As a seasoned marketer you already know your email program is only as good as the lists you use. But here’s something you might not know: List churn eats up about 25-30% of the average email list every year (source).

No matter how fast or effectively you build your email lists, they’ll shrink in size if your growth doesn’t outpace your churn rate.  It can feel like a losing battle at times. The good news? Email marketing doesn’t have to be this way.

Today we tell you everything there is to know about list churn and provide you with several ways to combat this silent campaign killer. Keep reading.

What is list churn?

On the most basic level, churn rate refers to how many subscribers leave an email list in a given period of time. To dig a little deeper, we’ve broken down the two different types of email churn:

Transparent Churn: Transparent churn refers to the group of recipients who unsubscribe from your emails on their own. It also includes hard bounces and those who have reported your emails as spam.

Opaque Churn: On the other hand, opaque churn refers to the group of subscribers who just don’t open your emails. This can be for a few reasons: they’re either not interested in your brand, or your messages are landing in their spam folder.

Why is list churn such a big problem?

We prefer to classify list churn as a symptom of a bigger problem rather than the problem itself. Think of it this way: if a significant amount of people unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam, then there’s something wrong with your emails, not the subscribers.

So while an unsubscribe may not be a big deal on its own, a high churn rate could indicate a big issue. Maybe you’re targeting the wrong people, maybe you send too many emails, maybe you don’t clean your email database often enough—the list goes on.

Our point? You can’t ignore list churn—it’s an important metric that can help diagnose and solve your biggest email campaign problems.

How do I figure out my churn rate?

There’s much debate about the best way to calculate churn rate—and the truth is, there are several ways to go about it and none of them are guaranteed to be 100% accurate. Here’s what we recommend: select a time period, calculate how many subscribers you’ve lost, and then divide that number by the size of your list.

Thanks to GetResponse, we know that equation looks like this:

The number you’re left with only includes transparent churn rate—which is what most marketers calculate.  Opaque churn rate is more difficult to calculate. To do so, you’ll need to know what percent of your emails actually reach an inbox and out of those, how many go unclicked or unopened.

Again, GetResponse does an excellent job of explaining:

10 ways to reduce list churn

Now that you’ve calculated your churn rate, you’re probably asking, “now what?” Well, whether your list churn is small or substantial, there’s always room for improvement.

So, here’s the part of the article where we provide you with several proven ways to reduce list churn. Stay with us.

Build a preference center.

According to HubSpot, there’s a variety of reasons people unsubscribe from marketing emails—the top three being frequency (54%), repetitive content (49%), and a cluttered inbox (47%) (source). But, there’s a simple solution to divert some of these users from leaving—a preference center.

For those who aren’t familiar, a preference center is an online portal that allows subscribers to manage and control their own email preferences. A preference center gives more choices than an unsubscribe page alone.

A preference center can give the option to receive less emails, or to only receive a certain kind of emails instead of opting out of all communications. So while customers may end up receiving less emails, they’ll be more likely to stay on your list and engage with your brand if they have more control over email options.

Get more targeted.

Personalization is the gold standard in marketing these days. The truth is, if you send your customers generic marketing emails, they’re likely to become disinterested and unsubscribe. In fact, 78% of consumers said they were more likely to buy from a retailer that presented them with offers targeted to their interests, wants and needs (source).

Instead of sending one-size-fits-all email campaigns, segment your lists by buyer persona and send highly targeted offers that speak to each persona’s interests. This will keep your audience engaged and less likely to unsubscribe.

Test different cadences.

Think about your own email preferences for a second—why do you hit that unsubscribe button? For most people, it’s because they receive too many emails. If your list churn rate is high, consider testing out different send frequencies.

Even if you think you don’t have a frequency problem, your customers might not agree.

Spend more time on your content.

You only have one chance to make a good first impression on a prospect or customer. If you send low quality content—even once or twice—a portion of your audience will take one look and unsubscribe.

For this reason, it’s essential to consistently create high-quality, relevant content.  Before you hit the send button, ask yourself the following questions:

Will this content add value to the reader’s life?

Is this content targeted towards this person’s wants and needs?

Would I read this content myself?

If you’re second guessing the value of your content, take a second look and make sure what you’re sending is up to scratch.

Interested in learning more about how to use content marketing and marketing automation to engage prospects and turn them into customers? If so, check out the Aritic website, which has a ton of additional resources.

Develop a loyalty program.

Everyone loves a deal. Keep your churn rate down by using an incentive or loyalty program. It can be as simple as sending a coupon code or discount once a month. If your subscribers know it’s coming, they’ll be more likely to stick around.

Invest in reengagement campaigns.

The average permission-based email list contains 60% inactive subscribers (source). Recapture this segment of your audience by using reengagement campaigns. There are several ways to do this, but the general concept is to provide an offer or an incentive for opening your emails and engaging with them.

We talk about this type of campaign in more depth, here: 6 Ways to Reengage Inactive Email Subscribers.

Send a welcome email.

Once a subscriber is added to your email list, send them a welcome email to engage them right away. This does two things—it keeps your brand top-of-mind and it gives you the opportunity to spell out the advantages of your email program. That way, when subscribers receive your next email, they’ll already know what to expect.

Ask your subscribers what they’re looking for.

There’s no way to truly know what your subscribers want until you ask them—it’s as simple as that.

Send out a brief survey to your subscribers asking what types of content they like to receive, how often they want to receive emails, and what you could potentially do to improve your emails. Then, use that information to tailor your sends. If you give people what they want, they’ll be less likely to unsubscribe.

Show your appreciation.

Everyone likes a thank you note, even your email subscribers. Showing your appreciation is a small way to make your subscribers feel like they’re more than just a name on a list somewhere. Start by sending a company update or announcement and thank your customers for the role they had to play in your success.

Implement a double opt-in system.

This last tactic is a simple but effective one. Ask your subscribers for confirmation of their subscription through a double opt-in process. If you aren’t familiar with how this works, it basically means you don’t add someone to your email list until they confirm their subscription by email.

This makes sure the subscriber is truly interested and has given you an accurate, active email address. The double opt-in has proven over and over again to reduce opt-outs, double engagement metrics, and generally produce more engaged email subscribers (source).

Key Takeaways

If you’re struggling to build your email list or aren’t seeing the email results you’d like, take a look at your churn rate. This metric, though certainly not a glamorous aspect of email marketing, is essential to identifying and fixing some of the biggest email marketing mistakes.

If you’ve fallen victim to list churn, we’d love to know how you resolved it. Or, if you’ve determined a better way to calculate list churn, let us know.

About the Author: Molly Clarke is a Web Marketing Manager at Zoominfo. Zoominfo offers the most accurate and actionable sales intelligence to help organizations accelerate growth and profitability. The continuously updated database enables sales and marketing teams to execute more effective marketing campaigns and improve lead generation efforts. Visit for more information.