The average unsubscribe rate for media and publishing sites is 0.22%. So, for a list of 10,000 subscribers, you can expect about 22 unsubscribes, which is not too bad if you send a monthly campaign or so.
But we all know that online publishing doesn’t work that way…
Publishers send emails as frequently as once a week or even daily because frequent emails result in frequently returning visitors, which translates to higher ad impressions.
So, considering the usual email frequency for publications, an unsubscribe rate of even 0.22% is a highly undesirable one.
When people unsubscribe from your list, their lifetime journey with your digital media is cut short.
Because of this, you may lose up to 17 times of the revenue you would have made if the subscriber stayed with you.
As you can see in the following chart, SecureService estimates the lifetime value of a subscriber to be $20 when compared to the lifetime value of a site visitor at just $1.13.
These numbers clearly show that you don’t just need subscribers, you need them to stay with you.
You can’t ELIMINATE list turnover. But you can certainly bring it down.
That’s what we’re going to discuss in this post:
But before we do that, let’s look at some of the main reasons people unsubscribe. After that, we’ll see how personalization can put a check on them. Finally, we’ll discuss some practical ways to segment your list for sending personalized emails while reducing the list churn.
The top 2 reasons that lead to most unsubscriptions
Litmus rounded up 9 reasons that make people unsubscribe from an email list. This list established undesired email frequency and irrelevant content as two the top reasons leading to unsubscribes.
A study conducted by ConstantContact too echoed the same reasons for major unsubscribes:
And that’s not all. These two reasons keep surfacing in all email list exit studies. The one conducted by Epsilon concluded that irrelevant content drove 64% of the unsubscribes while the email frequency triggered another 60% of them.
Now that we’ve a reasonable idea about what causes most unsubscribes, let’s look into why they cause unsubscribes.
Reason #1: Email frequency – When people join your email list, they’re generally not ASKED about their desired email frequency. This results in the subscribers getting more emails that they’d appreciate, thus prompting them to unsubscribe.
On other times, they are asked how frequently they’d like to hear from, but publishers fail to segment their list to reflect this preference. This, again, leads to unsubscribes.
Reason #2: Irrelevant content – The problem of irrelevant content occurs when there’s a mismatch in the subscriber’s content needs and in what gets promoted to them in the email.
The problem of irrelevant content is even more acute for publishers because of the nature of stories they cover. Often, digital magazines cover articles that cater to different kinds of audiences. Plus, a lot of these stories tend to outdate quickly. If the people on your list get content that doesn’t interest them, they’re prompted to unsubscribe.
So what’s email personalization really
Simply put: Email personalization is a way of personalizing your email’s content, timing, and frequency using data like your subscriber’s:
- desired contents
- desired email frequency
… and more.
What email personalization is NOT
I work on a lot of email campaigns. Most of the people I work with don’t need or aren’t using advanced CRM software like HubSpot or Marketo or any other shiny options.
So, when I mention email personalization to them, they’re like “But how can we do it, it’s not like we’re using …”
Perhaps even you think like them.
But it’s not your fault.
Before I explored email personalization, even I was of the view that *personalized* emails only get triggered when some sassy CRM “detects” a particular kind of user behavior.
But I was so wrong.
When I dug deeper, I found that an incredible degree of personalization could be achieved by just building the right segments in the email list.
As you may have guessed, for advanced personalized emails like transactional emails (like the cart abandonment email, for example), you will need inputs from a CRM tool.
But like I said above, a good degree of personalization is possible with simple information about the subscriber. And any good lead generation tool will help you collect this.
How email personalization helps offer relevant content (at the desired frequency)
I hope the above primer on email personalization has given you a head start. Let’s now dig into some statistics that prove how effective it is.
In their Email Benchmark Study (2013 edition), Experian shared that personalized promotional emails got 29% higher unique open rates and 41% more unique click-through rates. Experian also stated personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates.
These are not the only stats . You can find many more that will help you tie email personalization with improved email marketing ROI.
An example to show you how email personalization makes the subscriber’s email experience more meaningful:
Suppose you run an online sports magazine where you cover news about football, stories about NBA, and cycling tournaments.
At the broad level, your target audience are sports fans.
On a more granular level, you’ve at least 3 types of sports fans in your list:
- Those who love football
- Those interested in basketball
- And those who enjoy cycling
Now, news about a soccer match may not be relevant to basketball fan and nor will news about basketball interest a cycling enthusiast.
You get the idea, right?
You might think that you’re delivering *relevant* content to your *sports fan audience*, which you’re doing in a way. But your content is still not relevant to all your subscribers at all times.
