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Why People Subscribe and Unsubscribe from Email Newsletters

You’ve been there yourself – sooner or later when visiting a company’s website, a sign-up form pops up, asking you to subscribe to an email newsletter. What will motivate you to do so? Take a moment to read some interesting insights on what drives people to subscribe and unsubscribe from email newsletters.

The question of how to get people to subscribe to email newsletters and prevent them from unsubscribing haunts email marketers. GetData, the research arm of GetApp, have conducted some interesting research on what motivates people to subscribe and unsubscribe from email newsletters . Read on to find. Read on to find out what entices people and what puts them off.

I (un)Willingly Subscribe To Your Newsletter…

Even after all the yammering about “opt-ins”, “confirmed opt-ins” and “double opt-ins”, GetData research shows that almost a quarter of email newsletter subscriptions (24.8%) are the result of auto-subscription. This means that a significant number of subscribers are added to email lists without their explicit permission when, for example, downloading a file or sending a support email.


Still, the majority of people subscribe to email newsletters willingly, guided by a need or interest. So, what are these people looking for?

What are the reasons people subscribe to your email list?

1. Deals and special offers.

22.6% of subscribers cite this as a reason for subscribing to email newsletters. Interestingly, it’s the most common reason among women (26.8%), but only the fourth most common reason among men (20.1%). What conclusions can we draw from this? If your business provides special offers and deals, make it known to potential subscribers. Put it on the call to action buttons in sign-up forms and state it in the newsletter description. Let people know that by subscribing to your email newsletter they are joining an exclusive group of people that receive special treatment.

Observe how WordPress motivates subscription to their newsletter.


2. News updates.

Receiving news updates is the third most cited reason for subscribing to email newsletters, with 21.4% of the respondents naming this as a basis for their subscription. Similarly, as with “deals and special offers”, emphasize in your sign-up forms that by signing up, the client will remain in the loop and will receive updates regularly. One of email marketing’s best practices is letting people know how regularly they will receive newsletters; as such, include information on newsletter frequency in the sign-up forms (daily, weekly, monthly).

The above is also our strategy here at Mailigen. We offer tips, tricks, and expert advice to our newsletter subscribers.


3. Interesting articles or content.

There’s no faking it – people recognize great content when they see it. The good news is that there’s no universal agreement on what’s “great”. Do you know what passes as “great” content in your industry? Get to know your target audience and find out what kind of content they are looking for. You can do this by asking your subscribers to fill out questionnaires or by tracking engagement on your website and social networks to see what people are interested in – what they read, what they share and what they like. Segment your email list and tailor its content, so that it caters to the varying needs and interests of your subscribers.

Here’s a great example of Unbounce inviting individuals to sign up for their newsletter.


4. Gain access to restricted content.

Only 7.6% of respondents cited this as a reason for signing up to newsletters. It appears that this dangling carrot might not seem so tempting after all. This does not mean you should dispose of this tactic for good; however, if this is the main selling point of your email newsletter, reassess your email list building strategy.

For example, ContentVerve offers a free ebook in exchange for the user’s email address.


…’Til Needy Emails, Irrelevant Content and Spam Do Us Part

Unsubscribers are inevitable. Accept it. The email newsletter might not meet someone’s expectations or it might lose relevance to the individual, etc. Don’t let it hurt your feelings; instead, strive to do better. Avoiding common subscriber irritants is a good start.


What are the reasons people unsubscribe from your email list?

Below are some of the most common reasons for unsubscribing, according to GetData.

1. Too many emails.

Yes. Surprise, surprise – people don’t want to be showered with emails. This is by far the most common reason for unsubscribing from an email newsletter, according to 46.4% subscribers. It’s difficult to find an email frequency sweet-spot and you’re only likely to find it through trial and error. The first trick is to inform people about what are they signing up for – will this be daily, weekly or monthly newsletters? The second more important trick is to send relevant emails. Don’t send emails just for the sake of sending an email. Send emails when you have something worthwhile to say and share.

2. Looks like spam.

This is the second most popular reason for unsubscribing (17.2%). There’s a checklist of actions you can take to make sure your email newsletters don’t look like spam.

