What Have You Done For Me Lately? Why Subscribers Unsubscribe

6 min

Has anyone unsubscribed from your list lately? If no one has, you probably either have a super-tiny list or no list at all. Because every marketer – every single one – loses subscribers. We lose subscribers all the time. No matter how hard you try and how long you work, some people are just going to fall off your list now and then. It’s the facts of life… or at least the facts of email marketing. While it’s a bummer to get any unsubscribes, so long as your unsubscribe rate stays below about half a percent, you’re not doing too bad. Just keep this in mind: If half a percent is a decent unsubscribe rate, and your list has 200 people, every time you send an email at least one of them will unsubscribe. Ouch.

Fortunately, there’s no reason to settle with even a “decent” unsubscribe rate. You worked hard to get those people on your list. You’d like to keep them. We’d like you to keep them, too. So here are the most common reasons people unsubscribe, along with what you can do to counteract each one.

1) Information overload

They get too many emails from you.

In email marketing research studies of why people unsubscribe, “too many emails” usually gets the #1 spot for why people unsubscribe. Sending emails too often is a sure way to drive people off your list.

So how often is too often? Ah… it depends on your list. But there is some general data available. In January of this year MarketingSherpa asked 2,000 U.S. adults about their email frequency preferences. Here’s how those survey respondents answered the question “How often, if ever, would you like to receive promotional emails (e.g., coupons, sales notifications) from companies that you do business with?”


Admittedly, the answers are spread around. But clearly most people want to hear from companies via email roughly once a week or once a month. And actually most email marketing best practice guides recommend mailing at least once a month. Here’s why: Any less and people will forget who you are.

But given that we’re talking about why people unsubscribe, what we’re really concerned about is sending too much email. It’s hard to say exactly how much is too much, but here are some guidelines:

  • Twice a day is too much. Even in the height of holiday marketing, even if you’re a big retailer with good engagement rates. Sending emails twice a day is going to drive up your unsubscribe rate.
  • Once a day is probably too much. Now, there are a lot of exceptions to this. I bet you can rattle off at least five different emails you get every day and love. But it’s hard to pull off. You’ve got to be delivering excellent, useful, high-quality content to mail every day. And if you pitch something for people to buy, do it no more than once or twice a week, and hopefully less.

If you are sending a sales email every day (and you can afford to test this), see what happens if you drop to twice a week or once a week. Even a two-week trial can be interesting. And, conversely, if you’re a retailer mailing only once a week, consider trying twice a week. Your unsubscribe rate may tick up a little, but if you can generate 30% or 40% more sales, maybe that’s worth a few unsubscribes.

In addition to testing frequency, you can also try an “opt-down” prompt, like this:


Or you can send an entire email dedicated to the opt-down, like this:


I’ve seen this kind of dedicated opt-down email from a number of marketing experts recently, including Danny Iny and Chris Brogan. It’s a good way to hold on to some of your subscribers.

They get too many emails in general.

Your subscriber may have opted out simply because they get too many emails. Most of us feel like we get too much email. You only have to look at the huge field of inbox management tools available to see how big the need for managing and  reducing emails is.

While this sounds like a legitimate reason to lose someone, it’s really just a surface cause. If you lose a subscriber because they’re getting too many emails in general, you’re actually losing them because your emails aren’t good enough to make their cut. They probably aren’t unsubscribing from every single email they get – they’re just thinning the herd a bit. And alas, your emails are one of the messages to get thinned.

Opting out from too many emails is basically the long-term version of the morning’s email cull. That’s when your subscriber sits down at their computer, opens their email client and discovers they have, say, 214 emails to weed through. They immediately begin a hasty cull, deleting as many of them as they can. All the unnecessary emails get culled. Hopefully, the emails you send aren’t considered “unnecessary”.

This brings us directly to the next reason why your emails might not be good enough to keep. It’s also the next most common reason people unsubscribe.

2) Your emails aren’t relevant

Emails that aren’t relevant are probably the second most common reason people unsubscribe. This is interesting – it reminds me of the consumer’s definition of spam: Email they don’t want or aren’t interested in. By definition, if your emails aren’t relevant to your audience, they probably aren’t interested in them.

The best way to get around this is to segment your list. You there are a bunch of ways to do that. You can segment based on:

  • interests people select when they sign up
  • which links people have clicked in your emails
  • which online resources (ebooks, on-demand webinars, etc) people have downloaded
  • participation in online events (like a webinar)
  • how often people click on your emails (aka frequency of interaction)
  • geography
  • overlay data (like income level, psychographics, etc)

That’s just a starter list. There are almost endless ways to segment.

Sometimes, they just gotta go

While it is possible to slice and dice your email list so you deliver more relevant information, keep in mind that sometimes people just gotta go. Interests change.

Even if you’re delivering super-relevant information, it’s possible that eventually some of your subscribers will just exhaust their interest in your subject. And that’s okay. Because of the blogging you do, and the content marketing and SEO, and all your list building work, there will always be new people discovering your work.

How to see why people have unsubscribed from your list in your GetResponse account

We’ve covered the common causes for unsubscribes. But what about your list? Why are people unsubscribing from your list? Fortunately, there’s an easy way to find that out. By default, when someone unsubscribes from a GetResponse email list, the system asks them why they’re leaving. So to find out why people are leaving your list, all you have to do is to just find that report.

Here’s how: Go to the “Statistics” tab in your GetResponse account. Choose “Email Analytics” from the drop-down menu, like this:


On the next page, navigate to one of your email campaigns. Click the “Unsubscribed” section of the report and you’ll see how people responded to the exit survey they filled out before unsubscribing. Here’s what that report looks like:


Armed with this information, hopefully you can adjust your email marketing and retain more subscribers. Or, if you’re well below the .5% unsubscribe rate, you can just sit back and admire your awesomeness.

What about you?

Why do you unsubscribe from email lists? Why do you think people unsubscribe from your list? Have you run any tests for unsubscribe rates? We want to know how managing unsubscribes is going for you. Feel free to tell us about it in the comments.

Pam Neely
Pam Neely
Pam Neely has been marketing online for 15 years. She's a serial entrepreneur and an avid email and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award. Her book "50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List" is available on Amazon.com. Pam holds a Master's Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.