Re-Engaging Your Newsletter Subscribers: A Quick Guide

7 minute read

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One of the reasons why email is so valuable for brands is the higher-than-average engagement of the email audience. You can typically count on your email newsletter subscribers to be among your most engaged audience.

That is, until they stop engaging.

It’s an unavoidable reality of email: eventually, some subscribers will stop opening your emails. They become disengaged. Their needs or interests change, or maybe they just decide to turn elsewhere for their content fix.

Fortunately, while subscriber engagement might not be permanent, disengagement doesn’t have to be permanent either. With a fine-tuned newsletter re-engagement strategy in place, you can win your lapsed newsletter subscribers back.

Let’s talk newsletter re-engagement.

Why does email re-engagement matter?

Sending email to people who don’t open it can affect your inbox placement. To inbox providers, low email engagement is an indicator of a low-quality sender, and inbox providers may dock your sender reputation accordingly. This can have a cascading effect throughout your email list if it forces even your engaged subscribers to dig through the spam folder to read your content.

Some emailers may deal with their disengaged subscribers by simply cutting them off, removing them from their email list to avoid future problems. That may bump up your email engagement, but it also leaves you with a smaller email audience. By sending re-engagement emails to your inactive subscribers, you can save your email metrics without sacrificing your email list.

Even better, it tends to take less effort to re-engage an old subscriber than it does to gain a new one. After all, you don’t have to acquire them; you already have them. With a small nudge, you can win back an engaged member of your list without having to win a new one over.

Is there any way to avoid declining engagement in the first place?

While you might not be able to keep readers engaged forever, you can take steps to prevent some new subscribers from going dark early. That can come in handy: Group Nine Media reported to Digiday that their subscribers who lapse earlier in the relationship are often harder to win back.

To prevent subscribers from dropping off as quickly as they joined, keep these things in mind:

  • Set expectations early on. Make sure new subscribers receive a proper welcome email, or perhaps even a welcome series. If they know what they’ll get when they open one of your emails, it’s possible they’ll keep opening your emails longer. At the very least, they won’t forget they subscribed, and you won’t earn an instant unsubscribe when the first newsletter hits their inbox a week later.
  • Send subscribers relevant content. By offering multiple newsletters that correspond with content categories on your site, you can invite new visitors to subscribe to the most relevant newsletter. The more a newsletter aligns with subscriber interests, the more likely that subscriber will stay engaged.
  • Remember the fundamentals. Don’t forget about your email design! Even your most dedicated readers won’t fight with an email that doesn’t render correctly, especially if they’re trying to read your broken email on mobile. If subscribers expect to see a broken template when they open your newsletter, they won’t open for long.

When is the best time to re-engage inactive subscribers?

It might be tempting to just throw all of your inactives into a single list and send, but it’s important that you reach out to inactive subscribers at the right point in their lifecycle. Wait too long, and you might miss your window of opportunity.

You can make sure your inactive subscribers receive your re-engagement emails at the right time by automating your outreach. Use your ESP’s email automation solutions to trigger automated emails to send on a relative timeline, starting after a subscriber has been inactive for a specific period of time.

That being said, what’s the right length of time to wait before nudging your inactives? That’s harder to know.

While every subscriber is different, certain segments of your list may engage similarly. For instance, subscribers you acquire from onsite capture forms may stay initially engaged longer than subscribers who come to your site through social campaigns. With Cohort Analysis, you can view the performance of email subscribers by acquisition source, which may help you determine when certain types of subscribers should be re-engaged.

Okay, so just how should I re-engage lapsed subscribers?

Unless a subscriber opens your first re-engagement email and immediately unsubscribes, you’re not limited to a single attempt at engaging them again. In fact, you should build several re-engagement emails into your email program, giving you multiple chances to win inactives back.

Not every member of your audience will respond to the same tactics, so here are a few things you can try when you create your re-engagement email series:

  • Try reducing the frequency of the email they receive. When you receive a certain newsletter daily, it’s easy to become blind to it. Your email may stand out more to these subscribers if they see it less often. It’s also possible they may just be fatigued—maybe they’d be more comfortable receiving a weekly newsletter. Either way, sending less email to these subscribers reduces their potential to negatively affect your deliverability.
  • Provide incentive for them to re-engage. For retailers, this may be a discount. If you’re a publisher with a paid subscription product, you could try sending a special offer to non-paying newsletter subscribers, or provide temporary access to premium content.
  • “And now for something completely different…” Do you have more than one newsletter available? Send dormant subscribers a different—but not too different—newsletter. Seeing something new may get them to open your email out of curiosity. They might even discover that this new content is more relevant to their interests, which will earn their engagement over and over.
  • Remind them of the value of your content. When subscribers originally signed up for your newsletter, they most likely saw some benefit in doing so. Maybe they just need a little reminder. Use your re-engagement email to show off your best evergreen content, or spotlight some recent articles lapsed subscribers may have missed.
  • Get the higher-ups involved. Publishers have successfully re-engaged subscribers by sending an email “from” the CEO or another important figure. Often, these emails thank lapsed audiences for reading and emphasizes the importance of the content. Publishers with high-quality content may find that such emails remind old subscribers of why they subscribed in the first place. Plus, sometimes just seeing a different name in the inbox may get people to open.
  • When all else fails, just ask. Right before you remove someone from your newsletter list, send an email with an eye-catching subject line indicating that this could be the FINAL email they receive. Then, give them one last opportunity to stick around: ask them to “reactivate” their subscription, otherwise they’ll be removed from your list.

What do I do if subscribers don’t re-engage?

If a series of re-engagement emails doesn’t wake up your sleepy subscribers, it’s best to remove them from your list.  It may hurt to see a subscriber go, but it will hurt even more if unengaged subscribers affect your inbox placement.

Still, removing unengaged subscribers from your newsletter list doesn’t mean you have to see your subscriber count go down. As long as you’ve got a strong list growth strategy, you’ll continue to acquire more than enough new, engaged subscribers to offset the dormant subscribers you’re losing.

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