Why We Cut Our Email List by 60%
WP eCommerce Show

00:00 / 14:43

In today’s podcast I am sharing with you our recent experience with cutting down our email list. We all know how critical it is to build up your lists, but how about doing a clean sweep of them? This recent adventure was inspired by a session that Paul Jarvis did on our Lift Off Summit. Listen to learn why and how we chopped our site by over half.

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Bob Dunn: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the WP eCommerce Show. Bob Dunn here, also known as BobWP on the web. On today’s show I am flying solo instead of the having a guest, and there’s a good reason for this. I had thought of doing a post instead but the fact that building your email list is so critical to eCommerce sites, I thought I would share my story with you today. The fact that I have recently eliminated half of my email list may raise some eyebrows. But here’s what happened.

I was editing some videos for our recent Lift Off Summit and listened to the first few minutes of the email marketing presentation by Paul Jarvis. And his simple insights at the beginning piqued my interest. He essentially said that he is more than happy to remove people from his lis—for a few reasons which I will get into in a bit. He also threw out the term vanity numbers. What he meant by this was that some people, whether it’s to impress or feel good about themselves, boast on their sites about the number they have on their mailing lists. 

For example, on a couple sign-up areas of blogs in the WordPress space I saw this recently.

Join more than 7,500 readers.

Join 30,000 happy subscribers.

Now there are sites where this number is even larger. But I got to thinking. 7,500 readers? Are they all really readers? What about 30,000 subscribers? Fair enough, they are probably subscribers. To explain where I’m heading with this, let me give you a bit of history on our site.

Over the last 2-3 years we have done some transitions. Adding podcasts, changing the focus of our site to to be more around eCommerce. Moving away from the WordPress basics. Sure, we have a ton of content in our archives that still drives a lot of beginners to our site, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Because of our changes, and the change in content, our audience has also changed. And since the change, I have seen subscribers staying pretty even with subscribes and unsubscribes.

Before you start, decide the purpose of your email list.

But here’s the deal about our email list. In the past, I cultivated different sub-sets of audiences through a variety of strategies. We have sent out a newsletter with content only available through the email. Other times, people received an ebook for subscribing. Now, of course, people subscribe specifically to get updates to the blog. So, as you can guess, it’s not a high priority in the sense of building a huge list as we are not upselling or trying to drive people through a sales funnel. It’s simply an update on the blog.

Now if and when we change this at some point, that is an entirely different conversation. But let’s talk about those numbers and how I went about removing half of our subscribers. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, Paul Jarvis had some good insights into his strategy. In a nutshell, it was about getting rid of the dead wood in his list. And since our list was generated over some serious time, and a lot of stuff had changed since then, it was time to take a closer look at our list and start hacking away. 

What was curious to me about this process was, before I looked at the numbers, I assumed that people would just unsubscribe if they were no longer interested or if my content no longer met their needs.  Makes sense, right? So many people moan and groan about the amounts of emails they get and periodically they check their subscriber accounts to get rid of the newsletters they no longer want to receive.

Well, guess what? That wasn’t the case. I guess there could be unknowns in there that I am not aware of, but a lot of people were just letting it ride. just let it ride. As I gave our list a first once-over, I was amazed at the number of opens from people had been on our list for years. Some still were interested, others not so much.

How valuable is a ‘vanity email list’?

Going back to Paul’s words of wisdom, he said that he does not want to spend money on people who are not reading his emails. And that’s really what got me thinking. Most of us pay a fee to our vendor for our lists. And that fee is based on subscribers and the number of emails going out. So if you are sending out a bunch of emails to people who have no interest and are not opening them, well, that’s wasted money. And, naturally, most of us don’t want to waste that money. But I could be wrong. For some, it might be worth it to show off that large number of subscribers, where in reality, a good chunk of them don’t give a crap about what you are sending them.

They are spending money to maintain their vanity numbers. 

Back to the business of slashing those numbers. I knew I had to have two things. One was the criteria for who stays and who goes. Second, I needed a way to filter those people. Well, the latter ended up not being so easy. I use MailChimp. And they do have some filters that let you, for example, show who hasn’t opened any of the last 5 emails. That didn’t help a lot. Anything more than that is filtered by them viewing it all.

For example, you can filter who hasn’t viewed all of the last 10, 20 or 50 emails. But that means they have had to view them all, which to me is not a good filter to go by. So in the end, their filters sucked. What I would have really liked was a filter for choosing the percentage of opens, but as confirmed by their support desk, that is not a feature. 

Now I could have upgraded to Pro Marketer for an extra $199 a month to get more filters (not the open filter though), but that wasn’t an option. So needless to say, without going into details, my journey has not been an easy one.

Set clear criteria.

So what were my criteria for deciding to bump a subscriber off my list?

Let’s first talk just a short bit about industry open standards. According to MailChimp, they range from about 10% to 26%. I am guessing my standard is suppose to be about 13%. And I will admit that our average open rate over the last three months (25%) has not been too shabby. But yet, it could be better for sure.

The first one was 0% opens. Now you have to understand that my list was moved over to MailChimp last October. So any 0% opens that were shown by subscribers was only since then. But damn, there was a surprisingly large number of them. People that just did not give a crap about what I was sending them.

So, buh-bye.

Secondly, if they were about 5-6%, or below, I pretty much dumped them automatically as well. 

If they were between that and 15% I looked at the last open. If it had been over 2 months, I removed them.

If they were between 15% and 30%, but their last open was 4 months or more ago, I deleted them.

Anything above that I kept. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see some open numbers of 90% and up. 

The results were that I cut down our list by over 60%. Now I feel that we have a list of readers who are truly interested in our content. And I can only guess that our open rates will now increase dramatically over the current 25%. I’m not going to get into the numbers of subscribers before and after, but to be honest, I am not concerned about any of those numbers. 

In fact, going forward, until something changes where that email list is a more critical piece of our strategy, it’s likely going to continue at the pace we have been at in growth. Our energies and focus, since we are not selling services or products, but primarily concerned with traffic, will be our continued focus on search and social, which is where we get most of our visitors.

Bottom line: Do what is right for your particular situation.

As far as what you do with your own list, well, that is up to you. Maybe it’s time for some cleaning up. Or perhaps you are more concerned with keeping those numbers high even if a good amount of subscribers are not opening your emails. You may be happy with the status quo. Or, on the flip side, you could be on top of that already and your many subscribers are waiting breathlessly for your next email to drop in their inbox. If so, I say, good for you.

All I know is that I am going to pay more attention to who is getting my emails and my own budget when it comes to sending them out. I’m not a grinch with our money, but heck, I choose to spend it wisely when it comes to our business.

And with that, I will leave you with your own decisions on strategy. I am not, in any way, shape or form, saying that building your email list is not important or that you should hack away at your existing one without a plan. Yes, if done right, it’s a huge and critical piece.

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