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Pruning Your List To Get The Most Out Of It

I started my list in December 2010 and it took about 10 months to reach 50 subscribers. I wrote about that milestone in my post A New Milestone As My Mail List Hits 50 and that post tells of the new tactic I had started using to increase my list numbers. One that has been working so well that my numbers have since doubled.

You would think that would make me a pretty happy blogger round about now wouldn’t you? Well, I’m not and that is what this post is all about. I’m just not happy about having a list that is not performing to my expectations. Let’s face it, the whole idea of having a list is to get something from your subscribers. For most list owners it’s usually money related but all I want is that my subscribers actually open my emails to see what I’ve been up to. After all, that is why they joined isn’t it?

Having A Dedicated List Is Important

When people subscribe to a list it’s usually because the person building the list isList performance offering a freebie or something at a discounted rate. In my situation it’s because they want their link to appear on my List Page, as that is the incentive that I am offering.

The thing with lists is they’re of little use if the subscribers are not opening your emails. Lists being what they are, a lot of subscribers do not give their prime email address when joining. Instead they will use an address that is rarely used except when they use it to subscribe to a list or something. These people have no intention of opening your mail and so are pretty useless as subscribers.

I expected to get my fair share of these subscribers but the time has come to sift through my subscribers removing all the dead wood. After all, why should they receive the same reward, a link back to their site, as all my dedicated subscribesr who actually open and read my emails?

This post will serve as a warning to all my subscribers that one month from today I will be deleting all inactive members. That is all those subscribers who for whatever reason have not been opening my emails. Unfortunately for them they won’t know what the hell is going on because they won’t be opening the email linking to this post. I will also be linking to this post from my list’s signup form so that all future subscribers know their link will be removed unless they are active members.

MailChimp’s Star System

I’ve created a YouTube video to show you how easy it will be to sift through my subscribers separating the good loyal ones from those who probably only joined so they could get a free link to their website.

List Building Resources

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Peter Pelliccia

I'm an Aussie blogger who loves to blog and share everything that I've learned on my blogging journey, including blogging tips and ways to blog for money. I am also trying to make my way on YouTube. You can follow my progress by subscribing to My Bonzer Channel.

This Post Has 78 Comments


  1. Twitter:
    Just wanted to make sure you don’t remove me. ;) I’ve been unable to read all the emails I have gotten recently due to an issue I was having with my email, and have only recently started being able to get them correctly again. I noticed that I had three or four messages from you that had gone unread. So glad that my email is functioning properly again and that I’m able to receive your emails once more. Looking forward to reading more of your posts soon.

    1. Hey Allie, I would do that to a mate. :wink_ee:

      Good to hear that all is well with your email. I hope the same is true for your family.


  2. Twitter:
    LOL .. I didn’t even realize there was a “reward” for being on your list. I just remember seeing that you had a list, and signed up. That being said, I may appear to be one of those “bad subscribers”, as I have your feed in my google reader, so that how I see most of your posts.
    Todd recently posted…How To Pack For A Military DeploymentMy Profile

    1. Must be why women keep telling us we’re not all that observant hey Todd? :lol_ee:


  3. Twitter:
    Hi Peter,

    I read generally your posts but sometimes I read your articles via Twitter or via RSS or directly but not by email.

    Lately, I’ve no time to do nothing, even to comment. I didn’t know about the list page, I see that I’m included – thanks! but I haven’t the url, the same is the one that I post in this comment.

    You’re right, I use a secondary email to subscribe to newsletters, but to read them when I can and not just to collect emails pending :)

    It’s nice to see my profile on Youtube and my opening rate, I know I’m not the better subscriber LOL

    I don’t have clear, a question: gmail has disabled images by default, then you receive an “opened”, only if I’ve images allowed or there is another parameter that Mailchimp counts without considering an image to track the opening.

