Building an email list is nothing new - it's a tactic that savvy internet marketers have been using for well over a decade. But for a lot of bloggers, email marketing is a struggle. So we're starting our Building Your List series to help food bloggers start, grow and leverage the power of their email lists!
In today's article we give you some tips to keep your email list healthy with list maintenance.
If you've been following along in our Build Your List series then hopefully you've been building up a great, engaged list and you're serving up some awesome, unique content to them that they're excited to open.
The trick now is to keep them engaged and this is a tough one. You're going to have to work at it and make your email newsletter a priority because the reality is... you're going to lose people along the way.
Tips For Keeping Your Subscribers Engaged
List retention is important and one of the best ways to do that is to keep your email newsletter subscribers engaged.
- email them consistently - whether that's once a week or once a month. It doesn't matter how often just be consistent and don't leave a long gap between newsletters
- create "newsletter only" content that doesn't go on your blog
- check out 25 Email Newsletter Content Ideas for some ideas to keep things fresh with your readers
- poll them regularly for feedback - it doesn't have to be a massive survey. It could just be one question. Google Forms is an easy, free way to do this
- listen to the feedback (the constructive feedback)
- have a call to action in your newsletters that encourages your readers to interact - it could be a short poll, ask a question - asking things like what are you reading, where are you going for summer vacation, what's your biggest challenge in the kitchen are all ones people like to answer and it gives you some insight into what your readers are into and what kind of new content you can create.
- when you create a new opt-in, send it to your list so they don't have to sign up again
- make them feel like you're talking to them and only them when they open your email (Pick somebody you're writing an imaginary letter to and write like they're the only one reading - it could be your mom, your best friend, your spouse...)
- email target your least engaged segment of readers with a special offer or incentive to re-engage them.
Make Peace With Unsubscribes
People are going to unsubscribe. This is a fact.
Do NOT get your knickers in a knot over this. Don't take it personally and don't let it spin you into a funk.
Life is about change and the truth is the lives of your readers change and sometimes that means they have to let you go and move on. Maybe they're no longer able to cook, maybe circumstances in their life have changed and they don't have time for a lot of external things, maybe they just don't love your content anymore.
You're going to change too and your content is going to evolve the longer you keep writing and blogging. That's normal and healthy. But it means there may be people in your audience who no longer dig what you're putting out there. That's ok. Move on and keep creating content that serves your audience but that also makes you feel fulfilled.
It's also entirely possible that an unsubscriber just signed up for the free thing you were giving away and now they've got it, they're not sticking around. It happens. C'est la vie. Move on.
No matter the reason, handle unsubscribes with grace, remember it's not all about you and... remind yourself that you will no longer be paying to have somebody on your list who doesn't want to be there, won't open your emails and won't engage. In short, they're doing you a favour. Just like the KonMari method of tidying up, thank them for that and move on!
Now, if you've got people unsubscribing in droves, that's another thing entirely - that a sign of an unhealthy list and it means you need to take a step back and take a hard look at what you're doing that might be pushing people away.
Are you selling too aggressively? (like every email?). Do you have an overly aggressive welcome funnel (this is my pet peeve and will make me unsubscribe faster than The Flash). Do they only hear from you when you want something from them? Are you serving them the content they want? If you're not sure what you're doing wrong, it might be time to poll your audience and ask.
You may also notice that some unsubscribes are saying they didn't subscribe in the first place. If you're doing things correctly (double opt-in, appropriate check boxes where they acknowledge what they're signing up for etc) then it's likely they simply forgot they subscribed. That may mean that you're not emailing consistently enough. But it may also mean you need to review your subscribe process and make sure it's working properly.
Doing a Email List Clean Up
While you will get unsubscribes the most likely scenario you're going to have to face with your email list is dormant subscribers.
These are the people on your list who never open an email, never click on a link, never interact in any way. And they're dead weight. Dead weight that's costing you money.
There's lots of reasons why they never open your emails - the most likely is your emails go into their spam folders to never be seen again. It's also possible they may mean to open your emails but never get around to it, or they simply ignore them.
Whatever the reason, you're not doing yourself a favour by keeping them on your list. You pay for each subscriber on your list and subscribers who don't open your emails not only cost you money, they affect your average open rate. That's an important number, especially if you're monetizing your newsletter.
Stop Worrying About Vanity Metrics
Vanity metrics are numbers that sound impressive but, in reality, don't mean anything. The total number of subscribers on your list is a vanity metric. It means nothing.
What means something is how many people on your list are opening your emails. Stop worrying about the former and start worrying about the latter.
Now not everyone is going to open every email. That's ok. What you're looking for is the average. An average open rate of above 20% is good. And open rate over 30% is great. An open rate over 40% is freaking awesome.
What we're trying to say here is don't allow a vanity metric to stop you from cleaning up your list and removing dormant subscribers just because you don't want your list size to shrink. A smaller, healthy list always trumps a giant unhealthy list.
Get Familiar With Your List Provider's Filtering and Reporting Tools
Most of the email marketing companies we've suggested for food bloggers have some pretty great filtering and reporting tools you can use to help you maintain a healthy list. And most of them, especially Mailchimp, which we know most of you use, also have great documentation and tutorials to help you learn how to use these tools.
Your newsletter provider collects all kinds of data on how your subscribers interact with your newsletters. Make use of that data!
Determine Who's Not Opening Your Emails
Your list provider should have tools that allow you to filter your list based on who's opening your emails. You can set it up to tell you which subscribers haven't opened any of your last 5 emails, last 10, etc - whatever you decide you'd like to see.
Once you're run those filters you can turn them into list segments which allows you to email these smaller groups of your list without emailing your entire list. It also makes it easier for your to run these filters regularly - all you have to do is name and save the segment and then refresh the segment regularly - this is great for creating a monthly maintenance plan.
Mailchimp completely revamped their "list" dashboard today and now calls them "audiences" - they're providing at a glance segments for your most engaged subscribers and you're least engaged and giving you quick and easy tools to email them directly! Once you've got your segments set up there's a few steps you can take to keep your list healthy
1. Try Re-engaging Dormant Subscribers With a Targeted Email
Send this inactive segment of readers an email with a strong subject line designed to get their attention. It could be something as bold as "Do you still want to hear from us?" or something subtler like "We'd love some feedback".
You want to encourage them to open the email. Ask them if they still want to hear from you and what they'd love to know more about. You can, if you're feeling brave, even ask them to unsubscribe if you're no longer they're jam. Let them know that if you're in their spam folder they're missing out - ask them to mark your emails as safe if they want to keep seeing them etc. With a little luck you'll get some activity and you may even get some constructive feedback that can help you keep them re-engaged.
2. Unsubscribe the Non-Responders
If you don't get any activity from your re-engage email it's time to cut ties. Give people 2-3 weeks after you send the email out (people go on vacation, they don't check their spam folders regularly etc) and then rerun your Inactive Subscriber segment again. This time, you want to "unsubscribe" all the subscribers. We don't recommend deleting them entirely unless your provider charges you for unsubscribed names on your list (most don't).
Your list size will shrink but your open rates should increase and that's what you want - a healthy, engaged list, regardless of size. We run an unsubscribe routine one a month on our public newsletter list and it keeps our list healthy with an open rate that often hits 40+%.
Keeping your list healthy and engaged is a lot of work - just like any other aspect of building a community. But it has the potential to be one of your most highly valued assets so keep on top of providing great value to your readers and don't be afraid to exercise some tough love to keep things in tip top shape!
- 6 Ways To Monetize your Email Newsletter
- Why Food Bloggers Need An Email List
- How To Get Started Building Your Email List