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It’s Not Me, It’s You: 4 Reasons People Unsubscribe From Your Email List

Erin Myers
August 7, 2017
Paddling away on a boat

There’s a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with crafting a great email. Unfortunately, even the most powerful email marketing campaign will be meaningless if no one reads it.

If your email open rates are down, there’s probably a reason. Spam filters are the age-old enemy of the email marketer, but they’re not your only concern. These are the top four reasons customers unsubscribe from your email list.

Delete, filter or unsubscribe: What happens to your email?

Remember that CAN-SPAM compliance does not equal spam protection or guaranteed opens. A completely deliverable email could still end up in a recipient’s Trash or Spam folder without ever being read.

What’s the problem? A few things. One reason is that a lot of users use automated filters to weed out emails with certain keyboards or attributes. For example, a user could filter emails from a specific sender or any email that contains a certain keyword or phrase in its subject line. Gmail and Microsoft Outlook map out this process clearly, as will most email servers.

Next is the dreaded unsubscribe, where a customer is so fed up with your emails that he or she sends a direct request to be removed from your mailing list. Although disappointing, you do have the ability to track and react to unsubscribe requests.

So what’s causing your contacts to lose interest? Here are four common email marketing mistakes that can cause unsubscribe rates to soar:

1. Your content isn’t cutting it.

People opt into email lists for a variety of reasons. Some are hoping for occasional discount offers, while others like to be kept in the loop on industry news and events. Or maybe you offer some great how-to articles or video tutorials.

There are lots of different reasons, but if there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that we expect to receive relevant and interesting content. Of course, some factors are outside of your control. Some unsubscribe requests may come from people whose circumstances or preferences have changed, which explains why 65 percent of consumers have unsubscribed from a brand they were no longer interested in. But before you chalk it up to different strokes for different folks, it’s important to take a hard look at your content.

Is your content fresh and exciting or boring and repetitive? If your topics and content seem on-point, look a little closer. Your content may be too long for readers who prefer to skim. You only have about 8 seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so make your content is clear, concise and easy to scan. Bullets and headings are often helpful for these purposes.

Next, is your content targeted and personalized? Personalization has been shown to increase unique open rates by 29 percent and unique click rates by 41 percent. Check out some of these strategies to learn more.

2. You’re sending too many emails.

We’ve all been a victim of an over-the-top email marketing strategy. We’re talking multiple emails per week (or even per day) that are unnecessary, unhelpful and repetitive. Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of consumers have unsubscribed from a brand’s promotional mailing list because its emails were excessive or irrelevant.

How often should you send emails? Depending on the size of your contact list, it can be helpful to segment customers into different mailing groups. That way, if a customer specifically requests monthly newsletters, he or she won’t be lumped into the group receiving weekly updates. This can also help drive engagement, as open rates are 14.3 percent higher for segmented campaigns (versus non-segmented campaigns). The last thing you want to do is make loyal customers feel like you’re spamming them with junk mail, so break down your opt-in options accordingly.

As a general baseline, we find that sending one to four emails per month is usually enough to keep customers top of mind without wearing out our welcome.

3. You’re not optimizing your emails for mobile.

Mobile optimization is no longer a neat option; it’s a necessity. 54 percent of emails in 2016 were opened on a mobile device, a number that is practically guaranteed to increase by the end of 2017.

But here’s the real danger: Recipients don’t respond well to emails that don’t show up on their smartphones. 51 percent of consumers have unsubscribed from a mailing list altogether, and 43% have marked the email as spam. Yikes.

There’s no way around it: When it comes to email marketing, always make it mobile.

4. You’re not paying attention to your audience.

Do you know how effective your marketing campaigns are? Metrics like open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribe requests and spam reports are essential for every email marketer to track, as they provide a high-level view of campaign performance.

A spike in unsubscribe requests is a great indication to reexamine your marketing strategy.

Did this change happen after you added a new group of contacts? Maybe the content you’re sending doesn’t reflect your initial opt-in offer.

  • Did this change happen after you added a new group of contacts? Maybe the content you’re sending doesn’t reflect your initial opt-in offer.
  • Do opt-outs coincide with certain topics? Maybe you’re wandering too far off-topic, or focusing on themes your customers aren’t interested in.
  • Have you recently increased the frequency of your emails? This can easily lead to a backlash if recipients feel overwhelmed by the amount of emails you send.

No matter the reason, each unsubscribe request is an opportunity to learn more about your audience. Give your readers the opportunity to tell you why they’re opting out, and take their feedback to heart. What doesn’t kill your marketing strategy makes it stronger!


An email campaign takes too much time and effort for it to go to waste — whether it gets deleted or filtered from an inbox, or leads to an unsubscribe request. When in doubt, remember our four key tips:

  • Provide valuable content
  • Don’t send too many emails
  • Optimize your emails for mobile
  • Pay attention to your audience

These are just a few techniques for reducing unsubscribe rates. What are you doing to improve the success of your email marketing campaigns?


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Updated 08/07/17; Originally published 01/06/17

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