The very first bit of advice newly-emerging writers are given is to begin creating a “platform” and with that comes a myriad of advice on creating a mailing list.
The mailing list is seen as the communication bridge between the author and reader without the hulking presence of a “big brother” such as Facebook.
The objective is to communicate directly within a system that both the writer and reader control. One to send and the other to reliably receive.
And yes, I have a separate list for every one of my audiences. (Just in case you were wondering.) And I have had since the very early days of sending out email by using the backend of a database manager (and taking over 6 hours to send it via dialup.) I forget how I hacked that to make it work but it did.
But things change. (Interesting how that becomes a theme in all our lives now… but I digress.)
Issues With The Writer’s Mailing List
The Cost and Open Rates
I’ve had “biggish” lists (>20K) and small lists (50 individuals) and I understand paying to send readers an email is getting more and more expensive (but then isn’t everything?)
In the “olde days” the open rates (the percentage of your list opening the email) were high but as more and more lists appeared from every author and website, open rates began to drop. A writer has to step up their game in order to compete with every other author – not to mention competing with Facebook.
I note the smaller the list – the higher the open rate. And when you have a larger list having an open rate in the 30% range is considered excellent.
But that means only 3 in 10 of your readers are actually reading any given newsletter.
So this means the writer is paying to send a newsletter to 100 people but only 30 are reading any given email. And as you might imagine, the bigger the list and the more it costs to run it, the closer the author has to watch this number.
What I Just Did
My garden list was growing nicely again but it was about to pass a cost threshold into a new pricing tier. And yes, my open rates were in the high 30’s so I was pleased. But there were a sizeable number of people who were not opening any of the newsletters.
And there was an equal number who were opening the newsletter but never clicking on a link to read an article or buy an ebook.
As an aside, modern email newsletters have small code inside the newsletter passing a range of data back to the email server so the sender can evaluate the effectiveness of almost every part of that newsletter from the title right to the wording on links.
I set up a “segment” or evaluation code to ask two questions. “Who hasn’t opened an email in the last six months?” And, “Who hasn’t clicked on a link in the last year?” The list was sorted into two groups – those who had opened or clicked and those who hadn’t.
I sent out an email only to that segment of non-openers and non-clickers. I gave them a button (linked) that said, “Yes, continue my subscription.” I also gave them a very clear “Unsubscribe” link.
And then… and then.
I sent it out and watched the results roll in.
Approximately half of the segment didn’t open that email.
The other half of the segment opened the email. And about half of those clicked on the link. So one-quarter of those who received that email both opened and clicked on the link that said they wanted to continue receiving the newsletter. A much smaller number clicked the unsubscribe button.
If you’re following the math here, the bottom line was about a quarter of those who were originally targeted clicked to stay on the list.
I deleted the other three-quarters from the list.
Bottom line for me:
If you don’t open the emails and you don’t interact with the content, then I don’t want to have to pay to send you stuff. So I deleted you and that’s how I saved money on my mailing list.
I gave my readers a chance to stay on the list. I’m sure at some point, I’ll hear from a few of them asking why they no longer receive the newsletter.
I see a few of the larger email publishers are simply advising readers – if you don’t open for five newsletters in a row, you’ll be deleted from the list. This is couched in terms of not filling your mailbox with stuff you don’t want, but the bottom line is the same. There’s no sense in an author paying to send an email to somebody who never opens or reads. The big boys also appear to not be asking you if you want to stay on the list – they’re simply deleting your email from their list.
My .02 is that cleaning your list is the same as cleaning anything else in your life. It’s just one of those things that should be done for the overall health of everybody concerned.
Addendum: Some writers will suggest lists not be pruned because subscribers “might” read something in the future or “might” click on a link in the future. That’s true – they “might”. And to those comments, I have no response – a reader might indeed do that. I’m simply not willing to continue funding those readers who have a pattern of not opening or responding because they “might”.
Would you take subscribers off a mailing list if they didn’t open or read? Tell me why or why not in the comments.