Rescue Your Email List from Certain Oblivion

We’ve identified five signs that your email list could be dead or dying. This isn’t pretty stuff. This is the deep, dark, ugly side of email marketing. Have you been systemically killing off your email list, sending it into oblivion, without even realizing it?

If you have, you’re not alone.

Let’s look at the five signs and what you can do right now to rescue your list and get it – and your email marketing – back on track.

Your Open Rates are Dropping

As we’ve said many times, open rates are a very unreliable email marketing metric. That said, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on open rates. If they start dropping, something Rescue Listis going awry.  The people on your list are become less engaged with what you have to say. That’s not good news for you.

If this starts happening, you want to leap into action. Start by working with your email subject lines. Are they interesting? Are they speaking the language of your perfect potential customer? Or are they dull and boring and ordinary and the email could have been sent by pretty much anyone?

If the subject line is okay, then it’s time to take a good hard look at the people on your list. Are they your perfect potential customers? What NEW thing could you offer the people on your list to get them at least opening your emails again? How can you differentiate yourself once more?

No New Sales are Coming In

Rescue-List A list of people who are not buying from you is likely not a valuable list. I mean, it’s good to have friends and people who will take your content and advice and materials, but if they really aren’t going to become your customer, you’ve taken a left turn.

We have seen countless entrepreneurs and small business owners get thrilled because they’re getting lots of blog subscribers, or lots of people who take their free gifts (aka lead magnets or attractors), but those folks just never buy. These entrepreneurs frequently conclude that they must be bad at selling if they can’t get people to buy, when, in reality, the people on the list are really not the perfect potential customers they thought they had.

So that sucks, but there’s a way out of it.

Go back to the way you’ve got your perfect potential customer defined. You might need to do some re-defining, or maybe you just need to re-anchor yourself in the definition you already have. Whichever it is, get that definition solid.

Now plan out a campaign to engage your perfect potential customer differently. Guide them along the path to understanding the value you or your business can provide to them. As you build a relationship, you can find ways to discover whether the people you are adding to your list are capable of paying for your services, expertise, or products.

Email Click-Through Rates are Awful

First, let me point out that different marketing platforms calculate click-through rates (CTR) differently. Here at WPMktgEngine and Genoo, we calculate based on a percentage of opens. Here’s how that works – if you send email to 1000 people, and 500 open it, and 50 click a link in that email (other than unsubscribe of course), that’s a 10% open rate – 50 of 500. Other providers calculate based on the number of email recipients. Using the same numbers, Mailchimp, for example, would calculate a 5% open rate. Here’s where things get wonky. With Mailchimp, if you sent the email to 10,000 people, 500 opened it, and 50 clicked, your CTR would be .5% – a half of a percent. With WPMktgEngine and Genoo, your CTR would still be 10%. Which way is better? In my opinion, CTR should be calculated based on the number of people who open the email. That keeps the statistics measurable across all email sends without regard of how many email recipients there were. See what I mean?

Now that we have dealt with that, our “5 Signs Your List is Dead or Dying” infographic says that if your CTR is less than 10%, something is wrong. In all honesty, we want you to strive for 20% or better (we have some clients with CTRs above 40%!).

So, what could be wrong?

Assuming that your email does contain clickable links (of course it does), there are two things that could be happening. The first thing is (no surprise here) that your list might not be your perfect potential customers. We talked about that above. The other thing that could be wrong is that you could be out of sync with what your perfect potential customers actually want to hear from you – which means your content isn’t hitting the mark.

This is where Kim’s post about the golden questions is so important. If you haven’t done it, or even if you haven’t done it recently, it’s time to interview some of your perfect potential customers. You’ve got to find out what’s on their minds so you can address it with your content.

You’re Blasting

Yeah, stop that. It’s hurting you.

People like to feel like they’re being treated like, well, people. What you have there, in that thing we keep calling a list, is a group of people who may or may not be interested in doing business with you. People. Not just names and email addresses. Individuals, with their own things going on, their own interests, their own goals.

Treating every person on your list the same as every other person on your list means that everything you send has to be average. It has to speak to an average and represent an average. Your messages will be shallow because they have to be so broad. They’ll be generic, because if you get too specific, you’ll end up not actually talking to a big portion of your list.

And what is happening is that you’re not talking to anyone. We’ve talked about this before, too.

Segmentation is where it’s at. The more you can get the people on your list to self-identify their own specific interests, the more personal and not-generic you can be with them in your communication. You’ll write every email as though you’re writing it to one person. The magic is that you can now deliver that email at scale – to anyone who has the same interests. You can get deep into a topic because you’re more narrow in the focus – at least with that one person. See what I mean?

It Was Never Yours to Begin With…

Finally, there’s this.

If you’re emailing to a list that you bought, borrowed, begged, conjured, cadged, or co-opted, it isn’t your list. It’s a list of people who might become your people, but right now, it’s not. If you assume that any list you’ve obtained in any way other than organically growing it yourself is a list of your perfect potential customers, you’re wrong.

The very best way to have an awesome, engaged email list is to grow it yourself and keep the people on that list engaged until they are ready to buy.

But… if you’re trying to short-cut that process and get out of the gate with a bought (or otherwise obtained) pre-fab list, then please do these things.

  1. Put any list you buy through a list verification service. (Here’s a blog post about that.)
  2. Create an engagement strategy that is designed to have the people on this obtained list self-identify into or out of your pool of perfect potential customers.

Think of it this way: would you ever assume that your friend’s Bob’s friends would all be perfect friends for you? Of course not! Were you friends with everyone in your high school class? Or everyone in your spin class? Or everyone at the coffee shop? Of course not! Sharing characteristics with people doesn’t make them your perfect-fit friends. So why would getting a list of (fill in the blank with whatever you do) people automatically make them your perfect-fit leads? Right?

Plan specifically how to engage with this list of people so you can weed out the never-buyers and identify and continue to engage with your perfect potential customers.

This post assumed that you have our infographic, “5 Signs Your List is Dead or Dying.” If you don’t have it and you want it, click below to get it. If you have it already and came to this post because of it, I encourage you to follow the trail I left you with the links in this post – and get all the available downloads of course.

About Margaret Johnson

Margaret is a business and technology veteran who started marketing accidentally nearly three decades ago - when she was five and a true marketing prodigy (ahem). When not coming up with awesome ideas, presenting webinars, or teaching about marketing, she's living with two cats, a crotchety fellow, and a house full of antiques and collectibles. She does not use Pinterest.


  • Honestly, I’ve never segmented my list… I broadcast daily… And I get great results.

    There is a way to send out a single message every day to a large group of people and still get positive engagement… Relationships can be built in a ‘one to many’ approach without segmentation.

    I’ve sent out 180 emails in 180 days and my list grows and my folks love it… Sure some unsubscribe, but that is great… I want my TRIBE to self identify and everyone else to leave.

    Ben Settle, Dave Dee, Ryan Lee… All great marketers who broadcast one list every day also.

    Segmenting can work, I do some of it on my wife’s list mainly in our autoresponder… But once they are done with the autoresponder… Creating 1 email that goes out to the whole broadcast segment is ‘easy’ and easy things get done.

    But all in all, solid article!

    • wpme says:

      Hi Miles,
      That’s great, and if you’re willing to share your open rates, clickthrough rates, it would be interesting to see.
      We have proven with our customers and the work we do, that when you can segment (which with many email systems is hard, and I agree that if it’s hard, it won’t get done) — our system makes that relatively painless, you can send targeted and completely relevant emails, and garner results impossible prior to that level of segmenting.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • very good content, i love it

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