7 Reasons Why People Unsubscribe from Email Lists

An email list is a critical business asset. In order to grow your list, you need to understand why people unsubscribe from email lists. Think about it. If you want to fill a container with water, you need to figure out where the leaks are. Continuing to add more and more water is just wasteful – and a waste of time – if you don’t stop and figure out where the problems are.

When you understand why people unsubscribe from email lists, you can better tailor your emails to meet your subscribers’ needs, making sure you’re providing value and building that ever important customer relationship.

But, here’s the problem. Your email stats may show you that someone unsubscribed, but they don’t always tell us why. And you can’t fix what you don’t understand.

If you’re like I once was, you may find yourself staring at your monitor in disbelief asking yourself, “Why is my email list losing subscribers!? I don’t get it!”

Fortunately, we do have hard data and can adjust our strategies accordingly.

Sweet biscuits.

They didn’t mean to subscribe.

It’s funny. You can be clear as day that someone is subscribing to your email list when he or she downloads your free info product, and it will go over some people’s heads.

Ah well.

But sometimes their confusion is honestly due to a lack of communication. If you don’t make it very clear that he’s subscribing when he downloads your product, expect your subscriber to be confused and irritated when he starts getting your emails.

At that point, they promptly unsubscribe or leave an angry review – and rightly so. That’s something that should be disclosed. In fact, several recent privacy laws require full disclosure or you risk thousands of dollars in fines.

Solution: Make sure your landing page isn’t confusing or ambiguous. Choose your words carefully so there’s no doubt that downloading your free product does mean someone is signing up for your list.

You’re emailing your list too often!

We all have that one friend who just won’t shut up. Talking with people is nice. Conversations are great – if they end.

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Too many emails will send your subscribers packing. They don’t want to be annoyed into next week.

Consider also how many emails your subscribers receive from other sources. Ads, flyers, newsletters, junk… It can be overwhelming, and any sane person will only take so much of it.

This isn’t to say that emailing frequently is in and of itself a bad thing. Sometimes you need to. A couple of my courses, for instance, will send you one email a day for a given period of time. But there’s the thing: I make sure you understand that. I don’t want you to sign up and then wonder why I’m emailing you every day. No, this is what I promised.

But too often people sign up for lists, and the mailing frequency isn’t well communicated – if it is communicated at all.

They download a free product, and suddenly they’re slammed with a deluge of messages they never knew to expect.

Solution: Make sure your subscribers know up front how much email to expect, and find a sane balance. Unless you have a very good reason, don’t email every day. I typically recommend once a week – or at least a few times a month.

You don’t have a relationship with your subscribers.

Business lives or dies on relationships. Often it matters less what you know than who you know. Don’t believe me? Think about this.

Are you more likely to buy from someone you barely know or someone you trust?

Obviously the latter.

If you and I have no relationship, how likely are you to buy from me? Not very!

Now, what do I mean by a relationship?

I mean simply that you know who I am, that I have a passion for quality, and that I want to help you. In that scenario, you have

  1. A reason to trust me based on what you know about me
  2. Confidence that I want to see you succeed

Knowing these two things, would you be more likely or less likely to purchase anything I have to offer?

Hopefully more.

But what if you knew nothing about me? What if I were just some guy to you? For all you know, I could be selling you junk. You would have no reason to trust me.

That’s why is critical for you to make a real connection with your subscriber.

Solution: Be intentional about connecting with your subscriber. Make a commitment to promoting only quality products, and check yourself before you steer someone wrong. Your subscribers need to know you care about their success. This will take time, but it’s on you to make the effort.

Constant selling. Ugh.

There is a time and place for a promotional email. Sometimes you have a fantastic product or service to recommend or a new offer for your subscribers. That’s to be expected.

But when you’re constantly pushing your subscribers to spend money, it gets old.

Really old.

I’ve been on some pretty terrible email lists. These terrible marketers think it’s a good idea to hit me with sales pitch after sales pitch.

Blah. Enough!

Solution: It’s okay to sell. It really is. But don’t do it all the time. Make sure the majority of your emails are value focused. Teach a lesson or otherwise help your subscribers. Your subscribers need to benefit from being on your list.

