Jan 14, 2008

Finding Inactive Subscribers with MailChimp

Burning moneyWhile clicking around the excellent Be Relevant blog, I stumbled upon this helpful article by Wendy Roth: 6 tips to win back inactive subscribers

The article offers some tips on how to revitalize a list of subscribers who just aren’t responding anymore (because they’re a waste of money). The first step is to identify those subscribers who have gone inactive:

"This takes a little database work. Create a separate mailing list, and add anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked on a message in, say, six months or longer, to it. Send a message with a pleading subject line, such as "We miss you! Please come back!" Go ahead, grovel a little. Include a special offer or invitation to fill out a new profile or encourage them to unsubscribe once and for all."

Sounds complicated. I wondered if it’s something I could do with my own list in MailChimp (and then tell our customers about it)…

Finding Inactive Subscribers on your MailChimp List

Step 1: Activate the AIM Reports Add-on

First, in order to accomplish this in MailChimp, you’ll need the AIM reports add-on (find out more about this add-on). AIM reports is like having a microscope for your campaign stats. It lets you drill down into your stats, to find out what each and every recipient does with your email. Not everyone needs it (if your list is 200,000 people, how would this help you?), so we’ve made it an optional add-on.

Step 2: Define a "did not open" segment

After the add-on is activated in your MailChimp account, create a campaign, then define a segment of your list of "People who haven’t opened my last 3 campaigns."

My MonkeyWrench Newsletter list is supposed to be a monthly newsletter. However, I only have time to send it quarterly. That’s actually a good thing in this case, because I can define a segment like this:


(click to zoom in)

My criteria basically says, "Find all the people who didn’t open my last 2 campaigns." Since I’m a lazy bum and send quarterly, two campaigns actually span six months. If you’re more diligent than I am, and send every single month, you could define up to 3 criteria, basically spanning back over 3 campaigns.

In my case, it turns out to be 2,258 people. Wow, that’s a real waste of time and money if I’m sending to over 2,000 people who just don’t care anymore. In MailChimp, that would cost somewhere around $50-$60 per campaign. If you’ve got an extremely large list, that number could be a lot more.

Why not run a segment in MailChimp right now, to find out how many people aren’t opening your campaigns, then look at our price chart to see how much all that "dead weight" is costing you per campaign. If you’re an agency sending campaigns on behalf of clients, they might appreciate the money-saving idea.

Step 3: Craft the email campaign

Once that segment of "non-responders" has been created, I can send an email to them.

The only question now is, "What the heck do we send to people who haven’t been opening my emails in the first place?"

For that, you’ll need to go read Wendy’s article:


To be honest with you, I’ve never had to go in and clean my list of inactives, so I can’t really offer any advice here. If you’ve gone through this type of list cleaning process, feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear how it turned out.  Whenever we send emails to MailChimp customers, we only send to "people who have a) paid money, and b) logged in within the last 6 months." It’s sort of an ongoing filter for my list. Incidentally, you can do sorta the same, by defining a segment of "those who opened my last 3 campaigns."

I can offer the following tips:

  • All of this hinges on the "did not open" stat. We say someone "did not open" if they don’t download tracker images in your email. It’s possible your recipients have been reading your plain-text versions, or just refusing to enable the downloading of images when they receive your emails. So take it with a grain of salt, and don’t react too swiftly. You might want to send this campaign, then come back later and run a segment again, based on "Those who did not open the inactives campaign" just to further whittle things down.
  • If they haven’t been opening in the first place, why should you expect anything different this time around? You shouldn’t, unless perhaps the problem all along was a poorly written subject line. Here are some tips for writing a better email subject line.
  • Or perhaps these people haven’t been opening your emails because their spam filters trapped them. Be sure to understand How Spam Filters Work, and try our Inbox Inspector before sending your campaign. If your normal campaigns are very image heavy, try adding more text to balance things out. You might also try our new Email Authentication feature.
  • If there are more advanced ways you’d like to analyze and use your stats, be sure to check out the powerful new MailChimp API.