers that didn't open one of the first 2 emails I sent.


About 10 days later I remove everyone who hasn't opened the disengaged subscriber email. And I really remove them. If they can't be bothered to click then I can't be bothered to send them an email.


Amy Hall

Email Marketing Strategist and Certified Mailchimp Partner