Picture this. You’re logged into your AWeber control panel looking at your different email lists. You’ve spent years building up nearly 80,000 subscribers, but you’re about to do something that seems drastic…
You’re about to delete half of them.
Since I was about to delete so many subscribers at once I had to work with AWeber support because they would do the final cull for me. Without back-end help, I would have to spend hours deleting subscribers a page at a time.
Why was I taking such extreme measures?
Because my list needed cleaning. Not only did I have one huge bill from AWeber (approaching $700 a month), I knew that a lot of the emails on my list were “dead”, no longer active. They just sat in my database costing me money, but never opened an email.
Despite knowing that I needed to do this, I was scared. I could never be 100% sure I wasn’t deleting people who were still interested in my content. Maybe they hadn’t checked that email address in a while or they were filing my messages away for later.
My newsletter is responsible for the greatest chunk of my income, so when you’re about to perform major surgery on your cash cow, you get worried.
I managed to work up the courage, did the filtering at my end to highlight which emails I was deleting for the AWeber guys, told them I was ready, and waited.
Looking at my AWeber control panel I see numbers that I haven’t seen in several years. My main list has gone from 65,000 down to about 35,000.
Then I freak out. Did I just potentially halve the size of my business with just one action?
I start to doubt the filtering choices I made when deciding what emails to delete. Did I go too far? Did I cut too many out at once? Shouldn’t I be doing this more gradually!
Within minutes I’m submitting a support ticket back to AWeber.
UNDO UNDO UNDO
I’m confident they can reverse what they just did, and they can.
Within a few hours my lists are back to where they were… phew. I decide I’ll do this later. I need to think about it some more.
I first started my email newsletter back in 2006. I had a basic WordPress theme called “pool” (it was blue!) and I was doing all the design changes myself.
After a year of blogging I finally got the hint that email newsletters were important. I signed up for AWeber after seeing most of my peers in blogging and internet marketing recommend and use their service.
I couldn’t get the email opt-in form into my blog design neatly myself, it was beyond my skills, so I hired a designer to put the form into my theme placing it in the top right area above the fold (not a bad spot for my first newsletter).
I immediately had about 10 subscribers sign up per day. That was the start of a beautiful relationship with email marketing.
Since that time I have done launches, created many different email lists to cater to different projects, some that became hit products, some that never saw the light of day.
Six years is a long time. No doubt many people who subscribed to my list no longer are interested in what they originally came to me for. Some have moved on, some became too advanced, some changed email addresses and some used test email accounts.
The point is that there are email addresses on my list that a human being no longer reads. They are dead (the email, not the person, in most cases anyway I hope!). It’s these dead emails I want to delete.
Before deleting my subscribers I had a few important considerations to take into account.
Your social proof counters drop… a lot.
I grew up in an era when blogging was all about the RSS feed counter and how big the number is. Later your email subscription count started to matter too.
Bloggers get obsessed with these social proof metrics. While much of it is good old fashioned competition and bragging rights, there’s also a marketing justification for it.
People subscribe to blogs that other people subscribe to. If you see a blog has 10,000, 20K, 30K subscribers, you can’t help but follow the wisdom of the crowd. There must be something good about this blog if so many other people follow it, right?
The same goes for marketing materials. If you are a teacher of how to build up an audience, it sounds a lot better to say you have 100,000 subscribers as proof of your skills.
It might be a vanity metric in many ways, but it is still something I thought about before doing the big chop to my email list.
You may delete the wrong people.
This one is serious. You are going to delete some subscribers you don’t want to delete. Since you don’t have perfect knowledge about the person behind an email address, you can’t be sure whether they really are inactive and need to be deleted or not.
This is just something you have to live with unfortunately.
Your ego can’t handle it… but your wallet can.
As with the social proof concerns, the simple idea that you are going to reduce something you are probably proud of, means you take a hit to the ego. Sure you can tell yourself it makes sense strategically, but at the end of the day we are all obsessed with numbers that we wear proudly as badges. The bigger the number, the more of a rockstar you think you are. No one likes to see numbers go backwards.
While your ego may not like it, your wallet certainly benefits from the reduction in cost. I went from almost $700 a month down to less than $300 a month in AWeber fees after I finally made the cut (and yes I did eventually get the courage to do it). That’s a saving of over $4,000 a year.
It improves your response rates.
While your social proof might hurt publicly, your open and click through rates on your email broadcasts will improve. At least they improve as a percentage of the whole.
If you delete the total number of subscribers without taking away too many of the active ones, the proportion of those who open and click emails compared to the total number of subscribers improves. The reality is that the raw number of people doesn’t change, but since we are talking vanity metrics, your open and click through rates count too.
You have to figure out what criteria you want to base your delete filters on.
When doing a mass cull like this you have to decide what time frames to use for deleting subscribers.
