Email Marketing: How to Reduce Opt-out Rates

By Julie Knudson | Posted November 12, 2014

Staying connected with customers is a priority for small business owners who work hard for every email subscriber and social media follower. But opt-outs—those people who unsubscribe from email marketing lists—often look like a sales opportunity walking out the door. Understanding why people remove themselves from your list—and knowing how to reengage with them—can help you maintain a healthy audience for small business marketing and other messages.

Why Do Customers Opt Out of Email Lists?

One of the most common reasons people choose to stop receiving small business marketing messages is the sheer frequency of emails they receive. "If you start sending them every day or every other day, people get annoyed," says DJ Kepler, emarketing manager at marketing firm Moving Targets. Bombarding customers with marketing messages is simply not a good way to maintain an engaged email list.

In addition, people change email addresses frequently these days, often opting out of emails from the old address but failing to sign up with their new one. Given the volume of marketing emails customers likely receive from a variety of sources, they may even forget they signed up in the first place.

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Giving customers what they want is also crucial in keeping them engaged. "People will opt-out of email and unfollow on social media when you don't provide enough value," says Andy Shore, content and social networking manager at email marketing firm Benchmark Email. And that doesn't just mean offering something of monetary value.

"Yes, it could be they're not seeing enough promotions and sales, but it could also be you're not a resource of information or entertainment," says Shore. It's crucial, he stresses, to give your customers what you promised them when they subscribed. If you told them you would help them have an organized home, that's what you need to provide. If they signed up for early notification of upcoming sales, send them that.

Small Business Marketing Strategies: Reduce Opt-out Rates

Value may be the biggest factor in retaining list subscribers and social media followers. Shore says small business owners and managers should look to their reports and data analytics for more insight. "See what type of content gets the most clicks, and which subject lines garner the most opens," he suggests. "Lean in that direction."

Also, don't hesitate to remove small business marketing strategies that aren't paying off. Do short emails get better results than long ones? Ditch the wordy versions and tighten things up. Are the messages you send on Fridays rarely opened? Change the schedule. Do your customers respond well to surveys and polls? Tweak a portion of your content into survey format. "Get rid of what isn't working," Shore says.

Analyzing the data may actually provide you with an opportunity to catch on-the-fence subscribers before they opt out. Kepler's team tracks subscribers who haven't opened emails recently and then reaches out to connect with them. "We'll send them a reengagement email saying, 'Are you still interested in receiving emails from us?'" he explains.

It's a chance to remind subscribers of the deals and other valuable content they receive by being on the list. Not only does this let you keep subscribers interested and involved, it also ensures that your mailing list is as healthy as possible. "You're targeting people who really want to receive emails from you," says Kepler.

Reconnecting with Former Customers

Both the U.S. and Canada have strict laws about not sending emails to people who have opted out, but there may still be options for reconnecting with those individuals. One marketing strategy brick-and-mortar SMBs can consider is giving in-store customers the opportunity to sign up again.

Kepler suggests using postcards for this purpose. "They're email enrollment cards that you can set out in your place of business. They say, 'You may have been an email subscriber at one point. If you want to re-opt, this card gives us permission to email you again,'" Kepler explains.

Catching customers right before they decide to leave is another approach. Clicking the unsubscribe button can lead the customer to one last chance to connect. "If you take them to a preference center, you may be able to catch them on their way out the door," Shore says.

Offering reduced email frequency—perhaps weekly or even monthly—is one popular preference center strategy. Another is to winnow down the type of emails, such as allowing customers to select only those messages that focus on new product offerings or even choosing a plain text option over HTML.

By providing this type of customization option, you may be able to retain customers with specific interests and expectations.

Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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