Beware the Sound of Silence: Use Email Analytics to Engage Silent Subscribers

How to use email analytics to determine which subscribers are bringing you down.

As consumers, we’ve all been through this scenario of disillusionment: You land at a website and you like what you see. You subscribe to the brand’s emails, because you’re thinking this is the start of something. Then the emails start coming. They fail to offer what you’d anticipated. And they keep coming. And you wish they’d just stop. Next thing you know, you’ve gone from warm fuzzies about a brand to being a disillusioned silent subscriber who never opens another email.

We know that’s a tiresome and oft-repeated scenario as consumers. But we need to address this common occurrence from the angle of email marketing too because an unengaged subscriber is a dangerous one. Tapping into your email analytics can help you determine the right course of action for dealing with that deadweight.

The sound of silence is not neutral
You might be thinking, “So a subscriber is inactive. So what? It’s not like they are doing any harm.” Oh, but they are. The sound of silence is not neutral. It’s actually negative in a quietly loud way. Like the wife who stops speaking to the husband after he has upset her, the silence is full of unspoken meaning and intent.

The silence that signals lack of engagement is bad…not neutral, but bad.

Use email analytics to determine the real size of your list
It’s counter-productive to send emails to people who are not opening and clicking. Using your email analytics, look at subscriber engagement, at those who are engaged and those who aren’t. The real size of your list is the number of actively involved subscribers. You might have a million subscribers, but if you only have a 20% open rate from month to month, you really have 200,000 subscribers, because that’s the extent of your active list.

As for the other 800,000 people, when they’re not opening your emails, they are silently sending you a very loud message: “We’re not interested in what you’re sending.” You don’t need email analytics to figure that out!

They used to be interested. These are people who at one point said yes, but now think no. They’ve gone from positive (“Yes, I want to subscribe.”) to neutral (“These emails no longer interest me.”) to negative (“I’m so over these emails that I’m just deleting them.”).

And these people can—albeit silently—have a very loud effect on your email deliverability. As George Bilbrey explains in an article about re-engaging inactive subscribers, having the silent deadweight of the unengaged can hurt your email deliverability, as indicated by the lower inbox placement rates (IPR) that showed up in email analysis:

While looking at the effectiveness of reengagement campaigns, we used a sample of more than 4 million subscribers to measure correlations between non-response and deliverability. The results were clear. Analyzing 100 million messages sent from Internet Retailer 100 brands, we found at least a moderate correlation between read rate and IPR at every single mailbox provider, and especially strong correlations at Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook. Sending campaigns with a lot of deadweight is preventing reputable mailers from reaching the inbox. It’s a fact. (emphasis mine)

Use email analytics to battle the sound of silence
Obviously, sending to people who don’t want to hear from you is a bad idea. And there will always be people who are unengaged but haven’t bothered yet to unsubscribe or worse, flag your emails as spam. They might be the reticent subscriber, the never engaged, or the no longer engaged. It doesn’t matter who they are. Your job is to minimize their number. Because they’re doing nothing, saying nothing, yet still bringing you (and your IPR) down.

What can you do about these folks besides give up on them and delete them from your list? You take these steps:

First, recognize that you also have a category of reticent subscribers, those who are engaging with your brand but not via email. And that’s why you can’t rely solely on email analytics. You must connect with those at your business who manage the other marketing channels to fully understand the degree of or lack of engagement.

Second, you need to determine who stays on your list and who doesn’t. Starting with your email marketing analytics, figure out who is engaged and who isn’t. Anyone who hasn’t opened an email with the last however many months is moved to that segment and reached out to. You can do that with a re-engagement campaign as described here.

Third, realize that not everyone can be re-engaged because not everyone engaged in the first place. You could have subscribers who have not yet converted to customers. How do you re-engage never engaged? You don’t. You run a re-welcome program, as described here.

Fourth, take steps to ensure a quality list to begin with. You can do that through testing and segmentation.

Testing
You should be using A/B split testing on just about everything—if not everything—and that includes your content. Run tests on your subject lines and run tests on your content, but also combine the two and pay close attention to your click-to-open ratio. You might be losing people at the subject line (since that’s the second thing people look at when deciding whether or not to open an email), or it could be you’re losing people at the content. Testing will help you determine the most engaging versions of both. It will also help you to figure out who your different audiences might be so you can also utilize…

…segmentation
Segment your lists so you’re more likely to engage your different audiences. Use your email analytics to figure out what is engaging to whom. For example, a tire company discovered they had two distinct audiences: the home mechanic and the racer. Racing content sent to the home mechanic fell flat. Home mechanic content fell flat when sent to the racing audience. It was time for a change. Segmenting the audiences was fairly easy. The email marketing team sent racing content to everyone, then moved anyone who engaged with the email to the “racing” category. The same was done for the home mechanic category. Now they’re much more likely to have engaged subscribers, not silent protesters.

Email analytics means there’s no excuse for silent subscribers
After going through the process of trying to re-engage or engage for the first time, once the deadweight is removed from the list and the others are segmented into groups that make sense, keep doing testing and segmenting to ensure the right content is sent to the right person. Every single business has different angles and audiences, no matter what you sell, whether it’s books or baby clothes or baseball bats. One across-the-board kind of email won’t please everyone. Your email analytics will help you get it right.