The thing is this:
Specific stories are cut out for specific audience groups. And that’s what email personalization is all about — identifying the “specific” audience groups or SEGMENTING.
If you can find a way to offer the different segments news about the topics they care about, you MAKE the content relevant to them thereby reducing unsubscribes.
And while you might not realize, asking your subscribers about their desired email frequency is but a way of personalizing their email experience. This one looks subtle, but it can bring down the number of unsubscribes significantly.
4 ways to segment a list to reduce churn
Let’s now dive into the different list segmentation tactics that you can use today and improve your next email campaign’s bottom line.
Tactic #1: List segmentation using email frequency preference
Like I said above, allowing people to choose their desired email frequency is a form of email personalization.
By using this tactic, you can make your subscribers feel that they have control over how many emails they’ll receive and when. I love the sites that let me decide this because I like to get just one email a week. Preferably on Tuesdays.
Instead of giving people the option to personalize their email schedule upfront (when they’re just getting added to the list), most people use it as the last resort on their preference center, which users mostly access when they want to unsubscribe.
(To add the desired email frequency field to your signup offer, you need to create a custom signup form field – I’ve discussed how to do this in the following tactic.)
Tactic #2: List segmentation using a subscriber’s content preferences
At Digioh, we create different content types. Here’s a general breakdown of what we cover and the various audience types it caters to:
- Potential clients – Case studies, promotional posts, general tips about email marketing
- For current customers – Posts about making the most of Digioh
- For our publisher customer segment – Exclusive tips and tactics that work for digital magazines (like the post you’re reading or the one here.)
A person who’s looking at case studies to make a buying decision may or may not be interested in our publisher content series. Our other audience segments too might not be interested in our special tips for publishers.
And so, such posts could look irrelevant to people other than those in our publisher audience group. Needless to say, these subscribers will be easy to lose if we keep creating and sending publisher exclusive content updates to them.
To stop this from happening, all we need to do is to segment our list based on the subscriber’s preferred content types. Doing so will ensure that our subscribers are only updated when topics relevant to them get covered.
To give you an example and a walkthrough, I’ll personalize the email content for all the publishers on our list.
The implementation is pretty straightforward: We will create a signup form that will show up exclusively on our content for publishers. This form will have a custom field that asks the readers if they’d be interested in our publisher content series. This way, we’ll know that the signups from that form where people say “Yes” in our custom field are people who’re interested in our publisher exclusive content alone. To identify such signups in our BLOG SUBSCRIBERS list, we’ll create a segment called “PUBLISHERS”.
The whole process takes about 5 steps or so. (Note: For this example, the lead generation tool is Digioh and the email marketing service is Campaign Monitor.)
Step #1: Identify a group in your audience that enjoys a particular kind of content.
In this case, I’ve already chosen the publisher group from our audience that finds our publisher exclusive tips helpful.
Step #2: Choose all the popular posts on that topic from the blog.
Our audience received the following post very well. As you can see, it’s written for publisher sites, so I’ll go with it.
Step #3: Add signup forms (with custom fields) to the shortlisted posts from the second step
In this step, I’m going to design a signup form with one custom field. The value that users input in this custom field will determine which segment they get added to.
How it works:
The email marketing software will see the subscriber’s data and check the value of the custom field to decide if the subscriber belongs to a particular segment.
To keep things easy, let’s call the custom field in our example as “Send me exclusive tips for publisher”
For creating the signup form, I’m choosing one of Digioh’s premade themes and adding a custom field to it. Also, I’m entering values that this custom field can take.
When a user fills out this form, the email marketing software will see the value that’s submitted in this field and dedice the segment in which this user should be added.
Here’s how the preview looks like:
Step #4: Add a custom field to your list in your email marketing software
For list segmentation to work, your email marketing software must identify any custom fields you use in your signup form.
Since we created a custom field in our signup form, we now need to tell our email marketing software about the same. So, I’ll go to Campaign Monitor to add a custom field to our email list.
(This custom field will fetch the values that people input in our signup form’s custom field.)
As you can see in the following screenshot, I’m listing the different values that this field can take: Yes and no.
Once you’re done with this, reach out to Digioh’s support team, and they’ll get the two to work together for you. If you’d like, you can also get access to our designers to design customized and exclusive email signup forms (for free).
An easier way to go about this would be to create separate lists but that’s not advisable. Besides, when you use a tool like Digioh, there are endless possibilities of segmenting your list using custom fields on signup forms.
Step #5: Setting the rule for list segmentation
Now, that the signup form has a provision to collect the custom field and that the email marketing tool, too, is set to identify the custom field, we’re good to segment our list.
