Top 7 reasons people unsubscribe from your email list

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Envelope Important Floating open envelope with important letter stamped. bill, blank, communication, deliver, design, document, email, envelope, exclamation, illustrator, important, isolated, letter, loud, mail, open, paper, printed, sending, shadow, shout, stamp, stitch, surprise, symbol, urgent, vector, white, dreamstime dreamstime_26093214

Business owners and marketers spend a lot of time getting customers to opt-in or subscribe to their email newsletters and lists. However, they often don't exert the same effort to ensure that these customers they worked so hard to get stay engaged. And then they are puzzled (and annoyed) when that "unsubscribed" notification shows up in their in box.

So what can your organization do to keep customers from unsubscribing from your email lists? Here are the top seven reasons people opt out of email and what you can do to keep customers from clicking that 'unsubscribe' button.

1. They never signed up, or didn't realize they signed up, for your email list.

"The number one reason why [people] see high unsubscribe rates is because of poor list-building tactics," says Brett Farmiloe, a MailChimp expert and the founder of Markitors. "People think it's OK to buy, rent, scrape and add customers to their lists, and it's not. In fact, it's against MailChimp's terms of service to import third party lists," he says. And "there's a good reason why: People hate unsolicited email. There's not a faster way to get people to unsubscribe than to add them to your list without their [consent or] confirmation."

"Consumers [typically] unsubscribe [from email lists] because they didn't realize they subscribed in the first place," says Daniel Burstein, director of editorial content at MarketingSherpa. "Some businesses add people to their email lists with italicized mice type at the bottom of a form and customers don't even know they are signing up. They think they are just registering for a sweepstakes or downloading a white paper." The solution: "Clearly communicate to customers that they are subscribing to an email list by providing an opt-in checkbox on forms, along with an error message if they don't complete the checkbox (if subscription is required to receive the incentive)," says Burstein.

2. You're emailing them too often.

"The [other] frequent reason that people unsubscribe from email is that the email marketer underestimates or overestimates the frequency which subscribers wish to hear from them," says Ros Hodekiss, design community manager at Campaign Monitor. "According to a recent survey, 53 percent of consumers reported getting too many emails from retailers, while only 44 percent said they get the right amount." However, "there are simple ways to get around this issue," she says. "First of all, you can have your subscribers submit their email frequency preferences, either [when they] subscribe, or later, via an email preference center or similar. This approach puts the power into your subscribers' hands," she explains, which has proven to be an effective way of holding onto them.

[Typically, according to Campaign Monitor's research, "sending an email every two weeks is the sweet spot for subscriber engagement."]

"Secondly, periodically survey your subscribers to find out more about them, which I recommend, for reasons beyond simply learning how to become a better sender."

3. They can't properly view your email.

"Just because your email looks good when you test it on your own accounts doesn't mean it's going to be perfect on all of your audience's email platforms," says Austin Paley, corporate marketing communications manager, Blue Fountain Media.

In particular, beware of "image-heavy emails -- emails that look like a poster more than an email," says Philip Storey, head of global strategy & insights consulting, Lyris, a provider of digital marketing solutions. "Over 50 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices, and mobile devices struggle to download images," he explains. "Therefore, if you hide your awesome value proposition in an image, people won't see the content and are more likely to unsubscribe." Therefore, if you don't want people deleting your emails, or worse, unsubscribing, "make sure that your email renders correctly across all devices," says Paley. "Using a tool like Litmus is incredibly helpful because it allows you to see how your mailer looks across all platforms, so that you can tweak code accordingly if there are any issues." Or just make sure that the email template or campaign manager you use is mobile friendly.

4. Your email is too cluttered or looks unprofessional.

"If an email blast looks messy or unprofessional, people will think of it as spam and unsubscribe," says Gianna Kagel, co-owner, Assisting Hands, a home healthcare agency in New Jersey. To fix this problem, try using a service such as "MailChimp or Constant Contact, and send yourself the email [first] to see how it looks before you send it to your marketing list. If the formatting looks off or you notice any typos, fix it before you let your consumers see it," she says. "Having someone proofread the email before you send it is always a good idea as well."

"Not everyone is a designer, but if your email isn't aesthetically pleasing or looks dated, you're sending [the] message: I don't care enough about my business to have good branding, or I don't care enough about your email reading experience to make this pretty and easy to read for you," adds Summer Brighton, creative director at Summer Brighton. Her solution, like Kagel's (and many others): "Use an email marketing service [that has] templates you can customize. Or find a graphic designer to put something together for you." Just "make sure that your branding and messaging is clean, current and nice to look at," says Brighton.