3. Avoid spammy words and long subject lines.

Words like FREE, DISCOUNT, EARN MONEY, 100% FREE, 50% OFF, ACT NOW, READ THIS should be avoided at all cost. If they don’t trigger the spam filters, they will trigger that little, suspicious voice in the subscriber’s head that says “this doesn’t look good…”

4. Avoid that spammy look.

You know – large images, having the email as one big image – that look. The golden rule is to have a 50/50 or 60/40 text to image ratio in email newsletters.

5. Irrelevant content.

Irrelevant content is cited by 15.8% of subscribers as the reason for unsubscribing from email newsletters. Fair enough. Polish your content to stay up to speed with what your subscribers need, what they are interested in and what they should be interested in. Content relevancy is also related to subscriber segmentation. In fact, “not tailored to preference” is another common reason for unsubscribing, according to 7.2% of subscribers. Segment your email lists and send out specially tailored and personalized emails to provide subscribers with the value they seek.

6. Too much and too little content.

The length of content serves as a reason for unsubscribing to a handful of subscribers (4.3%); therefore, pay attention to how your content is packaged and presented to your subscribers.

7. The reader has moved on.

The content of your emails may, in time, become irrelevant to your subscribers’ passions. In other words, they have lost interest. There are many reasons for this.

For example, imaging your email list helps people with tips on how to lose weight. Now, many people may sign up to find out how they can be helped. However, eventually, the weight will come off and you will have to keep them engaged in a different way. Failing to do so will lead to unsubscribes.

Same goes for people who are looking to buy something specific. Maybe your emails are promoting exclusive winter jackets for men. Eventually, if your campaign is successful, the readers will opt to buy one of the jackets you are showing them. However, now you have to turn your customer into a fan, by keeping him engaged to your list. His interest has changed since his goal is achieved and there is a high possibility that further emails about your jackets may be seen as spammy.

8. Unaware they were subscribing.

Finally, 7.2% subscribers name the fact that they didn’t know that they were subscribing as a reason to unsubscribe. Observe email list building best practices, such as confirmed and double opt-in subscriptions and clearly stating the purpose of sign-up forms to avoid such unsubscriptions as much as possible. Remember, if someone does not want to receive your emails, it’s better that they unsubscribe than report your email newsletter as spam.

What are the most common mistakes that people make when gathering subscribers?

There are some particular patterns (or traps, so to say) that email marketing beginners often follow, only to see their efforts fail and the future campaigns bring weak results:

1. No content on the page that gathers subscribers.

If you have a website that has an e-mail newsletter, make sure you should have at least some good five pages of relevant content. No content on the page will have a negative effect, scaring the visitors away.

2. The visitor has no idea how regularly the emails will be sent. 

The visitor has become interested in your web page but there isn’t even a slight mention of how often they’ll receive your emails after subscribing. And, as we mentioned above, too many emails can be harmful to your list’s growth.

3. The subscription form is invisible. 

It is a good idea to have the subscription form in a clearly visible region of your website, inviting visitors to subscribe.

4. Make a sound statement that you will only deliver relevant information. 

To eventually convert your emails to sales, you must generate a feeling of trust, and what could be better than having it right off the bat? Relevant content builds trust, irrelevant content diminishes it.

Keeping Up With the Break-Ups

According to a 2014 Silverpop Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study, the average unsubscribe rate is around 0.1438%. Our Mailigen stats show that the average unsubscribe rate is 0.2%. Sound about right?

Stay updated with your own email newsletter unsubscribe statistics by checking out the Unsubscribe Statistics section in the email campaign reports in your Mailigen account, where you will be able to see how many of your subscribers have unsubscribed.


Find out the reasons why people unsubscribe from email newsletters simply by asking them. By default, Mailigen email marketing software has an unsubscribe form with a comment box, where unsubscribers can explain their reasons for doing so. Additionally, in your Mailigen account, you can customize the unsubscribe form, as well as the email and success page with your final farewell message and laments. To do so, go to Contacts – Web Signup Forms and choose Forms in the Resource drop-down menu.


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

Why People Subscribe and Unsubscribe from Email Newsletters
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