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How to reduce unsubscribe rates

List churn is a fact of life; even the most thoughtful opt-in process will misfire sometimes, and people’s preferences are always shifting. But when your unsubscribe rate climbs, it can put your entire messaging strategy at risk.

So what is a “good” unsubscribe rate? Under 2% is generally considered ideal. If your rate is higher than that, you’ll want to take immediate action. And even if your unsubscribes are low, preventative measures can help keep it that way. In this guide, we’ll show you how to reduce unsubscribe rates with two effective strategies. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Why unsubscribe rates matter

Unsubscribe rates may seem like simple math: more subscribers equal more opportunities for conversions, and losing audience members means losing clicks. But there are a couple of additional considerations to keep in mind. 

Loss of engagement opportunities 

Each unsubscribe is a missed opportunity to engage at every point in the customer lifecycle. Early on, brands must quickly build trust; losing a contact channel at this stage can make it impossible to cultivate lasting relationships. But even loyal, longtime customers will unsubscribe if taken for granted, reducing their lifetime customer value. When you’re looking at your data, see if you can identify trends in unsubscribe rates based on customer lifecycle milestones.

Impact on domain reputation

Unsubscribes aren’t just about losing access to individual customers. If your unsubscribe rate creeps too high, it can damage your domain reputation, cutting your overall deliverability rates — even to customers who want to get your emails. That’s because email clients consider your unsubscribe rate, along with other factors, when determining your domain reputation. And a poor domain reputation is the most common reason messages end up in the spam folder. When looking at your unsubscribe rates, be sure you’re monitoring your deliverability as well. 

Why people unsubscribe

If you want to reduce unsubscribe rates, start by understanding why your customers are opting out. That insight will help you identify the specific tactics that will get your audience members to stick around.

  • Too much email overall. The number one reason people give for unsubscribing is an overflowing inbox.  While you can’t control how many emails customers are getting in general, you can make sure you’re not piling onto the clutter by choosing your messaging channels wisely. With a multi-channel messaging strategy leveraging email, SMS, push, and in-app messages, you can choose the right channel for each message you send — and reach customers beyond the inbox. Even better, personalize your sends based on each customer’s preferred channel.
  • Sending too many messages too frequently. Another common trigger for unsubscribes is too many messages from your brand specifically. How often is too often? The answer is unique to each audience. Examine your data to pinpoint message volume and cadence (including email, SMS, and push notifications) that coincide with spikes in unsubscribes. Use segmentation and event-triggered campaigns to weed out unnecessary messages for different groups of customers. And consider implementing message limits to avoid flooding people with communications (more on that below).
  • Irrelevant content. With so many messages competing for customers’ attention, unsubscribe rates quickly rise when brands send generic content or messages mismatched with recipients’ interests. Make sure you’re sending content your customers actually want to receive by crafting personalized messages that reflect their interests, behaviors, and preferred channels.
  • Poor optimization for mobile. Nearly half of all emails are opened on mobile, and close to 10% of email unsubscribes happen because the message wasn’t formatted correctly for mobile. Reduce unsubscribes with a responsive approach to email design, with careful attention to limiting message size and using images wisely. It’s also smart to test on multiple mobile devices. 
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Strategy #1 to reduce unsubscribe rates: Build a subscription center

All too often, customers must choose between receiving every email a brand sends or saying goodbye forever. That’s a surefire way to lose subscribers who might have stayed with you if they had options. The solution? Put your customers back in control with an email subscription center (also called an email preference center) that allows them to choose the messages they actually want. Allowing customers to stay engaged on their terms, instead of an all-or-nothing approach, is a great way to reduce unsubscribe rates. The subscription center feature in Journeys makes it easy to let customers choose the topics they want to hear about.

Email subscription center best practices

Giving people meaningful control over message frequency and content should be the goal of your email preference center. Best practices ensure the customer has enough options to feel confident that they’re going to get only the messages that matter to them. 

