March 11, 2020

973 words 4 minutes.

How to Overcome Fear of Email Unsubscribes

A man checking his email on his phone. Digital envelope icons float from the device.

If you’ve been email marketing for your business, growing your list is probably one of your top priorities. As your subscriber numbers grow, it can feel like you’re efforts are really paying off. More subscribers = more satisfaction.

Which is why so many people fear the dreaded “unsubscribe.”

Are you suffering from FOUS (fear-of-unsubscribes)? Here’s how to overcome it - and why you may want to consider cutting your list down even further.

You can’t make everybody happy. And unsubscribes will happen, no matter how wonderful your emails are.

The secret to overcoming your unsubscribe-dread? It’s easy: learn from the data.

A good unsubscribe rate is less than 0.5%. If you fall below .02%, you’re within the norm. An unsubscribe rate over 0.5%, however, could indicate that you’ve got email issues to work through.

Why Do Unsubscribes Happen?

Consider your own inbox. What type of emails are you excited to receive, and which ones do you let idle, unopened and unread?

According to MarketingSherpa, the 3 top reasons people unsubscribe from emails are:

1. I get too many emails in general.
2. The emails are not relevant to me.
3. I receive too many emails from this company specifically.

A higher-than-average unsubscribe rate could be an indicator that it’s time to look at the quality of your email content or the consistency of your delivery. If you’re constantly bombarding your audience or delivering emails that aren’t relevant to them, it may be time to go back to the drawing board and revisit your marketing strategy or your persona development.


If your unsubscribes fall within the normal, acceptable range, they could be presenting you with a different type of opportunity.

Unsubscribes Lead to Healthier Lists

If you’ve managed to keep a houseplant or two alive, you’ve likely stumbled upon this fascinating care tip: pruning plants makes them healthier.

Consider your list-building tactics.

Sure, you can quickly build an email list from scratch using incentives, giveaways, and gated content offers (also known as lead magnets).

But are those subscribers really interested in hearing from you, or did they just fork over their email address in exchange for an ebook, guide, quiz result, or chance to win something cool?

Subscribers who never open or read your emails aren’t doing you any favors. In fact, they could be hurting you in the long run.

Email service providers such as Google, Yahoo, and Outlook use SPAM filters track subscriber actions, such as whether or not they open an email or not.

If 80% of your list habitually ignores your emails, their SPAM filters are learning that your emails aren’t worthy of even showing up in the inbox.

If you lose subscribers who never opened or clicked your emails, sure, you may be reducing the number of people on your list.

But you may be increasing your conversion rates and improving your deliverability.

How to Scrub your Email List

You can increase your email marketing conversion rates even further by doing an intentional list audit.

Think of it as a “spring cleaning” for your list.

Start by segmenting your list into 3 categories:

1. The “never opens”: subscribers who haven’t opened an email in the past 3-6 months.
2. The “inactives”: subscribers who’ve opened a few emails in the past 3 - 6 months.
3. The “actives”: subscribers who regularly open emails.

Tip: be sure to give your audience members enough time to fit one of the 3 categories accurately. Someone who just subscribed to your list a week ago is not yet a good candidate for this type of sorting.

After you’ve clearly identified the “never opens” segment of your list, it’s time to cut them. If this is a large number of subscribers it could feel terrifying.

Take a leap of faith, anyway.

Remember, if they’re not opening your emails, they’re lowering your conversion rates.

Next it’s time to move on to the “inactive” segment of your list: people who’ve opened a few emails but aren’t regularly engaging.

Try deploying a re-engagement campaign to regain their interest.

A re-engagement campaign, or win-back campaign, can be as simple as a “hey, we miss you” or “I’ve noticed you’re not getting my emails.”

The point is to try and re-engage an audience who may have tuned you out.

You can also turn your re-engagement campaign into an opportunity to intentionally lighten your list even more. Give your users two big, bold CTA’s to choose from:

  • Keep me on your list!
  • Unsubscribe me.

Sure, you may lose some more list members who realize they don’t really need what you’ve been sending.

But you also may have reminded some passive audience members that they do, in fact, want to hear from you.

You’ve Chopped Down Your List. Now What?

Scrubbing your email list can be pretty intense, particularly if you’ve been using email subscribers as a KPI.

Intentionally hacking away at your list, removing subscribers, and giving others a CTA to unsubscribe can feel really unsettling.

But here’s the good news.

There’s no reason to fear a well-edited, intentionally-audited list.

Because what you’ve got left are the subscribers who

  • Really want to hear from you
  • Regularly open your emails
  • Click on your CTAs
  • Convert

Now you can focus on keeping this core list really happy with quality email content, which means it can check the box in these areas:

  • Segmented and personalized.
  • Compelling subject lines.
  • Relevant information.
  • Short and friendly.
  • Mobile-friendly.
  • Proof-read and professional.
  • Delivered regularly on a consistent schedule.


Email marketing can be a highly successful marketing tool for your business. It’s the perfect opportunity to reach your audience directly and convert your prospects.

Sure, unsubscribes are going to happen along the way. But never fear; that’s a positive opportunity to improve your conversion rates or learn valuable lessons about your email efforts.

Unsubscribes? Nothing to fear here.

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