And again, don't forget, a large portion of subscribers are reading your emails, or trying to, on a mobile device.

"Very rarely do I check email on an actual computer, yet I receive many emails that are structured for desktop use only," says Michelle Brammer, marketing and PR manager,, a digital advertising company. And when viewed on a smartphone or tablet, these emails can appear cluttered, or may not even load, she adds.

"To grab attention quickly, and swiftly, and avoid deletion, make sure images load quickly, use a readable font size, make the subject line relevant to the context," and keep the message short and sweet, she says. "Failure to clearly convey the message [quickly] will result in deleting the email, or worse, unsubscribing."

5. The content isn't relevant to them.

"People subscribe to email newsletters because they believe the sender has something valuable to offer," says Farmiloe. "But sometimes [marketers] don't acknowledge subscriber preferences and send content that doesn't match what the subscribers want. That's when that unsubscribe button gets pressed, when content isn't personalized." The solution: "Take the time to segment subscribers based on their preferences and campaign activity. Personalize content with targeted offers and consistent content," Farmiloe says.

"It seems so simple and straightforward: Understand your target audience and provide content that is relevant for them," says Linda Pophal, owner/founder, Strategic Communications. "But, despite the fact that we all know this to be true, too often we fail to deliver. Why? Because we are, by nature, internally focused. We understand us more than we understand them." And, as a result, we lose them.

To keep subscribers subscribed, "take steps to understand and stay up-to-date on your audience's needs and interests," she advises. "You can do this by being attentive to the content they are most interested in, by frequenting online discussion groups that your audience engages in, by monitoring relevant social media channels and by conducting research ( focus groups and/or polls and surveys) every once in a while to seek feedback from your audience."

"People [typically] sign up for email newsletters because [they're] relevant to their lives at that moment," says Brammer. "New parents, for example, sign up to learn more about strollers or bottles and pacifiers." However, "if you're still sending the same message two to three years later, the content isn't following the customers' journey," she says. To keep customers interested, "modify the email pitch," so it is relevant to where they are at now.

"If you neither email people with any new or interesting information nor any promotions of any real value, then what are you emailing them?" asks Ken Wisnefski, CEO, WebiMax, an Internet marketing company. "People are busy and they get a lot of email. If you want people to stay subscribed, and open your email, there has to be something in it for them, otherwise you are wasting their time, and they will unsubscribe."

6. You're always trying to sell them something.

"Some people unsubscribe because every email they get from you is an advertisement to buy your products or services," says Gloria Rand, an Internet marketing consultant. "Don't barrage your subscribers with sales emails all the time." Instead, "follow the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your emails should feature helpful tips or strategies related to your industry, [or] free ebooks, templates or registrations for free webinars. The other 20 percent of your emails can be sales-related."

"As business owners we all want to convert potential leads into paying customers," says Brian Bowers, assistant director of operations, 48 Hour Film Project. "But dumping someone into a sales funnel right away is the quickest way to get them to unsubscribe." Indeed, "people are inundated with thousands of virtual sales pitches every day. If your email is just a hard sell to get them to purchase something, it's going to get lost in the shuffle."

The solution: "Provide [helpful information and] original, relevant content in your newsletters," he says. "It not only keeps your emails from looking like a sales pitch, but also establishes you as an expert who has legitimate solutions to help solve their problems. Sure, not everyone will end up buying, but you can bet that when the time comes that they do need your help, you'll be at the top of their list of people to turn to."

7. They feel your content is boring, unoriginal and/or repetitive.

"Creating content is hard. Producing varied and engaging content is even harder," says Tyler Walton, marketing manager, Clutch, a loyalty program provider. "Yet, it's worth the effort to ensure that subscribers don't find your content repetitive and boring. In fact, content marketing research shows that marketers who align content to their audiences' interests at specific stages of the buyer's journey enjoy an average 73 percent higher conversion rates vs. marketers who don't do so," he points out.

Furthermore, "not only should your value-added content be varied, the way you present it should be as well. Use blog posts, articles, infographics, SlideShares, pictures and videos to convey your story in a diverse way," Walton says. And "if you can't come up with interesting content at the frequency you initially promised [or desired], slow down your pace. Your subscribers won't complain [about] less quantity as long as you give them great quality."

"If you're providing information that can be found anywhere, by default you are not providing value," says Pophal. "With so much content freely available to audiences of all kinds, those that are able to provide unique information will gain and maintain an audience."

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