How to make your inactive users active again to increase your email subscriber base

“To target inactive list or not?  That is the question”

  • – Modern day Deliverability Shakespearean quote

We are aware of the general consensus of the Deliverability Community in the global industry, of how harmful can targeting inactive data be to Inbox Deliverability.

Firstly, it reduces your open and click rates because the users are inactive to your campaigns and not bothered to check them. Persistent low rates and Gmail brings down the domain reputation and inboxing.

And secondly, some email IDs could have been used as spam traps by MBP (Mailbox providers) to keep a lookout on brands stealing lists off of one another – a common spamming practice. Once such a spam trap ID is sent mail to, MBPs will look into it and filter all the mails of that brand in spam box. This is when we Deliverability Engineers get complaints from customers, of having all their mails suddenly in spam after good inboxing for ages.

The way that Gmail postmaster filters your spam rate is also something to consider. MBP will calculate your spam complaints based on your active data, and how many emails actually are inboxed. Thus, the spam rate will be calculated based on active and inactive data both. The added volume will also affect your delivery, as the number of emails to be targeted will increase and thus put a strain on your delivery metrics.

According to the 2010 MAAWG Email Security Awareness and Usage Report, only 15% of users open marketing material mails and 20% open newsletters. (Inactive subscribers don’t hurt until they do, Melinda Plemel, Return Path blog, 2013). Considering this survey taken in every country, it is a low volume of users who actually engage in marketing promotional mails.

So, here are some delivery hacks to keep your inboxing rate up:

  • Sift through your active and inactive data based on your opens, activity, clicks, and conversions.
  • Target your inactive data with a ‘We miss you’ campaign and clearly display the request to unsubscribe button in your mail. Alternatively, you may ask the user to re-subscribe and become ‘active’, even use incentives or an attractive offer as encouragement.
  • Remove the contacts of users who have not responded to the re-engagement campaign: blacklist them to make sure you never send them a mail again.

Keeping your targeted lists clean will improve your open rates, help you maintain a high IPR (Inbox Placement Ratio), and ensure the revenue keeps coming in for your customer.

Sometimes, to put emails back into the inbox requires the tough task of removing your ‘inactive’ users. Rest assured, nothing works better than cleaning your lists and targeting your regular openers again. The giveaway here is reduction in volumes.

Case Study:  

One of our clients is one of India’s top search portals for tech gadgets, also a shopping portal for the same, and a news portal for general technology-related news in India.

We had an active database of around 2 lakh email IDs and inactive data of further 2 lakh IDs. We decided to target the active data after a proper warm-up for Gmail and then started sending content in the form of newsletters as well as promotional emails for smartphone-related offers. The inboxing rate for active data was around 95%, bringing our client good ROI in terms of website visits and conversion rate. The reputation and engagement metrics were high because we were targeting only the most active users.

But, there was still some inactive data left. Our aim was to target these to lead us to potential openers from this data, and integrate them into our regular lists. We targeted this inactive base with a couple of re-engagement mailers, containing their most incentivised offers, and as a result, we got good open and click rates on it. These mailers added a further 25,000 email IDs to our regular lists, increasing their daily volumes.

Also, with this practice, we made sure that we could target only the most willingly engaged users who were genuinely interested in the brand’s content.

It was a win-win for both!

A caveat for any such exercise: Even if you have a good inboxing rate while targeting your inactive users, in the absence of engagement, it is advisable to drop the exercise. Because, one fine day, your inactive user will find these unwanted emails in their inbox and report to spam. The last thing a Deliverability Engineer wishes to see in their feedback loop is big spike on their report to spam complaints!

A healthy practice is to keep engaging your active users with attractive offers by segmenting your audience. Also, don’t forget to re-engage your inactive users from time to time and keep cleaning up your lists!

Tejas Pitkar

Tejas Pitkar is a Deliverability Expert at Netcore. Writer | Email Expert | Marketing strategist | Avid Traveler