Nov 3, 2009

How to Reactivate Inactive Subscribers

Update: Lots of our users have found the reactivation process helpful, and we’ve updated this post so the process is clearer. Updates to the original post appear in bold.

Note: The reactivation process only works for users who have a history of sending with MailChimp. If you import a list and go through this process before sending with MailChimp, chances are that we’ll unsubscribe more of your list than you’d like. That’s because there’s a rating system in the app that tracks subscriber activity and engagement, and the engagement data isn’t applied until you’ve sent a few campaigns to your list. The more history you have with sending through MailChimp, the more accurate our engagement data will be.

Last week, Ben blogged about how MailChimp allows you to segment your mailing list by activity. He gave several good examples of how you can use the tool effectively, but I’d like to show you how to use it to reactivate inactive subscribers and remove subscribers who don’t want to be on your list.

If you’ve ever received a subscription to a magazine, you know that as you approach the end of your subscription, you start receiving letters in the mail about renewing your subscription. And it’s never just one: You get a series of letters, all designed to move you to action. It may seem like overkill, but there’s good research showing that a renewal series is more effective at retaining subscribers than a single renewal notice. Renewals can get lost, thrown away, or forgotten in a pile of mail. Sending a series of renewals increases the likelihood that a subscriber will renew if he desires, or that he’ll make an active decision not to renew.

Keeping someone on your email list may not mean that you’ll see additional subscription or advertising revenue. However, if the overall engagement of your list affects its deliverability, it makes sense to confirm that inactive subscribers want to be on your list, and to remove subscribers that have lost interest. Plus, if you have a large number of inactive subscribers on your list, you may be spending more money on your campaigns than is necessary. The magazine-renewal principle applies to email lists, too: Email can easily get lost in a cluttered inbox, and sending a series of reactivation notices ensures that the subscriber is aware that his subscription is expiring.

To set up a reactivation campaign in MailChimp, create a new campaign. When you get to the list screen, segment your list like this:


Make sure both conditions apply by selecting “match ALL of the following”. We recommend that you target subscribers who have been inactive for at least six months. To do that, set the two conditions like I’ve done above. Member ratings of 1 and 2 respectively represent subscribers who have soft bounced and subscribers who have never opened or clicked email you’ve sent them.

When you’ve successfully segmented  your list, you’re ready to begin writing the text of your reactivation campaign. For the second and third emails in the series, you can segment your list the same way. Subscribers that have reactivated won’t match the conditions of the segment, so you don’t need to worry about accidentally sending them subsequent renewal notices.

What does a reactivation series actually look like? I’ve created a very generic series below. You’re welcome to copy or revise this text for your own reactivation campaigns.


Subject: Do You Want to Renew Your Subscription?

*|FNAME| *,

You signed up to receive news and information from *|LIST:COMPANY| *. Would you like to renew your subscription?

Please take a moment to indicate your preference below:

<a href="link to Thank You page">YES, I’d like to continue receiving email from *|LIST:COMPANY| *.</a>

<a href="*|UNSUB| *">NO, I no longer wish to receive email from *|LIST:COMPANY| *.</a>



Subject: Your Subscription to *|LIST:COMPANY| *’s Newsletter Expires Soon

*|FNAME| *,

We haven’t heard from you about your subscription to *|LIST:COMPANY| *’s newsletter. If you want to be removed from our mailing list, you don’t need to do anything further. If you’d like to continue receiving news and information, please reply by clicking below:

<a href="link to Thank You page">YES, I’d like to continue receiving email from *|LIST:COMPANY| *.</a>



Subject: Your Subscription to *|LIST:COMPANY| *’s Newsletter Has Expired

*|FNAME| *,

Thanks for your interest in receiving *|LIST:COMPANY| *’s newsletter. Your subscription has expired and you have been removed from our mailing list.

If you’d like to renew your subscription now or in the future, click the link below:

<a href="link to Sign Up page">YES, I’d like to receive news and information from *|LIST:COMPANY| *.</a>


Wrapping Up

As you can see, the first notice just asks if the subscriber would like to continue receiving email. The second notice acknowledges the first and only provides a positive action; the subscriber will be unsubscribed if no action is taken. The third email confirms that no action has been taken and the subscriber will be unsubscribed, while providing one final opportunity to reactivate.

Immediately after you send Email #3, export the 2-star segment and use our bulk unsubscribe tool to unsubscribe everyone that was sent Email #3. This will clear all the inactive addresses from your list. Anyone who receives Email #3 and wants to stay subscribed will have a final opportunity to re-subscribe by clicking the subscribe link in Email #3.

Another option would be to export the 2-star segment between sending Email #2 and Email #3, and to create a temporary list you can use to send Email #3. With this option, you can go ahead and bulk unsubscribe the remaining 2-star addresses from your primary list before sending Email #3. Delete the temporary list after you send email #3 and you’re all done!

Concerning the YES and NO options within the emails: The YES option for Emails #1-2 can link to any page on your site, because simply clicking on the link will increase the subscriber’s rating to 3 stars and remove him from the inactive segment. Ideally, you should link to a dedicated page that thanks your subscribers for renewing. Note that you can’t link to MailChimp’s "thank you" page; the link should go to a page on your own site. Also, it can take up to 24 hours for member ratings to change after subscribers click the link in your reactivation email. The YES option for Email #3 should go to your MailChimp sign up form, which will provide your readers an opportunity to be added back to your list. The NO option should contain your unsubscribe link, which you can copy above or from any previous campaign you sent.


Regardless of the frequency of your normal campaigns, we recommend sending the reactivation series over three weeks, with one email per week. That way, you won’t overwhelm your subscribers with email, but the series will be frequent enough that you’ll keep the reactivation request fresh on their minds.

You’ll want to be sure you email so they have a heads up that you’re sending a reactivation email. In the event that your campaign generates high unsubscribe rates, prior notification will help them be aware of what you’re doing and can help you avoid the account becoming temporarily disabled. When you’ve completed the series and allowed a week for subscribers to reply to the final email, go into your MailChimp list and remove the subscribers that still fit the inactive segment.