All you have to do is to click on “Create a new segment” and then set the rule for segmenting. In our case, my rules goes like:
Add a subscriber to the “Publishers” segment if the value of the custom field is ”Yes”.
As I click on the “Save and preview” button, I’m shown the new segment.
(Yes, right now – it’s just me!)
That’s all about creating segments in a list using a subscriber’s content preferences.
In the above example, I’ve walked you through segmenting your list using Digioh and Campaign Monitor. If you use a lead generation tool like Digioh, you can get it to work with all the popular email marketing services.
But for any other lead generation tool or email marketing service, the overall process will be the same.
So if you use any other email marketing service, just Google:
[Email marketing service provider name] + custom form fields
For example: MailChimp + custom form fields
How will we use the publisher segment:
With the publisher segment, every time we publish publisher exclusive tips, we’d only reach out to the subscribers who’re in that segment, thus ensuring that these subscribers always find the content relevant.
When MailChimp analyzed the response of 9 million subscribers to segmented campaigns across different domains, they found that campaigns segmented using the subscriber’s interests got up to 86.34% higher clicks when compared to unsegmented campaigns.
Along with the high click through rate, the unsubscription rate was also recorded to be lower by 24.45%.
So it’s clear: This kind of list segmentation and email personalization works.
But you should be careful about the segments you need because if you think too broadly, you might not achieve effective personalization. On the other hand, if you try to zoom in a lot, again, you’ll end up 100s of segments. All of which may not be necessary.
Tactic #3: List segmentation using demographics – Segmenting a list based on information like a user’s location and other details is simple. Most email marketing tools allow this straight out of the box.
Campaign Monitor, for example, enables you to easily create segments using the subscriber’s location.
Publisher sites can use this segmentation to set the campaign delivery schedule. For instance, we prefer sending emails to our US-based subscribers on Tuesdays at 11 AM.
In addition to fine-tuning the sending schedules for campaigns, you can also use this information to promote local events to the relevant user segments.
By default, the most that an email marketing software can tell on its own is the subscriber’s location.
To enable segmentation using information like your prospect’s age, gender, or designation, you will need to add more fields to your signup form. These custom fields will pass on the right information to your email marketing service, which will use it to build segments.
Tactic #4: List segmentation using subscriber activity
Subscriber activity is another list segmentation criteria that businesses use. Subscriber activity uses information like the subscriber’s engagement levels to segment the list and personlize a subscriber’s email experience. MailChimp states that campaigns segmented using the subscriber activity data get about 13.49% more clicks than unsegmented campaigns.
An example of list segmentation using subscriber activity would be to resend a campaign to all the subscribers who didn’t open it the first time it was sent.
Neal Taparia from EasyBib tried this tip and increased his email reach by 54.7%.
“The original was sent to 2,723 people. 579 people opened it (21.3%) and 224 people clicked on the call to action (8.2% CTR).
The second email was sent to those who didn’t open the first email. 309 people opened this email and 114 people clicked on the call to action.
This means that between both emails, we reached 53.2% more people, and received 51.1% more clicks compared to the first! The number of unique opens between both emails was 32.6%.”
When you resend your campaigns to people who didn’t open it the first time, remember to change the subject line!
In addition to list segmentation, you might also want to try subject line personalization. In subject line email personalization, you use your subscriber’s first name to personalize the subject line.
Subject line personalization is proven to work for a lot of emails. In fact, in a series of 7 A/B tests that MarketingSherpa ran, the personalized version beat the non-personalized one. Each time. Not only did the customized subject lines win, but they also improved the email and click through rates by an average of 17.36%.
I must admit that I couldn’t find any data to show if subject line personalization works for digital publishers. In fact, Experian marketing services didn’t find any impact of personalized subject lines for publisher sites.
But I guess you should try before discarding the idea because campaigns that benefit from it see huge improvements.
So how many segments do you need
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) surveyed more than 70 organizations and found that 42% of them had more than 6 customer segments.
That said, there’s no “right” number of segments that your email list needs. While most companies opted for more than 6 segments in the cited study, there are some that create hundreds of them.
So, the safest answer to how many segments you need is: as many as you need.
As I said above, a good lead generation solution and an effective email marketing service are all the tools you need to start sending segmented campaigns. While a cool CRM software would be a good-to-have addition to the mix, you certainly don’t have to wait until you get one.
If you’d like to see how you can use Digioh to segment your list and bring down the unsubscribes, just sign up for a FREE demo here.
Do you have any questions about email personalization or list segmentation? Let me know in the comments!
P.S To all the Digioh power users, we were fairly surprised to learn that a few of you don’t segment your lists. We hope that this post inspires you to get started. Tell us if you need any help to take this off the ground.