Inactive Email Subscribers: The Definitive Guide [2018]

by Gastón Labarthe

Inactive email subscribers are hurting your open and click rates, wasting your money on email marketing and not buying your services/products, but you might be wondering… what should I do with the inactive recipients?

If you are prioritizing email marketing instead of other marketing channels you’re doing it right. The average return for every $1 that you spend on email marketing is $44, that’s a return of 4400% over your investment on email marketing!

But, although you are using the channel properly, almost half of your email marketing subscribers are not opening your emails. The average inactive percent of our customers is 44.35%, that’s sad!

We want you to make the most out of your email marketing efforts, that’s why we created this guide to help you prevent, identify, re-engage and remove inactive email subscribers.

Want to skip right to the actionable tactics? Just click below 👇.

Prevent Inactive Email Subscribers

  1. Be compliant with spam laws
  2. Clean your subscribers before importing them
  3. Set the right expectations in your sign-up form and fulfill them
  4. Add a double opt-in to your lists
  5. Give subscribers options
  6. Whitelist your IP/Domain
  7. Avoid landing on Gmail Promotions Tab
  8. Ramp down your campaigns

Identify Inactive Email Subscribers

  1. Identify inactive email subscribers
  2. Segment your inactive recipients

Re-engage Inactive Email Subscribers

  1. Send reactivation campaigns
  2. Send special offers
  3. Use custom audience retargeting campaigns
  4. Re-engage with offline actions
  5. Ask customers preferred frequency and content
  6. Ask customers to update their email information

Remove Inactive Email Subscribers

  1. Use SoapChimp


Prevent Inactive Email Subscribers

In this chapter we are going to make a check-list of the most important things that can help you, right away, to prevent having more inactive email recipients in the near future. Take these simple steps right away to prevent inactivity in your email marketing list.

1. Be compliant with spam laws

First and most obvious recommendation is that don’t add people without their consent to your list. Don’t add subscribers if you don’t have permission from the email owners to add them to your lists.

It’s crystal clear that if you add people that don’t agree to be on your list, you are going to have lowers open/clicks rates, higher spam complaints and more inactive members.

Quite simple, let’s move to the next one.

2. Clean your subscribers before importing them

This is a tip for those that merge databases or collect emails manually (e.g: on trade events) from time to time and add subscribers to your email marketing lists manually.

Before uploading new members to your email marketing software, do some email scrubbing with tools like Neverbounce.

What does Neverbounce do for you? It analyzes and verifies if your emails are valid to be sent by looking for typos, making server requests to see if the email response it’s ok, and other techie stuff that makes them confident enough to promise that you will be able to deliver 99.9% of the emails they verify.

Go ahead and clean your list before make an import to your email marketing software.

3. Set the right expectations in your sign-up form and fulfill them.

When someone decided to receive more information from you, they probably landed on a sign-up form that could be something like this:

Or something totally different like this:

You’ll notice that in the second scenario, the prominent subscriber can quickly identify some key information about the email marketing list:

  • Benefit of subscribing
  • Type of content they’ll receive
  • Frequency
  • Kind of emails

You’ll have the permission to land in your prospects inbox, let them know what they are going to receive in exchange for that permission, and meet their expectations.

4. Add double opt-in in your lists

There are 2 ways that you can accept new subscribers: single opt-in or double opt-in. It’s true that the second will requires a bit more effort from your prominent subscriber, but you can be completely sure that:

  • The subscriber is totally aware of the subscription
  • The email is confirmed, so there is no room for typos
  • Nobody will subscribe a third party without their consent

Enabling double opt-in in your email marketing list will make your list healthy:

  • Better quality of subscribers
  • Improve deliverability
  • Improve open and click rates

Go ahead and configure this simple setting in your email marketing list.

5. Give subscribers options

Each subscriber is different and has to be approached with the highest level of personalization possible.

It’s clear that we are not crafting each email for each of our subscribers, but you can generate segments based on: best day to send your campaigns, the frequency, and which type of content you’ll be sending.

So, let your subscribers personalize their experience with your email marketing list. During the opt-in process you can leave inputs to be completed with options like:

  • Which is the best day of the week to send you our campaigns?
    • Monday to Wednesday
    • Thursday to Friday
    • On Weekends
  • Which types of content would you like to receive (if you have more than one type of content).
    • Content A (e.g. product reviews)
    • Content B (e.g. weekly blogposts)
  • Frequency of your campaigns
    • Once per day
    • Once per week
    • Once per month

6. Whitelist your IP/Domain

One of the reasons for inactivity can be that your emails are arriving in the junk folder of your subscribers.

