Growth July 3, 2020

Ask IH: Is it rational to be afraid of mailing my list due to risk of unsubscribes?

Jack Kinsella @semicolonandsons

I've gathered ca. 1000 emails so far on my new programming screencasts website. The call-to-action was "episode alerts", FYI.

For a while, I emailed out each episode, but I noticed that each email caused maybe 1% of the list to unsubscribe, which is painful considering how much effort goes into winning a subscriber.

I've since reduced the frequency of mails to every 3 or so episodes (i.e. every 3 weeks). But I can't tell whether this is good idea or not.

On the one hand, mailing every episode means my content gets more eyeballs (and more chance of some virality via social media shares). On the other hand, if I hold back on using the list, then I'll have a larger list to one-day pitch any eventual paid offerings I launch.

What would you do in my situation?

  1. 7

    I think of it like this.

    Every email you send is a filter - it filters out the members on your list that's not your target audience. Incremental unsubscribes (1%) is a symptom of you zeroing in on an audience that wants to hear what you say.

    1. 2

      This is exactly what I need to hear. I had an extra thought too: The people who remain on the list will share their favorite stuff with their network and it's likely that their friends and followers will have similar interests. Therefore I'll gradually hone in the audience that most enjoys what I'm offering.

      BTW you have a formidable surname (Dijkstra, for anyone who is curious)

      1. 1

        Thanks - that surname quite formidable to live up to 😅 and yes that makes sense, the more you hone in - the more readers actively engage with your content.

  2. 5

    Emailing causes unsubscribes. But it also bonds you closer to your audience.

    i don't email every article. But you have to email enough to be remembered and create a bond ...

    Otherwise you launch and they're like, “who the f*** is this guy”

    1. 1

      Yes very true with the forgetting thing. I've personally felt that way again and again when I subscribe for some ebook launch or whatever and then get an email 14 months later and have no idea wtf it's about.

    2. 1

      +1 to this. btw, I've gone from a weekly -> monthly newsletter.

      My premium members get an extra newsletter (2 a month). Interestingly, I ran a live event this week and folks were telling me to email more... they even said if emails get too much, they can file them away or set 'rules', but they still wanted to receive them & hear from me... I found that interesting.

      I was surprised, and had also been afraid and was err-ing on the side of caution (tho, tbh, weekly was stressing me out and taking up too much time).

      I think we can probably email people more than we think... those on our list are on it for a reason. Those that don't want to be will un-subscribe, and that's a good thing as they're not your people.

      Also - my list grew by about 2000 after I ran a Summit (my version of 'programming screencasts'). and it was slightly painful to watch ~300 quickly unsubscribe (I turned off the 'unsubscribe alerts', it got too much...lol). But, looking back, i'm grateful these folks unsubscribed as the 'dead weight' is annoying. I still feel like there's a bunch of ppl who don't read my newsletter (I know for a fact, based on opens).

      I'd take 200 people reading my emails vs 2000 people who aren't, any day. So, all that to say unsubscribers = good, follow your gut, and don't worry too much :)

      also, 1% doesn't seem like too much. Seeing as I lost ~12.5-15% from the 2000 added to my list after the summit I hosted.

  3. 3

    Yes, I think it is irrational.

    I love getting unsubscribes. Why? Because I want people on my list who WANT to be on it.

    Sending an email to someone who doesn't want to read it is just a waste of everyone's time and your money. You should be much more excited about having ten people who are CHOOSING to read your content than 1000 who are on there because they forgot they signed up.

    Think of every unsubscribe as a victory - You've successfully refined your list and it's now better.

  4. 3

    I wouldn't pay attention to unsubscribes... it's normal that you have different opinions among 1000 ppl...

    and if you want to change something, I wouldn't change the frequency, but the content. Is it too long? short it. Is it having too much links? curate and send fewer.

    Think about why would someone wanted to wait for your next email. and focus on gaining more subscribers than you're losing. Unsubscribers will always be the part of your newsletter journey

    1. 2

      I agree with your point about content. I have roughly two content tracks on my website (vim + maintaining production code). These don't fully overlap. Therefore the wisest thing for me to do is put some effort into segmenting my users by interest.

      Were I to start over, I'd probably focus on one topic exclusively.

      1. 2

        yeah, I would separate those two.. is there a chance for a restart, to ask your subscribers to re-subscribe to other if they want. Also to see which one is dominant, so you keep the existing list for that one

    2. 2

      I think the point about content is very important. Do people get what they expect when you email them? That's the main question.

      Aside from that, when it comes to frequency, you should make it predictable and tell people when they will get your emails. Your best-case scenario is that people look for your emails if they are not there when they expect them.

      The 1% number is not that low so I think you shouldn't ignore it but shouldn't be too worried about it too.

      An easy thing you should implement if you don't have it already: Add a survey for people who unsubscribe, more customised for what matters to you than the default.

