You spend a lot of time and money crafting emails that are engaging to the average subscriber, and when engagement levels (open rates, click rates, etc…) start to trend down for the average subscriber, it’s up to you to re-engage before you lose them altogether. Since investing in acquisition of new customers is six to seven times costlier than re-activating past customers, there is a huge value in investing in re-activation campaigns.
Slideshare.net reports that, on average, 60 percent of subscribers to a list are “dead.” According to data from MarketingSherpa and EmailLabs, you will see a drop of between 20 and 25 percent in subscribers’ open rates within the first two months after signing up for an email list, and a 35 to 45 percent decrease two years later. MailChimp also reports that engagement tends to bottom out around the 100th campaign.
Why Subscribers Stop Engaging
One of the main causes of lack of engagement is frequency. There is a definite negative correlation between the frequency with which emails are sent and the level of reader engagement. In fact, 69 percent of American email users report having unsubscribed altogether from an email list because emails were sent too frequently.
Another culprit is the junk folder, or sending delays. Even small delays between sending and delivery can cause problems, especially if emails contain time-sensitive offers, like a flash sale. This can be caused by a number of things, like lower engagement than similar competitors whose communications the ISP may route through first. Problems can mount because of this; if open and clickthrough rates drop too low because of delays, ISPs may begin to route your emails directly to the junk folder. If you aren’t periodically checking on and cleansing your email lists of dead emails, you may even wind up blacklisted. ISPs monitor dead email addresses for sending, and often mark email senders to those addresses as spam, another way to get your email sent to the spam folder without your knowledge.
Subscribers also will stop reading if the content is bad or not useful. Of CIO’s top seven reasons people unsubscribe from email lists, quality of content represents four. Typically, the larger an email list is, the lower its open rates tend to be. This could be a result of companies being less able to tailor custom content to individual customers and/or customers having less of a personal relationship with the company.
Chances are your subscribers are opening your email on mobile devices. In fact, as of Q1 2015, 53 percent were. This can lead to a sharp drop in open rates if your emails are not optimized for mobile viewing.
Focusing On Deliverability
Definitions of spam aren’t as content-focused as they used to be. As ISPs are focusing more on how subscribers are responding to your emails, re-engaging inactive subscribers can improve your inbox placement. If the balance is off between your active and inactive subscribers, ISPs might start to think you’re a low-quality sender and relegate you to the junk folder—or worse, block you altogether.
Gmail in particular wants to see evidence that your recipients love, or at the very least, want your messages as a determining factor for whether you land in the spam folder. Generally speaking, ISPs and email providers such as Google, Microsoft, AOL and Comcast handle sender reputation at the individual level. Of the 95 percent of emails that are blocked and/or automatically routed to spam folders, 85 percent have it done on the basis of sender reputation. The idea is to give the individual user what he or she will find most relevant by reacting to his or her opening and clickthrough habits. Signs that are considered positive by algorithms include: moving a message out of the spam folder/marking as not spam, replying, adding the sender to an address book, reading/viewing or moving to another folder or tagging.
On the negative side, signs considered bad by algorithms include: deleting a message without opening or reading, marking as spam or moving to the junk folder, or reporting the email as a phishing attempt. Clicks are not tracked as a metric for reputation, as tracking what a user does within an email generally is considered to be a violation of privacy.
Taking it a step further, the majority of marketers will gauge inactives as anyone who has not responded, opened, clicked or acted on any email in the past six to twelve months. Inactives may be best defined as people whose email addresses are still active and valid, but who are not engaging in any way with your emails. The average list’s inactive rate is around 60 percent. This means that a list of 10,000 has only 4,000 true subscribers reading its posts. Considering the huge amount of time online marketers spend building their lists, having a majority of the list not responding after signing up is a huge loss in terms of engagement and revenue.
How to Re-Engage
There are multiple Do’s and Don’ts in the re-engagement process. Simply asking customers to update their email information can have surprising engagement results, where re-permission emails—where the sender attempted to get long inactive recipients into receiving emails again—were found to be ineffective. Those only had a 1.8 percent average read rate.
While the definition of an inactive subscriber will be unique to each company, ultimately you need to be able to define an inactive subscriber as someone who has not opened/clicked within a certain amount of time by analyzing your subscriber history. Use past data to determine the average amount of time between when subscribers sign up and when they stop engaging. Then strategize your re-engagement program around that window of time by having a strong call to action, removing non-responders and keeping subscribers engaged to prevent those inactive users.
You can also send a survey to current subscribers asking something as simple as what they think of your email campaigns and offering a small incentive can help to understand where things need to be shored up, but also to point out which customers have remained engaged over time, as they are your most likely responders. Don’t immediately, however, cull your list if you don’t see a good response to winback emails. Studies have found that 45 percent of people who receive a winback email will re-engage at some level with the brand, but only 24 percent of them actually read the winback email. The average time between receiving a winback email and re-engaging with a subsequent message from the sender was around 57 days.
Even in light of this information, the majority of inactive subscribers will stay that way. Having a clear idea of when you ought to disengage for good can save you problems in the future.