April 29th, 2019

Churn Prediction in Email Marketing: Keeping the Subscribers Satisfied

Author: Laura Lynch
Laura Lynch
Director of Marketing

How do you know when subscribers are about to unsubscribe?

In email marketing, nothing quite matches the satisfaction of seeing your subscriber numbers rise. However, winning new subscribers to your marketing list is only half the battle. For as many email lists we’ve all signed up for, most of us have spent the same amount of time unsubscribing from mailings that have failed to deliver valuable content.

Because of this, many marketing companies are now looking for ways to better predict the unsubscribes—or churn rate—of their email newsletters. In fact, Google is beginning to expedite this process by suggesting users unsubscribe from emails if they’re experiencing low engagement. So, if you want to retain your hard-won subscribers, here are a few metrics to keep an eye on as well as some strategies to improve your churn rate.

1. Open rate.

Are your emails being opened and read? This is the first question every good email marketer knows to ask. Your number of subscribers doesn’t mean anything if no one’s opening and reading your emails. Furthermore, subscribers who aren’t opening your mailings are fast approaching their subscription tolerance. If you find your open rates are consistently at rock bottom, you may want to look more carefully at the tactics you’re using to grow subscriptions in the first place.

2. Click-through rate.

If someone opening your emails, that’s a strong indication they’re still interested in your content. However, if no one ever clicks though to your website, that should raise some red flags. Fortunately, you have more influence over your click-throughs than your open rate. You only have a subject line to convince a subscriber to open, but you have an entire email to convince that person to read on and click your CTA. That brings us to the next point…

3. Email analytics.

Depending on the tool you use to send emails, you may have quite a bit of access into how subscribers are viewing and engaging with that email. For instance, you can see not only if they’ve opened it, but how far the scrolled down the page to read it, which CTAs they clicked on, and whether they opened it more than once. These insights can help you adjust your emails for the future to more effectively target your audience.

How do you retain subscribers who are about to churn?

Learning to spot churn indicators in your email list is one thing, but how can you better target potential unsubscribers to prevent them from leaving? There are some software options out there to offer finely-tuned tools, but even if you’re just starting, here’s a few strategies to help you retain subscribers.

1. Remind them why you’re worth their time.

People subscribe to mailing lists for any number of reasons. Unfortunately, they all-too-quickly forget those reasons, causing them to churn before you’ve had a chance to learn much about them or make your case. However, people are far less likely to unsubscribe if you can show them you’re worthwhile. For instance, if you’re a SAAS, you could send a weekly metrics report showing how they’ve progressed.

2. Offer them something of value.

I’ve noticed that newsletters often fall into one of two groups: the true newsletter, which reads like a PR release, and the coupon catalog, which often offers the same deal every week. (Literally: I once ended up on the mailing list of a local coffee chain that sent me the same discount on large caramel-salt lattes every week—a drink I loath.) Neither of these are particularly interesting for any but the most dedicated subscribers.

However, the newsletters I’ve remained subscribed to for longest are good at offering either new and valuable information with every mailing, or else keep me up-to-date about new product releases and sales that I’m actually interested in. The key here is relevance: hearing that an organization I follow has a new board member isn’t very interesting, but I do enjoy some research or news articles that show why they’re still important to me. And while coupons may be valuable to me when I’m ready to make a purchase, I’m usually much more interested in new product announcements. The same deal every week loses its sense of urgency.

3. Test the timing, length, and content of your emails.

Finally, pay close attention to which emails do better than others. Metrics such as open rate and click-through-rate can be affected by variations in time of day, or in the wording of a call-to-action. Just by tweaking these, you can dramatically change how your subscribers are engaging with your content.

That said, try to only test one variable at a time. If you test multiple things at once, it will be harder to identify which variable mattered most to your audience.

You can’t keep people from unsubscribing—and that’s a good thing.

Unsubscribes can be discouraging, but there is something positive about them: the more effectively and painlessly users can unsubscribe from a mailing they no longer want, the better their experience of that brand will be. They may unsubscribe but be happy to return later to make a purchase. And it allows you to focus your energy on subscribers who truly care about your message and want to hear what you have to say.

So don’t waste energy trying to prevent anyone from ever unsubscribing to your list. Instead, do your best to provide value, but let them leave whenever they want.

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