How To Re-engage Your “Zombie” Subscribers

It’s the worst feeling… You send out your email. You feel proud of what you’ve written or what you’re about to offer. And then you watch the open rates.


It feels like you’ve been slapped in the face. What happened to all of those people in your list? Why are they not opening your emails?! Let’s uncover one fact first that I hope will make you feel less alone in the world of email marketing.

What’s the state of inactive subscribers in email marketing?

The sad fact is that on an average, 60% of your email list is considered to be inactive. And by inactive I mean someone who hasn’t opened or engaged with your emails for the last 6+ months. Crazy right?


That’s some staggering stats that can make a grown man cry!

OK, maybe not cry, but you get my point.

Here you are, putting all your effort into your email marketing and only 40% will actually read it.

Campaign Monitor actually took a look at 18,000 active subscriber lists (used in 2013) and categorized them, to help identify different levels of engagement in the lists.



All of these numbers makes you wonder if it’s even worth it… But trust me, it still is.

“Maintaining a high quality list of engaged subscribers is a true business asset. It pays to regularly reach out to inactive subscribers and bring them back into the fold.”

Anna Elliott, Marketing Manger at Vectron Systems & Bepoz Retail Solutions

Why should you bother using time on inactive subscribers?!

First of all this won’t be something you do more than…say…once every 3 months. And once you’ve set up the process (which we’ll look at in a few minutes) you can just set this on automation and, presto!

But why would you want to it in the first place?

    1. Some will actually respond to your re-engagement campaign and become active again
    1. If they become active again, the become potential buyers of your services/products
  1. Which means you’ll make more money from your new and bigger active list

How do you re-engage them?

The big question still remains though. How do you actually to this? How to get your subscribers to become engaged and active again?

Before we start I want you to think for a couple of minutes on why they have become inactive.

Come on, I’m sure you got at least one idea or reason as to why they ar not opening your emails.

It could be that they no longer use the email address they signed up with. It happens. Maybe they’ve moved on and are no longer interested in your niche or topics. I’ve done that plenty of times myself. Or maybe they don’t see the same value in your emails like they used to.

There’s probably a lot more reasons, but this is an important step to get you conscious about your list and your content.

The process you see in the image below will help you get your subscribers engaged again. So let’s take look on what actions you can take to re-engage your subscribers.



Who are the “zombies”? I would use 6+ months as a definition of an inactive subscriber.

Now find out how many (the number) in your list that are inactive. This will give you good indication of how your email marketing is working. The fewer there are the better your content is performing. Just for fun, check your percentage of inactive subscribers compared to the average of 60%.

Segment those inactive. How inactive are they? Figure out how long they’ve been inactive and put them in different “buckets”.

Send them a special email with a subject line that let’s them know you care and that you miss them. Get personal and use emotion.

Send an email with a simple survey, maybe some multiple choices, to find out what they think of your content/emails. There’s no better way to get some feedback than a simple survey. Though you need to make it easy to finish and it shouldn’t take long either.

Ask them to update their subscription info is also more secure way to make sure they want to stay on your list. By the way, there’s no shame in asking to unsubscribe either.

Listen to those who respond and adjust. The feedback you get from your subscribers is one of the most important things you need to listen to. If you adjust your marketing to what they express, you’ll speak directly to their hearts.

Those who respond can be moved to an active list. And just like that, they are back on your list as engaged subscribers.

Those who don’t respond will need another follow up – Incentivize to get them on board again and let them know that this is their last chance to not be removed. This is just to get them to wake up, but offer them a discount or a freebie to get them engaged again.

If there’s still no response, it’s time to end the relationship and removed them from your list. You’re not being rude, and it’s nothing personal. There’s simply no point in having a list of 1.000 subscribers and only having 400 of them being interested in what you have to say.

“Keeping a tight list of well curated and active customer email addresses is how email marketing should be done.”

Daniel from Detail Central 

How can you proactively reduce inactive subscribers?

Now that you’ve got the receipe for re-engaging your inactive subscribers, what do you do to prevent this from happening again?

Well, naturally there’s no guarantee. But there’s definitely some things you can do to keep your subscribers healthy and engaged.

One thing you should do is to set the right expectations from the start. Tell them what they can expect from day 1. What kind of content will you be sending? How often can they expect to hear from you? Will you be selling them your products or services from time to time? How will they benefit from  being on your list in the future?

I think you get the idea. Be honest and be don’t be afraid to tell them to unsubscribe if those expectations don’t align with their needs. You want to keep a healthy list with raving fans!

All of this should go in your “welcome” email (please refrain from using the word welcome in your subject line).

If you struggle with writing a great email to your subscribers – I’ve put together a guide with 11 tips that teaches you exactly that. You can get the guide here!

Use segmentation to your advantage. The more you learn about your the people in your list, the more you can personalize your content to each unique subscriber.

I’m not saying you should create one email for each person, but you’ll benefit from being more targeted with your content. They will become more engaged if they receive content they actually want to read.

Have you had any success re-engaging subscribers? Used any other strategies than what I mentioned here?

Please share them in the comments below!

A10929942_10155581409365597_662415555012669594_n-1uthor: Ken Westgaard, Email Relationship Builder at

My name is Ken Westgaard and I help B2B web industry consultants turn their dead and buried email list that they’ve given up on, into a moneymaking asset.

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