    Cheers,

    Gera
    Gera recently posted…CommentLuv Global Search EngineMy Profile

    1. Yeah, there wasn’t any url because you didn’t include one when you signed up Gera :wink_ee:

      Now that I know who you are I’ve edited the page to show your site.

    1. You were never in danger Roz

      1. @Peter, thanks :kiss_ee:

        @Keith – thanks for remembering, I over estimated the length of my speech so I rushed it a bit but apart from the speed there weren’t any criticisms. For my part I was a bit nervous and forgot to breathe, Lol. My friend videoed it and after I check that I don’t look or sound terrible I might post it. :confused_ee: :grrr_ee: :bigsurprise_ee:
        Roz Bennetts recently posted…RozBennetts: As economic confidence plummets, Google removes ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button http://t.co/BPfGva31 via @newsthumpMy Profile

        1. Hey Roz, did you imagine all your audience being naked :wink_ee:

          Post it regardless of what you think. I want to see you in action.

          1. Hehe, no Peter, that had been suggested but I was in too much of a fluster to think of anything but just doing a passable job and not making a mess of it all. :bigsurprise_ee: And I had managed to get myself lost on the way to the venue on the same route that I have taken four times before doh! :gulp_ee:. I have a Sat Nav on my Christmas list this year. :embarrassed_ee: :tongue_rolleye_ee:

            I will let you know if I post it. :smile1_ee:
            Roz Bennetts recently posted…RozBennetts: As economic confidence plummets, Google removes ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button http://t.co/BPfGva31 via @newsthumpMy Profile

            1. I can’t wait. Do you have a lovely English accent? Silly me, it’s not like you would know :lol_ee:

  4. I think culling is a good idea. I do this regularly with Facebook and Twitter.

    Not sure how you know who isn’t opening your emails. That would be a cool feature to know about.

    1. Hey Valerie, that’s why I made the video, to show people how easy it is with MailChimp.

  5. Wow now that will give us all a shakeup won’t it. I do read most of your posts which I must say are great and always look forward to what you have to say next.
    Thanks and good luck.

    1. So glad you like the posts Danica and tanks so much for being one of my 5 star subscribers.

  6. Hi Sire,

    What you plan to do is a sure fire way of ensuring you have a healthy list. I even started doing that on my food recipes site. I use MailChimp as well and there’s a way to sort by star rating and set a date range so that you don’t have to go in and delete/unsubscribe them one by one.

    Being a non-internet marketing niche, the list for that site is growing at a rate I never imagined and I want to make sure I leave the dead bones behind as I get closer to when I have to start paying.

    With a 5-star rating, I am a very good subscriber so don’t you think it’s time you gave me some nice keywords on your links page? I see you gave some “special ones” some nice keywords. Thank you :)

    1. Hey Flo, I would love to give you some nice keywords. You just tell me what one you want and I will make the changes.

      Now that I’ve made the necessary changes to my subscribe form I have armed myself so that I can delete any subscriber who does not maintain some form of activity.

      Must check out that feature you mentioned too.

  7. Sire – I haven’t seen list pruning discussed as a topic before. We advise our clients that sheer numbers don’t mean much when it comes to list size. The important metric is the open rate (and conversion rate) of the subscriber list. We would rather have a list of 50 active subscribers than a list of 50,000 inactives.

    Also, I haven’t been a subscriber very long, but I’m active!

    1. Hey Michael, who knows I may be the first. Besides most people like to brag about how big their lists are but like you I prefer a small active list than a huge one that doesn’t amount to anything.

  8. Hi Sire,

    Brilliant post and I applaud you for taking this action – I suspect that few others would have the nerve to take such action.

    I must admit that I signed up to your blog to get updates when you posted new material and I didn’t even realize that I was included on your links page. That is a great bonus feature. Thanks.

    Too many people join lists just to get free stuff and getting rid of these freeloaders is a good thing.

    Coincidentally I am about to do something similar with one of my own lists very soon…inviting them to become more interactive or inviting them to leave!

