Have you received an email like this?
Or noticed something like this in a newsletter?
This is likely because you haven’t opened and//or clicked an email from that Sender in a certain amount of time.
The Sender is likely attempting to “clean” their email list of unengaged subscribers. This is oftentimes done through “sunsetting”.
Sunsetting is a common email strategy to identify unengaged subscribers and stop sending them emails.
The goal is to improve engagement rates, deliverability and overall health of your email list and email marketing efforts.
Better engagement → better deliverability.
Sending emails to subscribers who do not engage with your content will impact your Sender Reputation and deliverability.
If deliverability is impacted, emails might not arrive in a reader’s inbox, or be considered Spam.
Start by figuring out how you’re going to define engagement.
You can define engagement in a variety of ways:
We are including Opens in the list because it is a commonly tracked metric, but we are not going to consider it for this exercise.
It’s not reliable due to Apple Mail Privacy Protection. Read more here.
For this example, let’s go with Clicks.
It’s a more reliable metric, and a good indicator that readers are engaging with your content.
If you don’t have a lot of links in your emails, think about other metrics like Conversion to measure engagement.
Your definition of superfan, or most engaged subscriber, is unique to you.
You may define it as a subscriber that clicks at least once in each newsletter.
Or a subscriber that's clicked in the last 60 days.
It's up to you.
Superfans are a great cohort to reach out to for feedback, surveys, testimonials. They also help identify content that your most engaged readers are interacting with.
It also depends on the frequency of email sends, the types of emails you’re sending and more.
For this exercise: We send out a weekly newsletter with ample opportunity of links to click.
When outlining a Sunset Policy, your audience is least engaged subscribers.
We’re going with Clicks as our definition of engagement and how we’re deciding who is engaged and who isn’t.
We need to get a better understanding of our Click engagement, and would like it mapped over time.
Find the Click-Through Rate (# of Clicks / # of Emails Delivered) for subscribers that signed up:
For example, you might see a Click-Through Rate of:
Looking at these buckets helps you identify various levels of engagement over time.
There’s a significant drop off in engagement after 60 days, with very little engagement after 120+ days.
We can also take a look at the “raw” number of clicks for each cohort. This helps us understand the degree of magnitude.
Are the dozen of additional clicks you may receive from sending to a not very engaged audience worth risking the potential for your emails to land in Spam for emails sent to your engaged audience?
We now have a better understanding of the scale we’re operating on, and the tradeoffs of continuing to send to a not very engaged audience.
Let’s draft up a Sunset Policy, and use Clicks as our measure of engagement.
Continuing with our example, we know engagement drops significantly 60 days post signup.
Let’s try an audience of: Subscribers who signed up 60+ days ago and haven’t clicked.
We discover this accounts for ~25% of our email list.
If we were to put in place a Sunset Policy with the above findings, we could remove up to 25% of your email list.
Getting stakeholder buy in might be a little difficult.
Marketing, Sales, Editorial, Executives discover 25% of the email list is not engaged. The proposed Sunset Policy means removing up to 25% of the email list.
“Wait, you want to remove 25% of our readers from our email list?”
“This impacts our ability to sell ads in the newsletter,”
“How does this impact readership?”
Implementing a Sunset Policy can happen incrementally.
You identified your least engaged subscribers: They signed up 60+ days ago and haven’t clicked an email.
Maybe they’re just not “clickers”? They might be reading the emails, but not clicking?
They wouldn’t want to stop receiving emails from us, right?
There are some unknowns, so let’s conduct an experiment! Get some data to help us make informed decisions.
When you're trying to see the impact of a new strategy, like a Sunset Policy, it can be helpful to conduct an experiment.
It’s important to maintain a Control during an experiment to be able to directly attribute any impact to metrics to the experiment.
A Control means status quo, or what your current workflow or strategy is. For this example, it would mean not having a Sunset Policy.
Rolling out a Sunset Policy to 100% of eligible subscribers without a Control makes it difficult to attribute impact on metrics. It might’ve been seasonality, other marketing efforts, etc.
You want to be able to test the status quo against a new variable and see its impact.
You’ll be able to see how subscribers who received the Control performed and how subscribers who received the Variant performed.
This is for demonstration purposes. As you figure out how to conduct an experiment, it’s important to factor in: list size, statistical significance, business priorities and functionality of your Email Service Provider (ESP).
✅ We have an outline for testing.
Now… what is the Sunset Policy?
Below are examples featuring a callout from Morning Brew and a dedicated email from 1440.
The screenshots are for demonstration purposes, and are not reflective of the actual workflow for Morning Brew or 1440.
You might test out one of the above examples, but stop at removing subscribers from the email list.
When you roll out an experiment, you gather more data and when you gather more data you make more discoveries. And sometimes, stakeholders or business priorities get factored into the decision-making as well.
You may discover that the Variant did not yield a statistically significant result.
Or the Sunset Policy would increase Click-Through Rate, but Management doesn't want to decrease list size because Reach is important to advertisers.
Regardless, this process will result in learning more about your readers.
A high volume email list is prevalent in discussions with some advertisers or Management. Sometimes it’s more about reach than engagement. It all depends.
If a Sunset Policy is not feasible, start with removing email addresses that are unverified, or “bouncing”.
There are “hard bounces” and “soft bounces”. We won’t get too deep into the details for this post, but as an overview:
A soft bounce occurs when a user’s inbox is full, or a server is down.
It also might occur if a large number of users mark your email as Spam.
A hard bounce occurs when you send an email to an email address and it could not be delivered, it was rejected.
It could be because the email address does not exist, or isn’t valid.
For both types of bounces, figure out your Email Service Providers processes.
Maintaining list hygiene is one of the many things to keep track of when you send emails.
You want to send emails that are going to be delivered, and hopefully engaged with.
This is also important to Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Gmail and Yahoo.
This factors into whether your emails are marked as Spam, and can contribute to your Sender Reputation.
If you’re not doing so already, removing email addresses that are not receiving your emails is a great introduction to cleaning your email list. You might also get a glimpse into the impacts of maintaining a healthy, engaged email list.
Depending on your Email Service Provider (ESP), you may be able to build out a workflow to automate a Sunset Policy or list cleaning process.
Or you may have to generate a new list each time you want to remove unengaged subscribers or not valid email addresses from your email list.
Creating a recurring calendar event may be helpful.
Having a Sunset Policy is up to you. It’s also not a one-size-fits-all policy.
It’s based on your readers and your goals.
Just like a real sunset, there are levels. A gradient and gradualness to it.
If you choose to continue to send to inactive or not engaged email addresses, this might:
These can result in a decreased chance of your emails making it to the inbox, and in front of your subscribers.
It’s hard to purge an email list. You want everyone to read and engage with your content.
Readers can always opt back in! They might be engaging with content on other platforms.
If it’s helpful, try to identify the benefits of continuing to send to unengaged subscribers.
You may have a larger email list size which helps with advertisers, but… what else?
Some Advertisers focus on engagement measured by Clicks or Conversions. They may want to know list size, but they may be more concerned with Clicks than Opens or Impressions. It all depends.
We walked through various approaches to a Sunset Policy and list cleaning.
Keep in mind these will be unique to you.
Every business, newsletter, audience is unique. We wanted to provide some thought starters.
… as always, it’s about testing and iterating.
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