Re-Engagement Campaigns to Clean Your E-Newsletter List

It can feel incredibly good to see your e-news subscriber list grow, from the first time you hit the triple digits to the 1,000th subscriber. You’re on a roll when you get to 5,000, 10,000 or more. But at some point, your open or click-thru rates start to stagnate. You can’t get them above some goal or an industry average.

The fact is, on any e-newsletter list there will be people who lose interest or don’t have the time to open and read your messages. Worse yet, your message may be landing in the Gmail promotions tab (a no-man’s land no one wants to be in) or Junk Mail.

What to do?

Time to clean up your e-news subscriber list through a re-engagement campaign.

Cleaning up your e-news subscriber list: The Basics

Here are the basics of cleaning up your list through a re-engagement campaign:

  • Create a message, or a series of messages, to re-engage your non-openers.
  • Go into your e-news system and segment out the non-openers.
  • Send the series of messages to this list.
  • At the end of the campaign, segment out the people who have continued to not engage.
  • Unsubscribe the non-openers from your larger list. And keep the re-engaged audience, or add them back to the list.

Cleaning up your e-news subscriber list: The Details

First, create a re-engagement message or series of messages, to send to your non-openers. I’ve run campaigns with three different re-engagement messages, each with unique subject lines and slightly different messages. They were sent out once a week over the course of three weeks.

The subject lines should be obvious and compelling, such as:

  • We miss you!
  • Do you still want to hear from us?
  • Are you still interested in receiving our e-news?
  • Open this message to stay subscribed!
  • We’d hate to see you go!
  • We’ll miss you!

Each message should get progressively more compelling. Don’t worry about being corny. After all, these folks probably won’t open the message anyway; they’re already disengaged. The secret of a re-engagement campaign is not necessarily to re-engage lots of people, it’s actually to get the un-engaged people off your list and to increase your open, click, and conversion rates through a core, engaged audience.

The content of these messages should also be short and compelling. The text should read something like this:

We’ve noticed you haven’t opened our e-mails in a while. Maybe you’re busy or maybe our messages ended up in your spam folder.

If you’d like to stay connected, we would love to keep sharing the work we’re doing to XYZ. If you want to stay subscribed, click here: Insert obvious, red button

And if we’re landing in your spam or promotions folder (Gmail users only), be sure to add this e-mail address info@… to your contacts.

Thanks so much for your support,

Insert name

Subsequent messages should be that brief as well, but change-up the text. Maybe include a link to a video or photo album. If they click on this type of content, it may re-ignite their interest in your cause and/or communicate to the e-mail gods that they are still interested. Seriously, if someone ignores your e-mails long enough, most e-mail providers will begin to filter out your message and send it to Junk. So even one click is a step in the right direction.

Second, go into your e-news system and segment out your non-openers.

You’ll first want to decide what qualifies a non-opener. I worked with iContact for several years and discovered that even though 25-35% of my list was opening each e-news, 50+% of the list had opened at least one message in the previous six months.

I appreciated that 50% “tipping point” and didn’t want to lose anyone in a shorter or longer time frame. So the iContact team segmented out the people who had not opened an e-news in the previous six months for us.

This also kept my numbers more stable. I ran re-engagement campaigns once we reached certain benchmarks, such as 8,000 subscribers, 9,000, 10,000. I never wanted to see a huge dip in subscribers, so I conducted re-engagement campaigns with non-opener segments in the 500-700 subscriber range. On my charts, this would show a little dip in subscribers, while providing a noticeable bump in open rates.

How large should your list be before considering a re-engagement campaign?

The smaller the list, the less it’s worth your time to clean it. However, if you value a clean list and really want high engagement rates, I’d start running re-engagement campaigns either at the 1,000 subscriber level or whenever your engagement rates really stagnate. If your engagement rates aren’t stagnating, I’d still start running re-engagement campaigns near the 5,000 mark.

But keep in mind that as your list grows, if your engagement rates stay the same, it means you’re engaging more people – congrats!

Third, begin sending your messages. Consider frequency and timing. You may want to send them once a week or send them out rapid-fire within one week to create a sense of urgency. However you choose to do it, DO send each message on a different day at a different time. This will increase your chance of getting engagement from a subscriber who just doesn’t check personal e-mails until the evening. Or one who wants to wait to read your messages over the weekend. It’s true that these are folks who haven’t opened your e-mail at all in six months, but, hey, maybe they want to and just need a nudge (or the right timing).

Here’s something you don’t want to forget: after each message, you’ll want to unsubscribe anyone who opened the e-mail from the next e-mail.

After your series of re-engagement messages, segment the openers vs non-openers from any of the messages. The openers get put back on your master list and the non-openers get unsubscribed.

Fair warning: a re-engagement campaign isn’t going to produce a high level of engagement. It would be lovely if that was the result, but it’s not exactly the point. The point of a re-engagement campaign is to give inactive subscribers one last chance to get on the bandwagon. If they don’t, you have lost a subscriber, but your open rates are going to go up. You can’t really lose here.

How much might the engagement rates go up?

That depends on many other factors in the e-newsletter program, such as list size, subject line effectiveness, send times, and the ROIs you organize your e-news around.
But, for example, in a 10,000 subscriber e-news program I ran, our open rates steadily increased from the 10-15% range to a regular 30+% open rate. And that’s on top of a 221% increase in subscriber list size!

Here are some charts to illustrate the trajectory of the program. Note how the bounce and opt-out rates will naturally go down as you focus on your core audience and stop e-mailing people who, essentially, don’t want to get the message.

E-Newsletter Subscribers

E-Newsletter Open Rate
You can see how the open rates rose consistently. This stat was the primary focus of my improvements, including the re-engagement campaigns, but also subject lines, send times and even re-sends.
E-Newsletter Opt Out Rate
An opt-out is not always a bad stat! I actually appreciate it when people opt out. It shows a certain level of engagement and helps me keep the list clean! Still, you want to see your opt-out numbers generally go down as an indication that you’re speaking to your core audience and providing them with messages they don’t want to opt out of.
E-Newsletter Bounce Rate
A huge benefit of cleaning up your list is getting rid of bad e-mail addresses. These bad e-mails could be a data entry problem or just the fact that people change e-mail addresses so frequently. Cleaning your list will decrease your bounce rates and, subsequently, lower your spam score.


Do you have an e-news list that isn’t so “clean” or “fresh”? Are you working with an e-mail provider who can support a re-engagement campaign? If you have a success story, feel free to post it in the comments.

And if you’d like help with an e-newsletter program, please contact me!


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