  • Content. Allow customers to choose which types of content they receive, like promotions, surveys, newsletters, or announcements. Also, drill down into different topics customers might want to opt in or out of. For instance, if you offer more than one product or create content about a few different topics, let customers select which things they want to hear about. 
  • Frequency. Offer a range of options so each individual can choose what fits their needs. Some might be comfortable with daily emails, while others might want one email a week, or even just one per month. Consider the current cadence of your campaigns, as well as your strategy for the future, to determine the frequency options that make sense for your brand to offer.
  • Pause option. Give immediate relief from overcrowded inboxes while staying connected by letting customers pause marketing emails for a certain period of time, such as two weeks or a month. Make sure to notify customers that some messages, like transactional emails, will continue. And when the pause period ends, send a welcome back email to ensure they know to expect your upcoming messages.
  • Channels. Your preferences center doesn’t have to be limited to email. In fact, this is an ideal opportunity to open the door to additional connection channels. Provide customers a chance to opt in or out of SMS and push if relevant. You might also want to invite people to follow you on social media on the confirmation screen after they’ve updated their preferences. 

Email subscription center value-adds

You can also leverage your subscription center to drive better personalization and improve engagement.

  • Set expectations. Tell customers about emails that cannot be stopped, like transactional emails and legally required notices like privacy policy updates, and let them know when to expect regular communications like newsletters.
  • Gather zero-party data. When customers use your subscription center, they’re giving you valuable information, so make it easy to share more. Consider asking about their interests or offering a feedback option.
  • Provide a profile update option. Give people more control and keep your data fresh by allowing them to update their email address and other profile information you collect (like name, address, phone number, time zone, etc.).
  • Confirm their actions in the right place. Don’t confirm requests to reduce (or stop) email with yet another email. Instead, redirect the customer to a confirmation screen that clearly reflects the new preferences they’ve set.
  • Request feedback at the right time. The reason a person unsubscribed or changed preferences is valuable intel — but don’t force them to share it in order to unsubscribe. Instead, add an optional survey to the unsubscribe confirmation screen. 

Email subscription center examples

Your audience, industry, and product or service should drive the content of your preference center. Consider the following email preference center examples for different industries and types of businesses for inspiration.

  • B2B online collaboration platform. B2B customers are likely to have a relatively long customer lifecycle and a lower tolerance for frequent emails. At the same time, value-added content marketing offers a compelling reason to stay subscribed. A subscription center in this case might include options for email frequency, detailed content categories with examples of messages for each, and a survey about future features or services the customer would be interested in.
  • Language-learning app. Language learners may be interested in more frequent emails and reminders to keep them motivated, as long as the content is highly relevant to their individual experience. This subscription center might align the email cadence options with the typical length of a language program, offer to limit promotional emails to specific language courses, and frame the pause option as taking a spring break before returning to their education.
  • Budgeting app. Finances can be complex and emotional, so customers may be extra sensitive to getting the wrong message at the wrong time or feeling hounded with too many emails. An email preference center could include the option to get only messages related to specific budgeting topics and an invitation to provide more profile information (like the customer’s paycheck frequency, savings goals, or retirement plans) so you can personalize content for them.

Strategy #2 to reduce unsubscribe rates: Implement message limits

It’s easy to accidentally bombard people with too many emails when you have multiple segments and campaigns running. Message limits in Journeys are an automated safety valve that shuts off emails before you overwhelm your audience. Let’s explore how to improve email engagement with message limits.

Consider the optimal frequency for your audience

Each audience has a different ideal message frequency; the first step to implementing message limits effectively is to discover your audience’s sweet spot. Here are factors to consider:

  • Your product or service. For instance, customers of a streaming service that releases new content daily are likely interested in frequent updates; more than one message per week could be welcome. Tax-preparation app subscribers, however, would probably be annoyed by weekly emails, at least until filing dates loom.
  • Your marketing goals. If you’re a fashion retailer trying to increase conversions through frequent promotions, the extra clicks you get with more frequent emails might be worth the risk of unsubscribes. But if you’re an enterprise data analytics SaaS company, the same number of emails might damage the long-term trust you’re working to build.
  • Your audience data. Examine your own data to identify potential correlations between message frequency and unsubscribe rates. The insights you glean can give you a starting point for experimenting with different timeframes for your message limits. 

