Why I Cut Almost ½ My Email List (don’t make this mistake)


We’ve all heard “the money is in the list”, right?

Well I made a BIG mistake with my email list recently.

You see, I removed almost half of the people from it a couple weeks ago.

Yep, you read that right — I cut almost HALF.

That wasn’t my mistake, though.  

Removing people from my email list was completely intentional.  I wanted to get people off there who weren’t engaged in my emails.

We identified those on my list who hadn’t engaged in any of my emails (opened/clicked) in the last 90 days.

Re-Engagement Emails

We then ran this group through a re-engagement email sequence — 4 emails over 2 weeks — offering them free content to see if they would again engage with my emails.  Within these emails we were looking to segment people into one of three groups.

Once people finished going through the sequence, we tagged everyone who didn’t open any of the emails.  These would be the “non-engagers” I’d remove from the list (more about what I’m doing with them in a second…).

It was a lot of people but I wasn’t overly surprised as I had a pretty good idea how many there likely were.

What I WAS surprised about, though, was a whole other group of people we identified while going through this exercise…

…a group of people who had opted-out of my email list at one point or “hard-bounces” (dead email addresses).

I had 7,000 people STILL on my list who had opted-out of getting my emails and hard-bounces.

Yes, you read that right — 7,000!

That’s crazy town.

So now, not only had I identified all the non-engagers on my list, but I’d also found oh, 7,000 MORE people who shouldn’t have even been there in the first place.


How We Fixed Things…

When I added up the non-engagers + opt-outs + hard-bounces, it was a lot of people.

Not quite half of my overall list size.

Needless to say I was stunned when I looked at the numbers.  Not to mention, my ego momentarily took a hit.

We immediately removed all the opt-outs + hard-bounce emails from my list.

We then tagged the other group of non-engagers, changed the subject lines of our re-engagement emails and “re-ran” them through the email sequence.

Once the emails finished again, we removed the people who still didn’t open any emails from my list.

These are people who at one point were interested in learning more about sales funnels, Facebook ads, scaling and automating their business, etc… but for one reason or another stopped engaging in my content.

So because of that, I’ll upload this list into Facebook and target them with value-based ads to try and get them back on my email list.

Lessons Learned

1. People always brag about how big their email list is, but what seldom gets talked about is the importance of regularly cleaning out your list.

I’d been meaning to do it but it kept getting pushed down my priority list and because of that, I hadn’t cleaned out my list in like 2 years (<– bad, Rick).

Waiting this long was a HUGE mistake, thus the large amount of people we removed.

I recommend cleaning out your list once a quarter.


2. I HAD NO IDEA that Infusionsoft kept people on your list who had opted-out.

I think this is shady because although these people don’t get sent your emails, you DO pay for all the people on your list (which includes opt-outs).

I like Infusionsoft but I definitely don’t like this aspect of it.

And upon further research, they’re not the only email provider who doesn’t remove opt-outs and hard-bounces from your list.  Some other common CRMs do as well.  

This means you might also be paying for opt-outs and hard-bounces.

Some providers count duplicate emails into your overall email size, too.  Again, paying for the total.

This is another reason to make sure you’re regularly cleaning out your list.


3. After getting over the initial shock from the amount of people I was removing and my ego taking a hit because I now had half the list size I thought I did, I realized the following…

Email open rates these days generally are anywhere between say 15% – 25%.  I say “generally” because there’s always outliers, segmented lists, etc…

By identifying almost half of my list who weren’t engaged (or who had already unsubscribed), that means 50%+ WAS engaged over the past couple of years.

It’s kind of a cup half full kinda thing, but that’s how I’m now looking at this.

Can this be higher and do I want this engagement higher?  Of course I do, and it will be now that I’ve learned these lessons.

Why You Should Clean Your List

When you keep people on your list who aren’t engaging with your emails, a few things happen:

  • Your email open and click rates suffer
  • You’re paying to have people on your list who aren’t even opening your emails
  • Your deliverability can suffer (the number of people who actually get your emails from your email provider)

What You Can Do…

Starting a new year is the perfect time to clean your list — especially if you’re making the same mistake I did by not having done it in a long time.

1) Add it to your calendar to cleanse your list each quarter.

I like to identify people who haven’t opened emails in 90 days.  This is a personal preference — some people do shorter lengths of time, others do longer.  

2) Use a “re-engagement” email series

Once you choose a time period and you’ve identified the people who haven’t opened/clicked an email during that time, send them a series of “re-engagement” emails.  I sent 4 over two weeks but how many and over how long is up to you.  

These emails should add value, maybe offering them a special download or something.  

In my emails, not only was I trying to re-engage people but I was also looking to segment people, too.

I asked them to click on a link that best described them and then sent them to a specific piece of free content based on their answer.

3) Remove peeps from your list

Once the time period is over, identify the people who didn’t open any of your re-engagement emails and remove them from your list.

Some people like to simply tag them accordingly and leave them on their list, but I’m not one of those people.

NOTE: before removing anyone, just confirm they’re not tied to any affiliate payouts or anything.

4) Use Facebook Ads retargeting to re-engage

Rather than simply tagging the non-engagers and leaving them on my list, I like to upload this list as a custom audience into Facebook and target them with ads that offer a free valuable download to get them back onto my list.


