Don’t Cull Your Email List

My circle of author friends recently discussed how they were all pruning their email lists to remove the people who never opened them. I wailed loudly that this is an enormous mistake.

Pardon me while I get geeky for a moment.

Newsletter tools that report “opens” do not, in reality, know who opened your email (let alone who read it.) The only method possible right now to measure “opens” is to include a tiny invisible image in the email and hope that the recipient will enable their email program’s ability to include images. In Gmail, for instance, images will not be displayed unless you give permission. Many programs, like Microsoft’s ubiquitous Outlook, have a preview pane, allowing a recipient to read your entire email without ever actually opening it and activating the invisible image trigger that notifies the newsletter tool.

That means that your most dedicated reader might never show up on your radar. (If you check with whoever you use for your newsletter they’ll tell you that real opens are virtually always higher than reported.) Since you can’t know whether “zero opens” means zero opens or 100% opens in a preview pane culling those people from your list might cost you some valuable connections, perhaps permanently.

An Exception

If you participated in some “get more subscribers” event where the goal was purely increasing your number, you probably ended up with lots of deadwood. This still matters most if you’re paying per subscriber or email and not using the free version of a tool like MailChimp. The solution is an assertive but friendly “please confirm” email to clear out the deadwood. Send it only to those who’ve subscribed in the week or two since the (ill-advised) “get more subscribers” event, and word it in a way that invites those interested, grants unsub permission to those who only signed up for the freebie, and does both without annoying your real subscribers. It’s tricky. It’s one of those places where an ounce of prevention is worth a pounding headache pound of cure.

The Cure

Say an employer asked you to help them stop employee theft. Is the answer most likely (a) better security or (b) better hiring practices?

Avoid the need to cull your list by ensuring that every person who signs up really wants an ongoing relationship and isn’t just there to grab the freebie. Freebies are fine, even expected, for an author’s email list, but don’t dive into situations where it’s the only incentive. (More on organic list growth tomorrow.) Business lists shouldn’t offer any incentive at all. Give the freebie without requiring signup, and use the freebie to vet potential list members, not the other way round.

Nonreaders are only a challenge if they’re costing you money you can’t afford. If you have 100 regular readers, it doesn’t matter if you have 400 nonreaders or 1900 nonreaders, you’re not counting the unengaged.

What do you think?