A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers
by Pam Hillman
Let’s talk about newsletters. Specifically, newsletter subscribers.
And… as usual, at the last minute, I figured out how to find the 0% Open and 0% Click throughs, so this post, as well as my time spent whittling my list down, could have been a LOT shorter. But a hard lesson learned is one well learned. So if you're strapped for time, just scroll to the bottom.
We've all heard the following mantras: “More than anything else, grow your newsletter list”. Or “Your newsletter subscribers are GOLDEN”. “You have control of the email addresses entrusted to you by your fans, not Facebook, Twitter, etc.”
You get the drift. All of that is true and we jump through hoops to be part of promotions and giveaways to grow our mailing list. Nothing wrong with that.
And newsletter services took note. As your subscriber base grows, you’ll have to pay for an account. Nothing wrong with that, either. But what isn’t said most of the time is that it’s just as important (more so!) to manage your subscribers after you get them as it is/was to get them in the first place.
First, there is a ton of information online about what to do and not do with newsletters, how to manage subscribers, and which service providers are best for you. But that’s the problem. There is SO much information that I could never figure out what I needed to know and what I didn’t. So it was easier to just keep building my list. 500 subscribers. 2k. 3k. Wow! How exciting!
A few years ago, I had to go to a paid plan, and it’s been costing me about $500 a year. So this month I finally took the time to really dig into my newsletter service and the fees I've been paying. I’m not sure I’m providing any new information for your toolbox, but it was new to me, so here goes…
I wish someone had told me in simple language how important it is to review my lists on a regular basis, because if I had, without a doubt, I wouldn’t have had to upgrade to a paid service plan during the last 3-4 years. You do the math. 4 years x $500. Gulp.
So, it is a good idea to figure out how your service (Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Constant Contact, etc.) works and manage it effectively… before you get to the stage that you’re forced to pay handsomely for the service.
I have Mailchimp, so most of what I’m going to talk about is specific to that service provider, but (in general), it should apply to whatever service you’re using, depending on how many subscribers and email sends you’re allowed.
And, yes, I could switch from Mailchimp to a different provider, and I may at some point. But the bigger and more urgent problem was that I had a lot of contacts on my list who weren't engaged and were costing me money.
Things I wish I’d paid attention to for the last 10+ years:
- Cleaned Email Addresses
- Archived Email Addresses
While Subscribed, Unsubscribed, and Cleaned sounds self-explanatory, from what I’ve gathered, it is not. Or at least the gazillion posts I waded through made it seem that way. As best as I could tell, Subscribed AND Unsubscribed count toward your billing on Mailchimp with their current plans. Which makes no sense at all. Unsubscribed is unsubscribed, but whatever.
I could be wrong, though, since I was on a “Legacy” plan up until I started this “clean-up” journey. But I don’t think Mailchimp was charging me for the 870 unsubscribed emails on my list. Also, cleaned email addresses are those that pretty much are going into a dark hole, so according to Mailchimp, you shouldn’t be charged for those, but you can’t archive them either. As one article said, they’re just “dead in the water”.
Regardless, since I didn't want to see those 870 unsubscribes on my list, I archived them as Mailchimp was very clear that no matter what plan you were on, you would not be billed for ARCHIVED email addresses.
Now let’s talk about the following…
- Open Rate
- Click Rate
Mailchimp gives each subscriber a Rating of 1-5, and it’s not very accurate, imo. But at least it’s a starting point.
Mailchimp makes it easy to Segment your lists in all sorts of ways, and Ratings is one of them. According to one of those “know everything” articles, if you’re going to archive a group of contacts, the #2 group is the one to archive.
Think of Ratings, Segments, and Tags as a big picture, little picture scenario, or using Segments and Tags to “drill down” on your subscribers. I’m currently using it to whittle down my inactive subscribers, but it’s a good way to BUILD UP your list as well. Hopefully, we'll talk about that in a later blog post in a month or two.
I segmented my lists this way for now:
#1 Rating - According to Mailchimp, these recipients have either unsubscribed and resubscribed, or soft bounced in the past.
#2 Rating - These rarely engage, but all new subscribers start out as #2 rating, so you can't just willy-nilly archive all of the #2 ratings.
#3-#5 Rating - These are supposed to be the most engaged. Later, I will segment these out in order to send targeted campaigns to my most engaged subscribers.
I’m in the process of going through 800 subscribers who have a #2 rating but signed up at least 2 years ago and as far back as 2011. These subscribers rarely engage according to MC. But #2 is weird, because some of these people have a 15-30% open rate, so that’s why I’m manually going through these. Granted, click rate is much more important than open rate, and I’ll talk about that a bit more below.
Where do Tags come in? You can do ANYTHING you want with tags. I had over 700 in my segment of #2 rating of subscribers who’d been with me 2 years or longer, but hadn’t opened anything in a long time, if ever. I needed a way to manage that group in small chunks as I only needed to reduce my subscriber base a couple hundred to downgrade to the free account.
Now, here's where I wasted some time over the last few weeks. At night, while sitting around watching tv with hubby, I’d pull up the #2 rating segment, tag a group of 50 with a temporary tag of SMALL GROUP, then I’d manually check that group to see what their open/click rate was. Sometimes I’d even look at their history a bit. Once I decided to archive them, I added an ARCHIVE tag and removed the SMALL GROUP tag and they would immediately disappear from my “small group of 50” that I was working on. Every few hours or every couple of days, I’d look at the group I’d decided to archive (tagged appropriately as ARCHIVE), choose them all, and actually archive them. Clear as mud, yes? lol
Oh, and while I was at it, I added tags like “Do Not Archive”, “5%+ Click Rate” to those I was keeping. I’m nowhere near done, but I met my goal of whittling down below 2000. From now on, I’ll only archive subscribers that have a 0% Open Rate AND a 0% Click Rate and have been on my list for years.
Here’s an important tip: If your list isn’t out of control like mine was, start learning how to manage it now. On the other hand, if you have THOUSANDS of (as in 20, 30, 80 THOUSAND) subscribers, I can’t help you! But maybe YOU can help the rest of us! Do tell your secrets for such a robust list. lol
- DO learn how your provider works.
- DO learn about segments and tags.
- Don’t just blindly archive based on Mailchimp’s ratings. Many of my 2 star ratings have a 30-40% open rate.
- DO review your list regularly. If you only have a few hundred subscribers, the time to start is now. If you don’t want (or need) to archive anyone yet, at least segment them so that you can manage them better when the time comes.
- Do I WANT to be below 2000 subscribers just so I can have the free plan? No. But if 500-1000 subscribers haven’t opened or clicked anything in 3 or 4 years — if EVER — then there's no need to pay to send them an email that they aren't going to look at. At least for now.
- Are these archived subscribers gone forever? Again… no. As I learn more about how to improve my open and click rates, I can test drive some of these guys. Maybe even unarchive in small groups and alert them to a new release and see how they respond.
Final, Final Takeaway
As I was finishing this up, I went back into my Mailchimp account and searched one last time for 0% open rate and 0% click rate and I found it. Sigh. The thing is, there are many different ways to search for your subscribers and determine if they haven’t been engaged at all, ever. I hated archiving ANY of mine, but it had to be done.
Here's an example of a segment with 3 parameters. It's before 12/31/2018, a 0% Open Rate, and 0% Click Rate, AND has not opened any of the last 50 Campaigns. Contact can match "Any" or "All" of the conditions you assign.