    Great stuff,

    Patrick.

    1. Hey Patrick,

      so glad you liked my approach. I included people in that list as a sign of thanks for becoming subscribers. The problem is that I believe that subscribing alone isn’t enough to be on the list, they should at least open the emails I send them to see if I have something interesting to say. As far as I’m concerned that’s the polite thing to do and if they’re not prepared to do that then I don’t want them on the same page as those who are.

  9. I often read through my RSS feed, too. If it is a post I’ve already read I don’t click through on the email. If you want to increase your opens and your click throughs start adding subscriber only info like reports, an ebook that you wrote yourself or that you have authority to give away (I have one you can use if you want – just send me a message) or even blog post style emails that have real value and aren’t on your blog. Then mention in the blog post that your subscribers are getting ____ and that they should watch their email.

    Just an idea but I know when I do that I get better results. :)

    1. Hey Danielle,

      all good points but the whole reason for starting that list was so that subscribers would never miss out on a post. If you already subscribe to my RSS then there is no need for you to also subscribe to my list.

      I hate using my RSS reader because it’s so busy and so I rarely open it. I’m sure there are others like me who prefer to get an email when I publish a post and that is who I aim my list at.

  10. I don’t understand the point of deleting them. What if one day they happen to open your email. What does it hurt to email them?

    1. Khleo, my reports show that the vast majority of them have never opened an email so they are probably using a dummy email address. That being the case they probably will never open an email, so why should they reap the same reward as those who do?

  11. I have the same problem Sire. You listed a few reasons that I haven’t thought of. Whatever the reason, it is discouraging to see that only about half of those who receive the eMails bother to open them, and fewer bother to click through – though that last part is my fault for not being good enough at enticing them.

    1. Allan, the click through doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that they don’t even bother to see what I have to say. Once I’ve pruned the dead wood I’ll be left with as whole lot of 4 and 5 star subscribers which will do a lot for my ego when I log onto MailChimp :wink_ee:

  12. Pete, I like you, I consider you to be a good mate, so please don’t take offence or exception to my remarks here.

    Cutting to the chase… It is YOUR fault that people don’t open, read, or click-through what you send out on your list. On the flip-side, it is also your fault when they do. :-)

    There are probably numerous reasons why you’re not getting a very high open rate (BTW, your subscriber numbers are still way too insignificant to get a good feel of rates). I can’t think of all, but one that stands out for me is that there isn’t much in the way of diversity. What I mean is that your mailing list is pretty much just a mini clone of your RSS feed and the blog itself. Danielle touched on this in her comment. You need to be sending stuff to your list that isn’t available through your RSS or blog.

    For me it has gotten to the point where I see email from you in my INBOX, I don’t open it, and some time later I think: “oh, Pete has a new post, I’ll visit his blog”. I know I don’t need to read the email because it will only be telling me about your latest post.

    No, I don’t do that every time, occasionally I’ll even click the link in the email because I’m too lazy to open my browser’s bookmarks. :-)

    Instead of pruning the “dead wood”, as you put it, I think you should be thanking those one, and two-star subscribers for staying with you in spite of you not being able inspire them to be active. How to get them to see your appreciation might be another matter however. :-)

    Another thing to think about, Pete, is that deleting the inactive people buys you nothing. You get zero advantage from it that I can see. You unsubscribing Billy NeverClick isn’t going to make Lucy LoyalReader click or read more. All you have done is guaranteed that Billy will never click through.

    Kindest regards,
    Steve

    1. Hey Steve, no offence taken mate. Heck, for awhile there while reading your comment you reminded me of my wife, she always seems to think everything is my fault :lol_ee:

      What I mean is that your mailing list is pretty much just a mini clone of your RSS feed and the blog itself. Danielle touched on this in her comment. You need to be sending stuff to your list that isn’t available through your RSS or blog

      That’s true but they knew that when they signed up. Perhaps they would be better off unsubscribing from my RSS feed? Also I would like to point out that there are quite a few subscribers who have never, ever opened an email right from the very start. To me that signifies that their only intention was to get that free link to their site.