You’re not providing value.

In most cases, people will have subscribed because they downloaded a free product, ebook, etc. That’s value. No doubt.

But what comes after?

As I said above, your subscribers should benefit from being on your list. Remember, they aren’t captive. They can leave whenever they want – hence this post.

If they don’t feel there’s a real benefit to being subscribed, expect them to unsubscribe.

Solution: If you want to keep your subscribers and keep them happy, provide value.

Now, what does that value look like?

If you go through my product creation ebook, I have you think of a question to answer or a problem to solve. People want answers, and they want solutions.

The majority of your emails should work toward answering questions and providing answers. What that looks like will vary a bit depending on your niche. But a good rule of thumb is to think back to why your subscribers signed up in the first place. What was it that you provided that convinced them to join you?

Was it something that helped them:

  • Save time?
  • Save money?
  • Learn a new skill?
  • Solve a problem they face?

Keep providing more of the same. That’s the kind of content people love.

That’s not to say every email has to be an ebook. It shouldn’t be. But it should be the same quality.

Your content is irrelevant.

If people don’t care about the content you send, they’ll unsubscribe. In fact, I dare say this is one of the main reasons why people unsubscribe from email lists.

Makes sense, right?

How long are you going to spend watching a TV show or movie that bores you or isn’t relevant? Not long. (Unless, of course, you’re bored in your doctor’s waiting room and there’s nothing else to do.)

Chances are you’ll either change the channel or turn off the TV.

My friend, your list is the TV show.

Solution: Don’t bore your audience. Make sure your content fits their interests and needs.

How do you do that? Stay on topic. If your niche is gardening, don’t start sending emails about parenting. Most of your subscribers aren’t going to care. Even those who do will wonder why you switched.

Before you send an email to your list, make sure it applies to them.

Think about who these people are and what they already know. Don’t teach them what they already know, and don’t insult their intelligence.

Your emails look like junk mail.

If it looks like a skunk, walks like a skunk, and smells like a skunk, It’s a skunk. But sometimes, another critter entirely can look and smell like a skunk. A case of mistaken identity.

People are generally pretty smart when it comes to junk mail. If your message looks like junk – even if it isn’t – expect it to be treated as junk.

Consider how much email these people are getting already. How much of it promises instant riches and fast success? How many messages promoting the next hot product?

Many people will take a quick look at your subject line and realize, “That’s junk.” Too much of that, and you get bet your backside they will unsubscribe faster than you can double click that mouse button. Indeed, bad subject lines are a large part of why people unsubscribe from email lists.

Make sure your messages don't look like junk, or you'll be practically begging people to unsubscribe.
Some email is so obviously spam you don’t even bother to read it.

Solution: Some emails are obviously spam. Look at your email subject line. Does it look spammy? If so, change it. Be creative and put some effort into your messages. Yes, there’s a lot of junk out there. No, you don’t need to imitate it!

Know why people unsubscribe from email. Act accordingly.

There’s no perfect formula for keeping every subscriber on your list. Some people will unsubscribe even if you’re sending great relationship-building content on a sane schedule in a way that doesn’t look like junk. While on one hand, you do want some people to unsubscribe from your list, obviously we want to keep as many subscribers as possible.

If we know why people unsubscribe from email lists, we can help to reduce the number of people who unsubscribe from ours.

According to the data, we need to proactively address each point:

  • Make sure your subscribers know they have being subscribed to an email list and give them the clear opportunity to remove themselves.
  • Don’t email too often. Find a sane schedule for emailing. I tend to recommend at least once a week or every few days but not more than that.
  • Build a relationship with your subscribers. No one will buy anything from you if they don’t know you, and they will be less likely to engage any content you send their way.
  • Provide serious value. Yes, you probably gave away a great freebie to get them on your list, but you need to keep providing value to your subscriber to keep him on your list.
  • Ensure your content is relevant to what your subscribers actually need and know. Don’t send them a sample of something they’ve already purchased, for example.
  • Use eye catching headlines but take care that your emails don’t look like spam or they’ll suffer the same fate as the genuine article.