Reduce Email List Churn with Personalization

December 30, 2020
Email Marketing

List churn isn't all bad, but it isn't all inevitable either. Learn how to use personalization to reduce unsubscribes and keep your readers engaged.

The average unsubscribe rate for media & publishing senders is 0.12%. So, for a list of 10,000 subscribers, that’s about 12 unsubscribes per send. Not bad, right?

But those sends (and unsubscribes) add up, especially in media.

Because publisher business models often rely on ad impressions, many publishers drive site traffic by sending multiple daily newsletters. Send three newsletters each weekday, and that’s about 180 unsubscribes per week.

While you can replace these lost subscribers with effective email capture, it’s just as important to consider how you can keep more of these subscribers around.

Of course, there’s no way to completely eliminate list churn. It’s a natural, even beneficial, part of the email lifecycle. After all, blasting disengaged subscribers with email can hurt your email engagement and deliverability.

But there are strategies you can use to help keep subscribers engaged and reduce list churn. We’ll go over that in this post, but first, let’s talk about why subscribers churn.


Why do people unsubscribe?

Dig around a bit, and you’ll find plenty of studies about the reasons people unsubscribe from email:

  • Of 1,400 people surveyed by Constant Contact, 69% of unsubscribers reported receiving too much email from businesses, 59% said the content was no longer relevant, and 51% unsubscribed because they didn’t receive the content they were expecting.
  • When HubSpot asked consumers for the most common reason they unsubscribe, 51% said they receive too much email, and 26% reported low-value content.
  • MarketingSherpa surveyed 2,400 consumers, and their top two reasons for unsubscribing were receiving too much email and receiving content that’s not relevant to them.

In each survey, the methodology is different, but the themes are the same. The most common causes of unsubscribes are email frequency and irrelevant content.

  • Email frequency. When people join your email list, do you ask them how often they want to receive email? Or do you set frequency expectations in your signup CTA? If not, this may cause subscribers to get more emails than they’d like, leading to unsubscribes. 
  • Irrelevant content. This occurs when there’s a mismatch between the content subscribers want and the content they receive. Among other reasons, this can happen if the readers’ interests change or if you don’t properly set expectations at signup.

One way to combat these causes is with email personalization.


Email Personalization: What It Is, and What It Isn’t

Put simply, email personalization is tailoring your email content to individual subscribers. Marketers can personalize their emails using subscriber data, such as:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Company
  • Interests
  • User behavior

Many ESPs and other marketing automation tools offer advanced personalization capabilities, but personalization isn’t just the realm of complex AI-powered platforms. Personalization is possible with simple subscriber data, and you can collect this with your lead generation tool.


Offer More Relevant Content with Personalization

Experian’s Email Benchmark Study reported that personalized promotional emails earned 29% higher unique open rates, 41% more unique click-throughs, and 6x higher transaction rates.

Personalization makes the email experience more meaningful, making subscribers more likely to engage. Here’s an example.

Say you run a sports news website that covers football, basketball, and cycling. At a high level, your target audience are sports fans. More specifically, you have at least 3 types of sports fans in your list: football fans, basketball fans, and cycling fans. Basketball news may not interest cycling fans, nor will some football fans care about basketball. 

Specific stories are written for specific audiences. And for publishers, a key part of email personalization is about identifying those audience groups, and providing the content they care about. When subscribers know they can count on your email to show them relevant stories, they’re less likely to unsubscribe.


3 Ways Publishers Can Personalize Email

While email personalization in other verticals often includes things like demographic data or adding a first name to the subject line, publisher personalization is about adapting your email to your audience’s content tastes. Here are three ways you can combat list churn by delivering the kind of email your audience wants.

1) Personalize based on email frequency preferences.

Some people prefer to get their news from email newsletters, while others tend to consume news in other ways and prefer to receive far less email.

When receiving too much email is responsible for so much list churn, it’s definitely worth it to personalize your email based on how much of it your subscribers want.

There are a few ways do this:

  • Ask subscribers how often they want to receive email when they sign up.
  • Provide an easy way for subscribers to adjust their email frequency settings.
  • Automatically “opt down” subscribers who don’t open your newsletters into less frequent email.

You can kick off the email relationship with the right sending frequency by allowing new subscribers to choose their frequency on your email signup form.

Once signed up, make sure you allow subscribers to adjust how much email they receive in your email preference center. By providing the option for subscribers to choose their own sending frequency, a well-designed preference center may prevent unsubscribes from people who try to opt out because they receive too much email. 

These two options allow subscribers to “self-personalize” their email, but you can also personalize sending frequency based on how often subscribers engage with your email. If some subscribers only engage with your daily emails a few times per month, you can proactively opt them down into weekly newsletters.

2) Personalize email based on declared content interests.

Let’s talk about your newsletter signup form again. In addition to capturing frequency preferences at signup, you can also capture content interests and segment your new subscribers accordingly.

Multi-step pop-ups allow you to collect the email signup on the first page, then invite new subscribers to set their email preferences on the next page. That way, you ensure that the additional fields don’t deter visitors from signing up. 

Personalization can also help you increase signup conversion rates. Going back to the sports news website example from earlier, let’s say a site visitor reads an article about basketball.

You can infer that this visitor is interested in basketball content, so showing them a pop-up asking them to sign up for cycling news might not be on-point. A generic pop-up promoting sports content may perform better, but the best way to convert this visitor is to show a pop-up promoting the content they like: basketball.

Using dynamic content, you can pull in the category of the current page and personalize your email signup form to promote the specific content the visitor is currently viewing.

From here, you can use email list segmentation to deliver content specific to basketball fans, or if you have separate newsletters for each sport, you can opt them into your dedicated basketball newsletter.

3) Personalize your email based on content engagement.

If subscribers engage with website content that they’re not currently subscribed to, you can opt them into additional newsletters proactively.

For example, if a basketball subscriber repeatedly reads football articles too, try sending them your next football newsletter as well. If you do this, make sure you include a clear opt-out link, perhaps at the top of your email, so subscribers can decline your offer if they don’t want additional email.

Many publishers use customer data platforms to centralize their data for personalization initiatives like this. Don’t have a CDP? You can tap into the power of Google Analytics segments to identify segments of your audience who are interested in certain types of content and target them with personalized emails or onsite messaging.

Whether your audience consists of sports fanatics, music nerds, or news junkies, they expect personalized content. If you can deliver it, they might be more likely to stick around.

To learn how Digioh can help you grow your list and capture first-party data for personalization, check out our solutions for publishers.


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