Now, I’d love to hear from you…

Did you know that some email providers still keep unsubscribes and hard-bounces (dead emails) on your overall list?

Do you regularly clean out your email list?

What are some ways you re-engage your list?

Leave a Comment below.

27 Responses to Why I Cut Almost ½ My Email List (don’t make this mistake)

  1. GREAT article Rick. Yes, I did learn the hard way that my email provider (Aweber) keeps unsubscribes and bounces on the list, (unless I go clean things up). This is something no one will tell you, so I’m glad you’re “telling”.

    I have only recently started doing what you’re suggesting, keeping my list lean but engaged. And I want to do more of that. So it’s a great reminder. And yes, with the falling off of e-mail I would love to hear of more ways to keep my list engaged!

  2. Yes, the reason that those hard bounces and opt-outs stay on your list is because even though they may have typed in their email address wrong when buying or signing up as a referral partner – OR they may have unsubscribed, they may actually BE an affiliate partner or customer that needs to be on your list to connect to their payment methods & affiliate centers, etc.

    I always have to ensure that when deleting those opt-outs and bounces, that we are making sure that they are attached to any affiliate or customer record prior to deleting them.

    Great article, Rick! – I am a HUGE fan of re-engagement campaigns and work to automate them based on user interaction & opens – so that our list cleaning sequence is running on Evergreen and always happening with triggers!

  3. As someone who is just starting the list-building process, it is scary to know that these folks who opted out are still on your list and you may be charged for them. On the other hand, it may be a good thing, because like you said, you can upload them as a custom audience in FB and then retarget them.

    What autoresponder do you use, Rick? I had thought to use ActiveCampaign for the ability to segment parts of lists, but MailChimp seems to offer at least some of the same features as AC.

  4. Great tip Rick, as I guess one would assume once they are removed, they’d be, well… removed. I can also see how someone might like to keep them, but that should be an optional setting or something (i.e.: you’re removing these folks, check here if you’d like to keep them in limbo status).

    A couple things I thought of though…

    First, unless I’m missing something technical that I’m unaware of, I’m not sure how one could really know the ‘open’ rate. I’m assuming that depends on some kind of tracking image, but many email clients don’t load images unless told to do so. I think that would severely throw that stat off.

    Second, I often join mailing lists of people who are interesting, or services I like, even if I’m not at a point in my business to use them or even read everything they send out. If I stay on the list, I might not buy now, but possibly will in a year or two. I guess that’s a trade-off cost on whether it’s worth keeping such subscribers or not (as I know it’s expensive), but I guess my point is to be aware of that (and maybe not assume inactivity is lack of interest).

    • Hey Steve, totally hear you. Your email provider will tell you the “open rate” on emails you send, but yes, it’s based on a 1×1 pixel that needs to load. So all open rates aren’t going to be 100% accurate.

      As for being on email lists for a long time, I hear what you’re saying but if someone isn’t consistently opening your emails (like hasn’t opened one in 3 months) they’re very likely not interested anymore. Otherwise, they’d likely be at least opening some.

      Glad this was helpful for you!

  5. Great advice!
    I’ve been quietly doing this each time I send a broadcast and have to say I wondered why Infusionsoft left them there.
    I’ll feel less bad about doing it now.
    Super helpful, thanks.

  6. Wow, I didn’t know they might keep unsubscribes on a list. Seems to undermine why you have a service for newsletters in the first place. Will have to check my list after the holidays. Thanks.

  7. Wow! This was incredibly helpful! I have been cleaning my list but it’s been a challenge in MC because creating segments were not 100% accurate. But I love the idea of sending them re-connecting emails!
    Thank you so much for this great tip?

  8. Great advice Rick, thanks.

    I’ve got it on my to-do list to clean up my list before the holidays, so this article is perfect timing. I hadn’t thought to use re-engagement emails – was simply going to clear out the non engagers. So this is such valuable advice. Time for a good old spring clean ?

  9. Great Post Rick! I actually already do list cleaning and re-engagement sequence regularly, but got a nice tip on using that unsubscribed list as a custom audience to remarketing valuable downloads to get them back on list!

    More people need to see this stuff. Thanks again!

  10. At some point I may use Infusion Soft, so this is good to know. Currently, I use Constant Contact and I get a report after each delivery which I go over every month. It’s just like doing bookkeeping, but more interesting. Of course, my list isn’t as big as your yet Rick. Season’s Best.

  11. I use Memberium for certain content delivery. It connects directly with Infusionsoft and protects content based around an Infusion Tag. This means that I HAVE to keep opt-outs on my list. Because deleting them would cause them to lose access to their content (which they paid for).

    I think that’s what Infusionsoft has in mind. It’s their CRM side that’s at play in not deleting opt-outs.

    Just a guess.

    As you’re scrubbing your list, Rick, take the time to tag your customers based around their purchase dates. I’ve uncovered a lot of “lapsed buyers” and then target them to make a purchase.

  12. Hi Rick – great information and advice; thanks for sharing! It’s always hard to purge the list, but I can see why it needs to be done! Thanks for all the value you offer through your podcasts and courses. (FYI, I met you at Social Media Day San Diego last summer after your presentation).

Leave a reply