Catalog all the messages a customer might receive

Many brands run multiple campaigns simultaneously, but in doing so, you risk an email deluge that could send even your most loyal customers straight to the unsubscribe button. 

Let’s say you’re sending a biweekly newsletter, a monthly promotion, a one-email nurture campaign on a four-hour delay triggered after someone visits the website, and a three-email abandoned cart campaign on a two-hour delay. Here’s what could happen to an unlucky customer:

  • Monday: They receive your biweekly newsletter and click through to read a blog post. Four hours later, they get the post-visit nurture campaign message.
  • Tuesday: No message.
  • Wednesday: They get your monthly promotional email, click through, add something to their cart, but don’t check out. Two hours later, they get the first email in your abandoned-cart campaign.
  • Thursday: They receive the second email in your abandoned-cart campaign.
  • Friday: They receive the third email in your abandoned-cart campaign.

That’s six emails in five days! This person is likely to feel hounded, even if they were happy to hear from you when the week began. And think about all the other touchpoints the customer might have with your brand; if you’re also retargeting customers with display and social ads, this individual is going to feel even more overwhelmed.

Understanding all the messages your customers could receive can help you optimize your message limits and prevent the pile-up. Let’s replay the same scenario with a message limit of one message per 24 hours in place: 

  • Monday: They receive your biweekly newsletter and click through to read a blog post. The post-visit nurture campaign does not trigger because the message limit is met.
  • Tuesday: No message
  • Wednesday: They get your monthly promotional email, click through, add something to their cart, but don’t check out. The abandoned cart campaign does not trigger because the message limit is met.
  • Thursday: No message
  • Friday: No message 

The message limit creates a much more palatable email volume: two emails in one week instead of six. You can also fine-tune your approach by searching for campaigns with unsent messages and exploring the impact of your message limits across workspaces. 

Use auto-retries when it makes sense

In the example above, the person enters the abandoned cart sequence, but the message is not sent because it would exceed the message limit. While reducing email volume is valuable, you might want to send certain missed messages later, and you can do that using the auto-retry setting

When you activate auto-retries, the platform will attempt to re-send the message for up to 48 hours. Let’s say the abandoned cart campaign has auto-retry enabled. Here’s how it would work:

  • Monday: They receive your biweekly newsletter at 8:00 a.m. and click through to read a blog post. The post-visit nurture campaign is attempted, but does not send because the message limit is met.
  • Tuesday: The post-visit nurture message is sent at 8:00 a.m., because the 24-hour message limit timeframe has expired. 
  • Wednesday: They get your monthly promotional email at 10:00 a.m., click through, add something to their cart, but don’t check out. At 3:00 p.m., the abandoned cart campaign is attempted, but does not send because the 24-hour message limit is met.
  • Thursday: The first email in your abandoned-cart campaign is auto-retried and sent just after 10:00 a.m., when the 24-hour message limit clears.
  • Friday: The second email in your abandoned-cart campaign is sent sometime after 10:00 a.m.

Of course, this might still be too much email (it results in one email per day); auto-retry is simply a tool you can use to fine-tune your strategy to ensure particularly important emails are sent regardless of broader message limits. In this example, if your abandoned cart campaign is a key part of your strategy, you might decide this volume of emails would be effective for customers who are engaged enough to be adding things to their carts.

Use segmentation to personalize message limits

Because you can enable message limits at the campaign level or the message level, you can combine segmentation with message limits to create an ultra-personalized email messaging strategy. 

For example, you might not apply your message limit to campaigns that target brand-new customers within their first week, in order to make sure they receive both onboarding sequences and promotional emails. Or you might add conditional logic to a promotional campaign, sending people who haven’t opened any emails in the last month into a sequence that sends email less frequently. 

Keep unsubscribes in check with Journeys

Healthy lists always include some turnover, but staying connected to your customers requires knowing how to reduce unsubscribe rates. With Journeys, your deep audience expertise is matched by powerful tools and a flexible data model, allowing you to drive greater engagement with a truly personalized customer experience.