      I know I don’t need to read the email because it will only be telling me about your latest post.

      Actually you would be better off opening it because it gives a quick outline of what my post is about. Reading it would allow you to work out whether or not it’s worth giving that post a visit.

      I think you should be thanking those one, and two-star subscribers for staying with you in spite of you not being able inspire them to be active. How to get them to see your appreciation might be another matter however. :-)

      Thanking them for abusing my generosity of giving them a link back to their site. I don’t think so. Remember a great majority of those have never opened an email and all they deserve is a kick up the arse. Considering I can’t do that I reckon removing their link from my list page and removing them from my list is good enough.

      Another thing to think about, Pete, is that deleting the inactive people buys you nothing. You get zero advantage from it that I can see. You unsubscribing Billy NeverClick isn’t going to make Lucy LoyalReader click or read more. All you have done is guaranteed that Billy will never click through

      Those people are never going to read my emails let alone click on a link. They’re not even regular readers of my blog.

      OK. I think I covered it all. Shit, I wish I could get away with having my say with the wife. :wink_ee:

  13. Oh to have a list long enough to cull.I am just starting out and I must admit I am finding it hard work

    1. My list isn’t all that long David but I’m culling it anyway.

  14. My favorite shrubs are spirea. They come in a whole bunch of sizes, leaf colors, and bloom colors and are very easy to own. You will have no problem at all of finding ones that will stay smaller as you have requested but read carefully because there are big ones too. Care of spirea is very simple. They are easily hardy in zone 5, they can work well both in formal and more wild settings and will accept as little or as much pruning as you want to give them. I recommend pruning them every year just to retain shape but this is one of the easiest shrubs to prune that you can own. It takes me about 5 minutes per shrub each year. My favorites include gold flame, little princess, and gold mound.

    1. You got to love this comment! :lol_tb: If you read the post you would know I wasn’t pruning a bush.


  15. Twitter:
    We’re struggling with building a new list too Sire and it can be frustrating. One thing to keep in mind is the stats we see are very inaccurate at best. Anyone receiving text versions or that has images turned off can not and are not included in any open rate stats. It’s very possible you will be deleting active subscribers that simply aren’t counted. With that said, I think it is good to keep our lists clean. Just like high bounce rates on our blogs, we need to be proactive and address problems like that. Oh yeah, don’t delete me, I plan on visiting that part of the World someday and I might not take you out to lunch. :P

    1. I do send out both versions just in case there are those that only accept text versions but I always thought they would be in the minority.

      Still, I will make special concession for them if they take the time to leave a comment.

  16. I tell you about my experience with lists. Difficult, very difficult to have a list. 50 subscribers in 10 months? it’s a wonderful achievement!

    1. It’s actually over 100 now but may well be 50 once the culling is over Manuel. :lol_ee:

  17. Peter
    I’m active, I’m active… honest, I’m active.

    I’m in the process of setting up a new site, need to think about setting up a list for it.

    Cheers Peter.
    Keith Davis recently posted…The Tyranny of the Or…My Profile

    1. I know you are Keith. With MailChimp setting it up is easy, the hard thing is getting subscribers :wink_ee:

  18. I am one of those people who don’t always open emails but go directly to the website to read your articles. I find it more time effective to do it this way so I will show up as an inactive member…….but I do come to your site regularly. I guess the proof is that I am replying to your post :)

    1. Hey Brenda. I reckon I’ll have to take that into consideration :wink_ee:

  19. I think that the whole idea of having a list isn’t to get something from your subscribers, but rather to give them something they desperately need. To be honest, the content you provide here is wonderful (the interaction in the comments proves it). However, email lists are a little bit different than comments. If you want people to open your emails, then you must induce curiosity into them. I think you’re missing a few things:
    1- An optin form in the top right corner.
    2- A light box if you’re ok with it.
    3- Because people are developing an immunity against subscriptions, you need to offer something of great value and which they can’t resist.
    4- There are many great internet marketers who will teach you how to deal with your list subscribers (Mike Filsaime, Ryan Deiss…etc) to name a few. I also advise that you read John Carlton’s blog or even get one of his courses as this guy can get even the toughest minded internet marketers to open his emails through writing good copy.

