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Can keeping lapsed email subscribers cause you harm?

Published: 21st September 2022
How long should you keep subscribers who don't engage with your email marketing?

In this video, we are going to take a look at how long you should keep subscribers on your email marketing lists who aren’t opening your emails. This one is quite a tricky subject to address and none of us wants to delete people from our lists - but sometimes keeping these people can cause more harm than good.

So, first up, we need to define exactly what we mean by a ‘non-engager’. Well according to Litmus, we can put these people into three categories:

  • Never actives

  • Lapsed customer inactives

  • Current customer inactives


Ok, so let's take a look at these three categories and how we should deal with them.

Never Actives


These are people who have never engaged with any of your emails, right from the moment they first signed up to receive your emails.

There are a number of reasons why this could be, for example, they could have supplied an email address that they don’t check that often, or perhaps they didn’t fully realise that they were signing up to receive emails.

As a guide, if these people haven’t opened the first ten of your emails over a period of 4-5 months, then you should delete them. GMAIL say that you should use 150 days as the benchmark for deletion.

Lapsed customer inactives


These are people who historically have purchased from you and perhaps have previously opened your emails. These people have now though stopped both purchasing and opening your emails.

For this group of people, the advice is that you should be deleting them after a period of around 6 months of becoming inactive.

Prior to deleting them though, it’s worth targeting them with a re-engagement campaign. A good way to do this is to offer them a discount, or an incentive to start purchasing from you again.

You can also directly ask them if they’d like to remain on your mailing list - and what they can expect to receive. This is where you can outline future incentives or offers that they can expect to receive if they remain on your list.

Current customer inactives


The final category are customers who are still actively purchasing from you - but have stopped opening and engaging with your emails.

This final group of people need a little bit of thought and planning to come up with the right campaign to re-engage them.

It’s highly likely that they aren’t opening your emails simply because at first glance, things like the subject header or preview text just aren’t striking a chord with them.

This is where A/B testing can be your best friend. The approach here would be to identify and segment these people - then A/B test a series of email variants to them.

This group of people just need to right incentive to be offered to them in order for them to start opening and engaging with your email marketing.

What happens if you don’t do anything?


Does it cause your brand, company domain or email-sending server any damage if you choose just to leave the non-engagers on your email list in the hope that one day, they might start engaging again.

Well, the answer here is ‘yes’ it can and often does cause damage to all of the above. Nowadays, spam filters are really tight on list hygiene. If they see that people are regular not engaging with your emails, they will then penalise your future sends.

If they do this, this dramatically increases the chances that your email marketing will not receive decent inbox placement and would be delivered to your recipient's spam folder.

In summary, good housekeeping is more important than ever with your email marketing lists. As difficult as it is to delete people if they aren't engaging, then keeping them can cause more harm than good.
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