  5. 3

    1% is normal. Just do it.

    1. 1

      You are right. I hit the button today.

      Someone over at HN told me "A ship is safest when it's in harbor. But that's not why you build a ship."

  6. 2

    Hi Jack,

    I've actually done a lot of high-level email marketing to convert a lot of people into active fans and paying customers.

    1% unsubscribe is not a big deal. When it reaches over 3% that's when you should be worried.

    If you'd like we can connect on Discord and take a look at your email content, there's about 3-6 things people do that absolutely butchers their email list, open rates, link clicks and so on.

    If you aren't getting consistent 30% open rates and 40% link click rates on every email --then there is something very wrong with them.

    My discord is: do#3695

    1. 1

      OMG yes, I'd love to discuss with you. You are very kind. I'll add you now. Believe or not, I've never used Discord yet... I may be showing my age :)

  7. 1

    One caveat I'd add to what the others have said is that, YouTube is already emailing and alerting your subscribers who have clicked the bell as well as some of the others.

    Like you, I'm also making programming screencasts. I definitely wouldn't email every or even 1/3 of the episodes. However, I do email them when I've written a new articles on my blog and in that email, I'll usually link up the episodes since the previous email. I also email when I have a new product.

    Overall, this gets about a 40% open rate, a 7% click rate and 1-2% sales rate when pitching something (more on Black Friday and new products, less on first time pitches to new subscribers).

  8. 1

    I think it make sense to send emails only to infrequent/lapsed users. If they don't like service they will anyway leave. Your current users will keep coming back without email.

    For this to work you would have to identify current / active users. They could be ones that have seen 1 video in last week. You can try permission marketing to enable emails for these.

    I do understand you want current users to start viral loop. But that should ideally happen inside the app.

    Also you can use backoff period to send email in case their is no response in a few attempts.

  9. 1

    I did have that too in the beginning. But people subscribe and unsubscribe for many reasons. They might not even be related to your content. At one point I just stopped caring about those numbers.

    And nowadays make it a game of how many unsubs I get when I email. If they dont unsub they want to hear from me, which ia good. I dont need to pay for the others.

    Also, unsub quote didnt change much if i wrote weekly or daily, with my active newsletters I write twice a week.

    1. 1

      OHHHH I very much like your point about saving money by not paying for unengaged fans. That's a good mental model for calm.

  10. 1

    It's not rational. But it is very normal!

    In addition to what's been said here, think about your psychology here for a second:

    Why put so much emphasis on the 1% that are leaving instead of the fact that 99% are staying (and whatever % are opening, reading, clicking, replying, sharing, etc)?

    You can't control what other people do, no matter how much you want to or how much you try. What you CAN control is what you react to, and how you react to it.

    Once you realize that you're giving disproportionate reaction energy to a tiny behavior, you'll realize where your energy and attention SHOULD stay focused instead!

    1. 1

      I know your question about why I'm putting so much emphasis on the 1% leaving over 99% staying was rhetorical, but I still think I can answer it: fear of rejection. It's a (no doubt very common) demon that affects more than must my business life.

      The interesting thing here is how the requirements of my business are forcing me to overcome these demons and maybe, possibly, with a bit of luck, emerge in better shape overall.

      1. 2

        It's not rhetorical - I really wanna know what you're afraid of? 😄 I get that you want to be better about this (and you're far from alone) so I'll challenge you to think a bit deeper:

        You said rejection, but how do you know that unsubscribes mean that people rejecting you? What if it just means they are busy, or that their focus is somewhere else right now? Or that they got what they needed and prefer to keep their inbox clean?

        And even if they WERE rejecting you...is that worth being afraid of? Is there physical harm or danger? What's actually at stake?

        Maybe you're actually afraid of...

        • not doing a good enough job?
        • not being in control?
        • something else?
  11. 1

    Of course it's normal to be afraid to get unsubscribes when you start email marketing
    I have been doing email marketing for 10 years (we send about 4 million emails per month), I can tell you that you should not care about unsubscribes. You will always get unsubscribes and people complaining about receiving emails. Just tell they are free to unsubscribe at any time. Get a virtual assistant to handle this

    1. 1

      Interesting point about the virtual assistant. In my primary business, there's a lot of negotiating involved, which I find draining. But I'm able to outsource this to a freelancer and it saves me so much mental energy not being involved.

  12. 1

    Here's my take as a user (I have a mailing list, but very few subscribers)

    I would increase your mail frequency to once a week. That way you are getting in front of your user's eyes more without spamming them. I'd test that for a month or two and compare data.

    As long as unsubscriptions aren't happening in droves, it seems like a natural thing to experience. Maybe people just aren't as into it as they initially were.

    1. 1

      Yea that's my gut feeling. I also posted this question in HackerNews and that was the consensus response.

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