    Good Luck Sire.
    H David

    1. David, did you read the post. I don’t have a problem with them subscribing so most of your comment has nothing to do with the post?

  20. Hi Sire,
    I don’t usually subscribe to newsletters, but I subscribed to yours — perhaps a month ago. Since I used the same email to alert me of comments on my site, I check that email. The main reason I subscribed to yours is because I know you won’t be trying to sell me something with every mail you send. I don’t mind to see them now and again, but when that’s all a blogger is doing that really gets annoying (at least for me).

    You want to know something? I’ve done my own pruning. By removing myself from the newsletters, that are always trying to sell me something. ;) I’ve stopped following those blogs too, because the constant selling in their newsletters annoyed me so much. :)

    You have mentioned a few products that interested me, and when I do purchase them, I’ll use your affiliate link. :)
    Opal recently posted…Recharged and ready to go; home after the holidaysMy Profile

    1. That’s exactly why I didn’t want to have that sort of list Opal. I just wanted to give my readers a way of being notified when I publish another post, other than subscribing to my RSS feed. I feel that subscribing gives it more of a personal touch.

  21. Sire,
    My namesake blog doesn’t have a very big list and so I haven’t paid much attention to it. And when I have, the response has been underwhelming (I sent them a survey.) To my amazement one of my other blogs now has a list of 50 and I haven’t posted for months – until last week. Tomorrow I’m sending them an email and I modeled on yours because it seemed very clear. After that I don’t know what to do – except I promised to send another in a month. Steve has got me thinking about how I might put some extra value into the emails.

    1. Hey Ralph, nothing wrong with including something of value in your emails. I don’t bother because mine isn’t that type of list. Still, I’m sure that they would appreciate something of value very now and again. Maybe some Aussie wit :wink_ee:

  22. WHat is the count of your subscribers now…

    1. At last count it was just over the hundred mark.

  23. Having a list of emails is essential to let your potential customers know about your products and special offers and promotions.
    The ideal scenario is when they subscribe on their own then they will surely read your emails and not treat them as “spam”. When they are signing up for a freebie they might offer a less used email address, although some use their primary one and receiving emails from you might then be treated as spam. If they are not interested in your offers then you shouldn’t be obliged to help them in any way.
    Regards,
    David

    1. I only feel an obligation to those who actually read my emails every now and again David. If they’re not willing to do that then there is no reason for me to feel obligated to them.

  24. Thank you for the detailed review and the youtube video explaining how easy it is.

  25. Hey Sire,

    Wow man, that video was so fun to watch!

    I was kind of praying that I would show up somewhere so I could see how many stars I had (I saw I have five, YEAH!)

    And then I wanted to see if I open and click as well but I didn’t get to see that part :( (I do believe I always open and click though lol)

    Anyway I think that pruning your list is at least the less you could do and man, I think I wouldn’t be so polite with members like that.

    Particularly because I’m using Aweber and you know that those guys can really get expensive if you start having some decent numbers of subscribers on your lists.

    I enjoyed a lot your video Sire and hope you’re doing great!

    Sergio

    PS. The MailChimp reports were looking tight!!

    P.P.S. Were you recording your screencast with ScreenFlow?

    1. Hey Sire,

      I tried using the Edit button but I don’t know what I did that I don’t see my edit anywhere so I just replied here instead (sorry!):

      I was trying to ask you if you could update the link you have for me to http://marketingwithsergio.com since the iSeeSalesPeople site is no longer alive.

      If you can’t (for any reason) it’s ok too, since I have plans for that domain anyway!

