Are your subscribers as active as they could be? Read on as we show you how to identify who’s still paying attention, use re-engagement techniques for those who aren’t, and improve the relationship you have with the people on your lists.

All email marketers have inactive subscribers who haunt lists and well, cost money with seemingly little return. But unlike “Bounced” emails – where the message is clear that the email addresses are not valid – having a subscriber with no opens recorded can mean so many things. Regardless of the reasons for staying quiet, having too many subscribers not engaging with your campaigns, that is, opening, clicking and more – can be costly, and affect your deliverability over time.

Conversely, engaged lists mean better inbox placement and return on your email spend (ROI). Let’s walk through how to measure engagement, how engagement affects deliverability and ROI, and how to create a re-engagement campaign.

How engaged are your subscriber lists?

Good email marketing is about sending high quality content to a list of people who have chosen to receive content from you. ‘Engagement’ is its measure. Most frequently, it’s represented by the ratio of opens and clicks over a period of time.

We took a look at 18,000 active subscriber lists (being those that were used to send a campaign in 2013) and categorized them with a couple of novel names, to help you identify different levels of engagement in your own lists. Note that subscribers who had not been sent a campaign yet were not included:

Category Open and/or Click frequency % in average subscriber list
Very Active 2+ times in the past 90 days 3.28%
Active At least once in the past 30 days 21.24%
Engaged At least once in the past 90 days 11.74%
Unengaged None in the last 90 – 180 Days 9.77%
Dormant None in the last 180+ days 3.81%
Zombies None in the last 12+ months / Never 40.16%

It’s pretty shocking to see that on average, 40% of subscribers can be classed as “Zombies”, that is, they’re perpetually unengaged – likely because they’ve abandoned their email address, left a job or filter their mail overzealously. While this is concerning, it also means that there’s a lot of room to improve your engagement rates – and your return on email spend (ROI) and delivery rates in the process.

Getting more value from your campaigns

The link between having list engagement and ROI is fairly straightforward. An engaged list loves the content you’re sending and as a result, opens, clicks and consequent visits to your site. So, what if you measured your list and have found it to be teeming with Zombies? It’s time to actively re-engage subscribers.

Using this 5-step re-engagement plan, you can get back into your subscribers’ good books. It may seem like a little work, but as we’ll be outlining in a not too distant blog post, the results can be totally worth it – with less money being spent on inactive subscribers, higher engagement and better deliverability.

Our 5 step re-engagement plan

Step 1 Go Zombie hunting
Identify any subscribers who haven’t opened one of your campaigns in 12 months (assuming you’ve sent a few in this time) – you can segment them using custom fields.

Step 2 Send a reconfirmation campaign
Put your best foot forward and send a “we want to make sure you still want to hear from us” -style reconfirmation campaign to these subscribers. For example, you can send a special promo, a thank you note, or actively ask for their feedback. Keep in mind this should be a pull-out-all-the-stops, best content, best offer kind of email, because this is the last chance you have to impress.

Step 3 Pat yourself on the back
Following the re-engagement campaign, it’s time to turn to your reports. If a couple of subscribers have engaged with the email, well done – we’ll hopefully see activity from them in the future.

Step 4 Say goodbye
If your Zombie subscribers don’t open or click on the re-engagement campaign, it’s time to say goodbye. It may seem like you are getting rid of potential customers or “hard earned signups”, but the reality is that they are likely doing more harm than good by hanging around.

While one benefit to cleaning up this group is that you are saving money by not sending to people who aren’t interested, the main upside is that you are removing the deadweight from affecting the performance of the rest of your list. The engagement level of your list as a whole will improve which should result in better inbox placement. That means your emails have a better chance of being seen by those who are interested in what you’ve got to say, which you should see reflected in your open and click through rates.

Step 5 Revisit your content
As they say, prevention is better than the cure – so it’s time to up your game and give subscribers less reason to go quiet in the first place. In particular, the first 90 days following a sign up are critical, so it’s very important to focus on whether you’re communicating effectively with new subscribers in this courting period. Are you inviting them in, showing them around, making them feel comfortable and being a good host? Using autoresponders to send a welcome series of emails, or post-purchase follow-ups can automate this process, as well as be very effective.

Overall, there is absolutely no substitute for solid content. If you are sharing must-read news and articles or hey, the cutest puppies, your subscribers will want to open your emails.


Now, we’d love to hear from you – have you sent a re-engagement campaign? What has worked well for you? Share your story with us in the comments below.

  • Simon

    Is this report available in our accounts on a per-List basis? It’d be a really useful report to have.