If your emails are already arriving in the junk folder, that’s a bad sign from your IP and your domain. How do you determine if your IP is blacklisted? You need to use a third party service to find out.

Here are some available tools to find out if your IP is blacklisted:

If your IP is blacklisted, first you should analyze your email marketing tactics and address the following: Why are my subscribers marking my emails as spam?

Some of the reasons could be:

  • They did not subscribe to your list.
  • Your emails looks like a scam, too many images, too many links, etc.
  • Your aren’t providing a clear unsubscribe link for your subscribers.

After that, you can go to the service where you’re blacklisted and follow the blacklist removal process they suggest.

This is serious problem, solve it before moving to the next tactic!

7. Avoid landing on Gmail Promotions Tab

One of the things that activates the spam filters that could make your emails arrive in the junk folder or Gmail Promotions tab are some words you may be using in your subject lines.

The guys at e-consultancy published this post where they provide 45 words to avoid in the subject line to prevent these filters from triggering your emails based on several sources of data.

Another major problem that’s causing your emails to land in the promotions tab is the use of HTML formats combined with images, links, and price tags in your emails.

The folks at Chamaileon conduct an in depth study iterating the most important factors that could put your emails on the Gmail Promotions Tab.


  • Don’t use heavy HTML format, try to keep your emails in plain text, like normal emails.
  • Avoid price tags combined with links and images.

Additional healthy recommendations (by us):

  • Don’t abuse the use of images, one should be fine.
  • Don’t abuse the use of links, one or two max.
  • Personalize when possible; to field, subject line, welcome message. Remember to use handlers when you have no data to personalize to prevent something like “Hello {FIRST_NAME}”

8. Ramp down your campaigns

Let’s assume that you are too aggressive with your campaigns and you’re sending too many emails in a short time, we recommend that you ramp-down your approach and compare your reports over the same period of time:

  • If you’re sending daily, switch to once a week
  • If you’re sending weekly, switch to once or twice a month

Compare the key metrics (deliverability, open rates and click rates) to determine what cadence works best for your email marketing list.

Identify Inactive Email Subscribers

You’ve taken action with your list, followed our preventing tactics and you’re ready to move to the next level.

As we mentioned above, before cleaning their lists, our customers had on average 44.35% of members that were not opening their emails.

Now apply the following tactics to identify your inactive members.

1. Identify inactive email recipients

When talking about inactive subscribers, the first thing we have to do is define who the inactive members on your list are.

The cutoff mark may vary, depending mostly on the frequency of your campaigns and your industry.

We are going to define 3 types of inactive subscribers.

These are going to help us try to reactivate those members that seem to be more valuable, considering their past interactions with our campaigns and company.

Never Active
A never active subscriber are those subscribers that took the first step by subscribing to your email marketing list but never opened any of your email marketing campaigns or purchased any of your products.

These are the less valuable members of your list and you shouldn’t put in too much effort to reactivate them.

The dormant subscribers are those that opted-in to your email marketing list, opened some of your campaigns in the past or made a purchase of your products, but just entered in a cool down period (1-3 months) that has you wondering if they are coming back or not.

Again, to define this cool down period you have to understand the lifecycle of your product. If you sell something that lasts on average 1 year, you have to consider an extended period of time to tag these members as dormants.

These type of inactive subscribers are the ones who need immediate attention. You have to engage with them as soon as possible to make them remember your brand.

These subscribers are those who were once active subscribers, but the grace period to be considered as a dormant subscriber has passed, and they are still not reading your emails and haven’t purchased your products.

These kind of subscribers are of a mid-level range of viability.

So here we are. Now you know who your inactive email marketing subscribers are, and you have them classified based on type of inactiveness.

Let’s dive in and segment more of your list of inactive members.

2. Segment your inactive recipients

When given any task/problem, most of us go right into it without a clear and conscious evaluation and analysis on the best way to approach it.

As Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 hours sharpening the axe.

We have to analyze the current data we have about our inactive members by looking at the demographics, the email services they use, and subscription date, to arrive at some conclusion.

Perhaps all of the inactive members are from a certain range of age that could shed some light on why they subscribe and did not read your emails. It might be related to the topic you’re covering with your email marketing campaigns.

Or, perhaps most of the inactive members subscribed to your list after an event you held in the past. Perhaps they realized that your product isn’t suitable for them.