      Take care and thanks in advance man!

      Sergio

      1. No worries mate, consider it done.

    2. I am doing great Sergio and I’m glad you liked the video.

      I love MailChimp and if my list ever grows to the point where I have to pay for it I’ll be glad to do it.

      As for what I was using to record that video it was Camtasia, the Mac version.


  26. Twitter:
    He Peter,

    I guess thats a good way to deal with the issue. I have many inactive subscribers as well. I think i should do the same. Though, part of the blame should go to me as I have been a bit lazy with the list. I need to get more active myself. Thanks.

    1. Hey Satrap, perhaps get more active first and then prune your list to get rid of any dead wood.

  27. Nice Call Sire..

    I just did this recently as well since I was getting close to the next price bracket. It’s pretty cool that you can see who hasn’t been opening your emails. I just deleted anyone that hasn’t opened in the last 5 months.

    1. Thanks Darren, it’s been a while coming and I reckon it’s a little overdue. I’m being nice by allowing them a month to become active but I’m sure the vast majority of them never actually read my emails so they don’t deserve the same treatment as those who do.

  28. Just a quick question for you Sire, that being with MailChimp, if you already have a list can you just add email addresses to it, or do you have to send something out and ask people to subscribe again?
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…5 Reasons It Takes So Long To Create WebsitesMy Profile

    1. Hey Mitch, you can just add them as long as you have their permission to be on your list.

    1. I didn’t really mention all that many features Janis and this post was more about why I’m trimming my list than it is about MailChimp. I was actually wondering if you read the post and almost deleted your comment.

  29. I’ve been online for several years now, and building a list has been the most important element. Giving your subscribers what they want is crucial. And the best way to do this is to ask them. If you find that your subscribers don’t open your emails, it’s because they find that there’s nothing for them.

    What’s important is not the size of the list, but what you do with them.

    Franck

    1. Hey Franck, welcome to my blog. I wouldn’t mind if they opened an email every now and again, at least if they did that I could assume that they were not interested in what I had to say. The fact is that a lot of the subscribers I’m talking about have never ever opened one of my emails! That being the fact they have no idea of what I have to offer.

      I asked myself if they find my emails so useless then why don’t they unsubscribe? Obviously they want the link back to their sites. Well, nothing in life is free and so I’m going to unsubscribe them myself and remove their links for them.

      1. Strange that most of them never opened your email. I was about to suggest you to ask them, but if they don’t open them, there no point to do that as well.

        Many people use a “throw away” email address to subscribe to lists. This is something to consider.

        But here is the thing: since you have a list, why not contacting on their blog/site directly and ask them? I’d do that.

        Franck

        1. Many people use a “throw away” email address to subscribe to lists. This is something to consider.

          I said the very thing in my post and these will be the first to go.

          But here is the thing: since you have a list, why not contacting on their blog/site directly and ask them? I’d do that.

          Rather than do that I could have contacted them by email but I went for this blog post instead. :wink_ee:

  30. I am hearing more and more in the internet world about making sure your list is up to date with people who actually read your emails. It certainly makes sense.

    1. I think so Norm

  31. Well, like someone else I didn’t realize the free backlink that you offer..Thanks :)

    I watch your video and found it very interesting. I start using Mailchimp too,after I saw it here

    1. No worries Albert, it’s just a small gift to thank my subscribers.

  32. Are you sure that MailChimp labelling mails as “unopened” are really unopened? I wonder whether not those recipients may just read their emails in their email application and thus possibly not be noticed as having opened their email. Of course, MailChimp – I have never used it due to its TOS – may register if someone has clicked on a link, then you will know the reader is “active”. But if he does not – are you sure, your statistics cover the case of offline reading?
    AM recently posted…One or a few Poems (maybe just online for a short while)My Profile

    1. Apparently they can keep track of simple text messages so these people may read their emails it doesn’t know that they’ve been opened.

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