He’s Just Not That Into You: Dealing With Unengaged Recipients

One of the hardest decisions marketers have to make is when to remove unengaged recipients from their email lists. Many marketers never give up, and continue to send email to unengaged recipients.

Year after year of sending, causing problems and ending up in more and more spam folders. So what is the best way to deal with unengaged recipients in your email marketing program?

The 301st email, avoid deliverability problems

Even though the recipient has deleted the last 300 messages without opening nary a one; even though the last few have gone directly to the bulk folder; they keep sending, hoping that the 301st email will be the magic one that finally gets the recipient to respond.

Tempting as it may be to continue to send email to people who never open your mailings, at a certain point it’s a good idea to clean your list of these unresponsive addresses. Recipients that repeatedly delete your mailings without opening them can affect your email deliverability, even if they are not identifying your email as spam.

Joan Jett was wrong, it IS about email reputation

“I don’t give a damn about my reputation,” sang Joan Jett, but don’t follow in her footsteps. Where an ISP chooses to send your mailings depends on your “reputation score.” This is a formula ISPs use to determine whether a recipient want to see a message or would rather have it sent to the bulk folder. In part, this score is determined by looking at the engagement rate of your recipients.

Big ISP is watching you… and your recipients

Opening an email, displaying images, or clicking on links are all taken into consideration in determining where that email winds up. Too many unopened messages and the next thing you know you’re in the bulk folder next to the Russian Wives and Viagra salesmen.

The email that piles up in the bulk folder is noticed by the ISPs, and soon you won’t be getting any email into the inbox for anyone. Also see this email deliverability checklist for more info on what to do.

When is it time to give up and stop sending?

So when is it time to give up? This varies considerably and is determined, mainly, by how often you send and the size of your list. Large lists and frequently sent email provide the IPs with a bigger sample to analyze and makes it less likely that a few unengaged individuals will affect your reputation score. If you’re response rate is good, a few recipients ignoring you won’t have as much impact.

Size does matter for your email marketing reputation

People working from smaller lists will be need to be more vigilant and make sure that there aren’t too many disengaged recipients on their list at any one time. A list that is sent only once a month has a harder time with unengaged recipients because it is difficult to measure with so few emails. It also means there are fewer options to reduce the email they receive since removing even one takes them to a two-month period without emails

Email re-engagement program to win them back

If you are sending several times a week you have more options. First of all, you should have a logic routine in your email marketing system that ramps down on the number of emails sent to an unengaged recipient after a few months of no or low activity.

Here are three examples of how such a re-engagement email could look like, taken from the excellent pintrest board of Nick Letham (there are 10 more examples there).

If the less frequently sent emails also do not generate any response, you should initiate an email list re-engagement program. Let the person know that you’ve noticed their lack of engagement and indicate that you are concerned.

Try and create a one-on-one relationship with that recipient, and give them a specific course of action to show they are still interested. The ideal email marketing frequency is key here and it might not be the same for each recipient.

Schedule your re-engagement emails intelligently

Allow these re-engagement emails to be sent a few times, with a few weeks in between. If the recipient doesn’t engage, remove them from your regular distribution list and try again later. You don’t need to delete or suppress them, since they haven’t asked to be unsubscribed, but to keep your Reputation score up, and make sure that people who want your email get it in their inbox, you shouldn’t continue to send to unengaged recipients indefinitely.

Jim Morton

Jim Morton is the Marketing Communications Specialist at Goolara, the makers of Symphonie email marketing systems and writer of the Best Practices, Vol. 1 white paper