You could say that you want to delete anyone who hasn’t responded in a year, or six months, or two years.
When I say responded, I mean opened an email, but you can play with the variables. Maybe you only want the really responsive people, so if someone hasn’t clicked any links in a year, despite opening emails, you can delete them all… mwahaha.
Just don’t get carried away. Going from 20,000 to 1,000 subscribers in one big swoop might be too much to handle.
Although I did a big back-track after my first attempt at a cull, on my second I handled it okay.
I was cautious this time, starting with a wide window of 18 months. This meant that I only deleted subscribers if there was no action from them for over a year and a half. Even if they had just opened one email last year, they would stay on my list, at least they should, if the filters worked.
My first cull was gentle, I only lost about 25% of my subscribers and didn’t cut from every list I had. After doing this I monitored my open and click numbers and noticed that roughly the same number of people were active. That was a relief, I had achieved my goal of not deleting active people and my list was still as valuable to me as before.
Just last month I went in and did another cull, an even more aggressive one.
With so many changes going on to my list in terms of what I offered and the way I presented my offers, I had grown an entirely new newsletter of about 10,000 people. My old lists were still there and I mailed to them, but in terms of new opt-ins, I was guiding everyone to the new list.
I decided to really clean house. Since 2013 I am realigning my autoresponder sequence to a new strategy I want to make sure that the people on my list today were active this year.
My culling criteria was anyone who had not shown activity in 2012. If you didn’t open my messages sometime since January 1st, then you are out.
That’s pretty aggressive. It means if someone was clicking and opening my emails in 2011, but stopped in 2012, you are off my lists.
I went through and defined the variables, generated the numbers and saw that I’d drop down to just under half of what my list was at in it’s peak. From about 80,000 down to 35,000.
Theoretically, if I do this right, I shouldn’t cut too many active people because I was still keeping everyone who responded to my work during 2012. These are my fans, the people I want to support and stay in touch with, who want to support and stay in touch with me.
I told the AWeber guys to make the deletions, and they did.
For my next few broadcasts I carefully compared the open and click numbers. They were down slightly compared to before the cull, but still very close. The cleaning process was a success.
If you are thinking about cleaning house in your email list AWeber has some detailed instructions to help you, including screenshots. You can find them here –
The two important variables are what date to cut from using the “No Opens” variable (meaning they haven’t opened an email since that date) and to make sure you don’t get anyone who only just subscribed, which uses the “Date Added” variable.
Once you run this filter, if you have pages and pages of results, you will need to save it as a segment, then contact AWeber support and ask them to delete that segment.
If you are not an AWeber user, you will have to look at what options you have for mass-deleting your subscribers if you think it’s time to do so.
I recommend if you have been building your list for more than a year it’s potentially time to look at cleaning things up. It will give you a realistic view of how active your newsletter is and potentially save you some money too.
On a more regular basis you might also want to delete the unsubscribes from your lists. These are the email addresses from people who have unsubscribed from your email list by clicking the link at the end of each email you send, stopping their subscription.
They have told you that no, they don’t want your emails anymore. Hence they are prime candidates for deletion.
Even though a person has unsubscribed doesn’t actually delete them from your database. If you want to properly remove them (hence reducing your bill), you need to delete the unsubscribes too. I generally do it once every six months.
Aweber provides instructions on how to do this here, which is fine if you have only a few unsubscribes to delete –
However if you have too many to do manually, you can get AWeber to do it for you.
Look at your “unsubscribed” column on your main AWeber control panel and you can see the numbers for each list. Then all you have to do is email AWeber support and tell them which lists you want the unsubscribes deleted from.
I generally do a delete once it reaches 500 to 1,000 unsubscribes in two or three of my lists.
Consolidate Old Lists
Before I did the deletions I sent emails to most of my lists telling them that they should opt-in for my main newsletter (that’s the one on every page of this blog).
I did this a couple of times to give people a chance to both join my new newsletter and also show that they are active subscribers who still want my advice and stories.
When I did the culling I deleted a few old lists. They weren’t huge lists, but I wasn’t updating them anymore and were full of inactive subscribers. I actually deleted my first ever email list when I did this, the Blog Taffic King newsletter. I had a bit of a moment when I hit the delete link on that one.
While you may not want to necessary invite people on to a brand new email list when you go through this process, it makes sense to at least send one email telling people what you are doing. Use a powerful email subject line like…
This Newsletter Is Going To Be Deleted
…Which is bound to get the attention of any human who is at least paying some attention to your emails. By opening your email they ensure that their subscription won’t be deleted when you start the culling process.
Before I end this article, I should state the obvious – if you are not building a list and watching how your subscribers interact with you, then you’re missing out a very powerful tool for online business and relationship building.
Go check out AWeber, I’ve been using them for almost seven years now and full recommend them as a good choice for your email newsletter provider.
And learn how to build a better blog.