    How would I go about “Identify any subscribers who haven’t opened one of your campaigns in 12 months” – it mentions segments, but I can only see creating segments that are “Campaign specific”, so to cover 12 months (or even 6 months) it’d mean manually listing each of the campaigns during that period – we send maybe 3 to 5 emails per week to most people on our lists, so that’d be a lot of campaigns to add via the “AND” rule just to get to the result of how many people hadn’t opened any of those campaigns, and would be a constantly evolving process as it’d be a different set of campaign names in x months time (or even just a few week’s time). Even if we only sent 1 email a week that’d be 52 “AND… Specific Campaign… Was not opened… and picking it from the drop down list” – is there any more efficient way to do that in the segment builder? Not sure if the rule would be “AND” or “OR” either – does the AND mean all conditions had to match, so if someone wasn’t in a campaign (which means they had no way to open it anyway as they weren’t segmented to get it) they’d not qualify for the rule, and if it was set to OR then it may match some but not all? Being able to select “Campaigns … sent before /after /within the past and then the Opened/not opened/clicked/not clicked” seems like it’d be more flexible here for finding and re-engaging with these subscribers.

    Does a “was not opened” in the segment rules automatically include people who didn’t click, and not any that did click (on the basis that if they clicked they must have opened?) as I’m wondering how it’d work for people with images switched off. Also what about users on gmail who will automatically have the images pulled in to their email no matter if they open it or not, or are they not affected in that way on the open/viewed information?

    Is there any way to append data (using a custom field) to these users based on a segment? I know we can create segments based on rules that we set (and have quite a few of them set up), but not sure how we can get that list of users and then add a custom field just to those users or update one that already exists?

  • http://www.campaignmonitor.com/our-story/meet-the-team/#rosh Ros Hodgekiss

    Hi there Simon, all awesome questions here – I’m very happy to help out with these. :)

    First of all, we don’t have a way of segmenting people by engagement over a set time period just yet – however, you can do so by whether they’ve opened or clicked on specific campaigns (as you’ve noticed). For someone that sends on a very regular basis, you can likely use a much smaller time window as your criteria – for example, if a subscriber hasn’t responded to the last dozen or so emails, then they’re likely dormant.

    To clarify, the “was not opened” criteria in our app applies to subscribers who have neither opened the email, nor clicked. Subscribers with images turned off by default will have an open recorded if they click on the email or turn on images, otherwise, no. This is a valid caveat to this technique – although you’d hope that someone would click on, or view your email as intended at least once over a 12 month period / many campaigns!

    With images now loading by default in Gmail, subscribers using this email client should have at least the first open per campaign recorded accurately. We can thank Google for that :)

    To update the custom fields of subscribers in a given segment, you can export subscribers within a segment, update the custom field values in the CSV file, then re-import into the list. Existing custom field values in the app will thus be updated.

    That all said, we may see this process streamlined in the future (especially when it comes to segmenting by engagement over time), so I’ve taken note of your feedback and will be in touch if it’s something we work on at a later date. In the interim, feel free to contact our team, as we’re more than happy to take a look at your lists and help out with any engagement issues you may have. Thanks again for jumping in!

  • Jay

    Thanks for the useful article Ros.

    Can you explain this statement a bit more: ‘The engagement level of your list as a whole will improve which should result in better inbox placement. ‘

    How does this work? Do email providers have access to our open rates, and if we have higher open rates they are more likely to deliver our emails?

  • http://www.campaignmonitor.com/ Mathew Patterson

    Hey Jay,

    Email services like Gmail and Outlook don’t have access to your overall open rate, but they can certainly tell who opens the emails that are sent to their own service.

    So Gmail knows how many emails from your campaign went to their own users, and how many opened those emails and clicked links. They then use that information to decide whether your subscribers are interested in the emails, and ultimately whether to put your email into the inbox or the junk folder.

    So it’s certainly worth spending time one!

  • http://www.ebizroi.com/ Rick Noel

    Excellent tips Ros. I know it can feel like cutting off your arm to remove zombies from a list given the cost and effort to acquire new subscribers, but you make a strong case for why it is important from an ROI perspective. I look forward to your upcoming post describing how it can be totally worth it :)

  • http://mailboxvalidator.com MailboxValidator

    Another useful tool would be an email validation service like MailboxValidator.com which can filter stale emails from your email list. This can help lower your bounce rate from emails that are no longer around.

    Try http://mailboxvalidator.com and see for yourself.

  • Liam

    Has there been any update on being able to segment by time periods rather than a set date? Currently using a similar setup and having to move the date range each week manually – would be great if this could be automated with a “in the last 6 months” type option?!

  • http://www.campaignmonitor.com/our-story/meet-the-team/#rosh Ros Hodgekiss

    Hi Liam, it’s certainly something we’re considering as yes, having segments dynamically update by date would be fantastic for reengagement. Thank you so much for writing in – we’ll keep you posted on this one!

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