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Why people subscribe and unsubscribe from email newsletters

Subscriptions to newsletters allow entrepreneurs, business owners and email marketers to efficiently communicate with potential and existing customers and build meaningful relationships.

Newsletters allow them to reach out to a captive audience regularly, making it a powerful tool for executing marketing campaigns.

That’s why most ecommerce websites have sign-up links for visitors to subscribe to newsletters.

In this article, we’ll share the common reasons people subscribe or unsubscribe to newsletters to help you grow a subscriber base that’s receptive and excited to receive your email marketing campaigns.


Table of contents


Why people subscribe to newsletters

A majority of people subscribe to our email newsletters willingly, guided by a need or interest. What are they looking for?


Deals and special offers

Many people are interested in deals and special offers when they opt for a subscription to a newsletter.

See how WordPress includes benefits (free resources) in their call-to-action button and sign-up form copy to entice potential subscribers.


Interesting or exclusive content

People who subscribe to your newsletters are likely looking for content related to your company and industry.

Get to know your target audience and find out what kind of content they’re interested in. You can do this by asking subscribers to fill out questionnaires to gather some general and personal data about your audience. You can also try tracking engagement on your website and social media networks to find out what they read, share and like.

It’s a good idea to segment your email list and tailor the content to cater to their varying needs and interests. Ideally, this content will take email subscribers and potential clients further down the funnel toward conversion or a new purchase.

Companies like Unbounce offer free content when you sign up, as well as exclusive content and tutorials to paid subscribers. Some companies, like Stratechery, offer subscriptions to their RSS feed which delivers regular content to their paying subscribers’ inbox.


It’s similar to the way major publishers like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Economist offer subscription service for access to gated, well-researched and high-quality content. On their sites, they provide snippets to articles then have you sign up or subscribe (pricing often varies according to length of subscription) to read them in full.


Why people unsubscribe to newsletters

It’s unavoidable that some people will unsubscribe from your email newsletter. Don’t be fazed, instead, strive to do better. Start by finding out the reasons people unsubscribe from your email list. You can include a brief survey they can answer when unsubscribing.

Below are some of the most common reasons people opt out of email newsletter subscriptions.

1. Too many emails

It can be challenging to find that email-frequency sweet spot and it sometimes takes a few trials and errors. Accepted email marketing best practice is to set the expectations of subscribers by letting them know when they sign up how often they’ll receive newsletters, whether daily, weekly or monthly.

The frequency of emails also depends on the type of business you have and content you deliver. For instance, if you provide updates on major news stories and current events, then it makes sense to send out daily newsletters. If your content topics are less time-sensitive such as tech news, business news or pop culture headlines, then a weekly newsletter distribution may work.

If you find that opt-outs are caused by too many emails, try cutting back on the number of emails you send in a week or a month. Instead of daily emails, for example, try consolidating two or more emails into one or sending a roundup of top news briefings in one weekly email.

2. Irrelevant content

Irrelevant content is another common reason for unsubscribing from email newsletters.

Whatever business model you have, it’s common knowledge that you must first generate a feeling of trust to convert your emails to sales. Relevant content builds trust, while irrelevant content diminishes it.

This is why it’s important to only send out emails that have added value to your email list segments. Polish your content to stay up to speed with your subscribers’ needs, interests and email preferences. Send out tailored and personalized emails to provide subscribers with the value they seek.

Make sure that every email has a purpose, whether to inform (educate prospects or existing customers), build relationships (connect and nurture your audience) or convert (sell your products and services). To do this, you need to have a strategic email marketing plan to follow.

3. Looks like spam

One quick tip to improve open rates is to avoid using spammy words in your email subject lines.

Words like “Earn $$$ money”, “100% free”, “Fantastic deal” or phrases that sensationalize and over-promise should be avoided. These words can trigger spam filters causing your email to land in the spam folder.

It’s also worth noting that promoting SEO content in your email newsletters can help boost engagement and drive qualified traffic to your site. In other words, the kind of keywords you include in your copy matters.

Another rule of thumb to prevent your email from looking spammy is to have a 50/50 or 60/40 text-to-image ratio in email newsletters. It’s important to have a balance between text and image so email providers who have image blocking can determine that there’s sufficient content in your email.

4. Too much or too little content

For some people, after they subscribe, email length serves as a reason for unsubscribing from email newsletters. A common practice is to keep email newsletters around the 200 word mark (or 20 lines of text). However, this isn’t set in stone. Your email can be as long as you need it to be depending on your audience.

For instance, an email that aims to introduce a new product or service to prospects may require more information than an email announcement of an upcoming sale or special offer to existing customers.

Make sure your emails have appropriate images or graphics to support the text, and vice-versa, to effectively engage your readers.

5. The reader has moved on

The content of your emails may, in time, become irrelevant to some of your subscribers. This can happen for a variety of reasons.

For example, imagine your email newsletters provide tips on how to lose weight. Eventually, those subscribers who opened your emails and lost weight will no longer have need for it. You’ll have to engage them with other content that’s relevant to their new health and fitness goals, otherwise they’ll find it lacks value and unsubscribe.

This also goes for people who’re looking to buy something specific. Say your emails are promoting exclusive winter jackets for men. If your campaign is successful, the readers will decide to purchase and will have no more use for similar emails once they’ve bought their jackets. The next step is to keep customers engaged with your brand through content aimed at relationship-building or cross-selling.

6. Unaware they were subscribing

Many people are added to email lists without their explicit permission when, for example, they buy an item at an online store and forget to uncheck the “send me updates” box.

The fact that they didn’t know they were subscribing can be a reason many unsubscribe, so it’s best to implement automation practices such as double opt-in subscriptions, where subscribers who sign up for your email list receive a link to confirm their email address and subscription. It’s also best to clearly state the purpose and benefits of your email list so new subscribers know what to expect.

If someone doesn’t want to receive your emails, it’s better that they unsubscribe than report your email newsletter as spam. The latter might tell email providers to treat your emails as spam in the future and affect email deliverability.


Subscription mistakes to avoid

What are some common mistakes that startups and beginners may make when trying to acquire subscribers? When building your subscriptions to newsletters, there are some email marketing pitfalls to keep in mind so your hustle pays off:

1. No content on the landing page

Make sure to have some live pages with relevant, high-quality content before asking people to sign up for your newsletter. No or little content on your landing pages doesn’t give the impression of a legitimate business and will scare visitors away.

2. Visitors are unaware of the purpose and frequency of your email newsletter

Although visitors have become interested in your web page, it’s still important to make sure they’re aware of what kind of content you offer and how often they’ll be receiving emails from you. Otherwise, there’s a likelihood they won’t think it’s worth their time to sign up for your newsletter, or if they do, might find that they’re receiving too many emails.

3. The subscription form is hard to find

It’s a good idea to have the subscription form clearly visible on your homepage, otherwise it’ll be hard to get more signups. Place the call-to-action button or link at appropriate areas such as the sidebar, footer or About Us page to make sure visitors have the option to subscribe if they like what they see on your site. You can use pop-up apps or widget integrations to enhance the visibility and functionality of your sign-up forms.


Final thoughts

You can stay up-to-date on email newsletter unsubscribe stats in the report section in your email software provider. You can also ask your subscribers why they’re leaving when they decide to unsubscribe.

Now that you know why people subscribe and unsubscribe from email newsletters, you can take action to improve your email list building and subscriber retention strategies. Touch up those sign-up forms and segment, segment, segment!

Most importantly, complement your email list segmentation with relevant content delivery and watch your subscriber base grow.

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