What about email services? Are most of the inactive Gmail users? Outlook users? Could that be why they are inactive – because your emails are arriving on the promotions tab in Gmail? Or because they’re receiving badly formatted campaigns since they’re opening from some specific email service platform?

Alright, now that you have your inactive members segmented let’s move on to the reactivation part. Let’s see what you can do to reactivate those subscribers. Stay with me…

Re-engage Inactive Email Subscribers

1. Send reactivation campaigns

Now that you have them identified, you can start with the basics: create a targeted email series campaign specifically for those subscribers.

This is the first step of confirmation of inactivity for those subscribers. You’ll have to try a different set of variants of content and personalization from your past campaign for this series of emails to obtain different outcomes.

You might be wondering:

“Ok, what should I change to attract their attention?”

Every industry is different and also the buyer persona behind those subscribers. So, put yourself in the shoes of your prospects and decide which variant of the following will increase the chances they’ll open and interact with your emails:

Variation on the subject
Try to implement different variants of subject lines from past campaigns – go further with personalization and include the name of the subscribers to get their attention.

Variation on the content
Change the topic of the content, format, and the position of links in the body of your email. Always change one aspect at a time, so you can see which aspect is having an effect on your dormant subscribers.

You can try with the following series of a re-energizing campaign:

Email 1: different subject with personalization.
Email 2: different topic of the content.
Email 3: different format and positioning of links in email body.

Still a bunch of dormant subscribers in your list? Keep reading to reactivate more email subscribers!

2. Create Custom Audience retargeting campaigns

You have one of the most precious assets a marketer can have nowadays… the email of your subscribers! And you can use it beyond email marketing.

You might be wondering: “What else can I do with emails?”

Create a retargeting advertising campaign on Facebook Ads, Google Ads or Linkedin!

Tactics on their own are just that, isolated tactics. But when you use cross platform solutions and create a 360º strategy nothing can go wrong!

So, think outside the box and try to come with a creative retargeting ad campaign to reactivate those dormant subscribers.

3. Re-engage with offline actions

Don’t lose any opportunity you have to interact face to face with your customers to catch or confirm their data. There you can update/confirm the emails of your customers and merge that data with your email marketing list to determine if those customers are really dormants.

Maybe they are not opening your emails, but perhaps they checked the subject line and that’s enough to keep your brand at the top of their mind in the industry and keep knocking at your door for more stuff you sell!

You can adapt this tactic to physical stores or to your e-commerce. Sync online/offline purchase data with your email list and unmark those frequent customers that are buying but not reading your emails as dead email subscribers.

4. Ask about frequency and content

You have implemented all of the tactics we showed you above and you still feel that you are falling short trying to reactivate your subscribers?

Let’s go to directly to the source and create a survey to ask your subscribers how they want to receive your communications.

Remember that they are not opening your emails, so you will have to send this campaign from a different email address. It would be great if you can use a personalized email address like one of the members of your team that your inactive subscribers could identify.

Each member has their own habits on email marketing campaigns – frequency, type of content, days/hours to send. Go ahead and ask them how they want to be approached.

5. Send special offers

Most of the people are subscribed to your email marketing list to be the first to take action when you send them a special offer.

So, if you haven’t created a special offer campaign in the last few months, try to create one specially segmented for those inactive email recipients you are trying to reactivate.

A campaign with a personalized subject and a glimpse at an offer. It’s a an effective tactic to reactivate your dormant subscribers.

6. Ask customers to update their email information

Asking customers to update their email information can have surprising engagement results. This tactic gives the customer an opportunity to enter a new email address if it’s been changed, customize their email settings, and sign up for mobile or social media updates.

Remove Inactive Email Subscribers

1. Remove inactive email subscribers and keep your lists lean & nimble

You have implemented the tactics we’ve shared with you, but certainly you’ll still have inactive subscribers. Don’t worry, it’s normal!

You can’t reactivate 100% of your dormant subscribers, but if you follow our tactics now you’ll have a more valuable list that you had before.

Now, it’s time to take the final step removing inactive members you could not reactivate.

This process will ramp up your opens, clicks, and engagement rates – and that will improve your deliverability.

Stop leaving money on the table and spending money on subscribers that are not generating revenue or paying attention.

Here is where SoapChimp comes in handy to clean Mailchimp inactive subscribers on autopilot and notifies you of your savings periodically.

So, come on board and see how SoapChimp can save you money while removing inactive subscribers from Mailchimp on autopilot. Use your Mailchimp list FREE ANALYSIS!

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