Every free download you can get your hands on that promises the Holy Grail of increasing email subscribers by 10x lives on your laptop.


Because growing your list and sending out emails is the fastest way to turn prospects into customers. Right?


Conventional marketing wisdom may say so, but there’s a not so tiny problem getting in the way.


Your emails aren’t making it to your subscribers’ inboxes


Take a look at recent studies and benchmark reports about email deliverability rates and consumer’s thoughts on email marketing, and you might be stunned.


According to Return Path, 24% of emails sent by businesses in the second quarter of 2016 did not land in subscriber’s inboxes. The U.S. had the lowest placement rate in the world with only 69% of emails reaching consumers.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend (well… maybe only disturbing if you’re an online marketer.) Emails from some of my favorite businesses stopped landing in my inboxes. And I couldn’t figure it out.


“Why would businesses whose emails I open regularly scrub me from their lists?” which is what I asked myself until I had the bright idea of checking my spam folder.


And there amidst the “Buy Meds Cheap” and phishing expeditions by the likes of a Mrs. Angela lily appeared email after email from those companies I had been missing.


spam emails


A sampling from the pu pu platter that is my spam folder

E-commerce, B2B, no matter the type or legitimacy of the business their emails had been lumped together with Russian hackers, penis enlargement devices, and the grammatically challenged.


Which begs the question, “Why are so many emails turning into spam bait?”


There are the obvious reasons: the uptick in phishing scams and marketers gaming the system to improve open rates.

Anything that looks deceptive, suspicious, or overly hyperbolic runs the risk of never making it to an inbox.

This can be as simple as using one too many spam triggering words in a subject line (“free” and “hidden” are the new “Viagra” and “unsecured debt”) or littering an email with exclamation points.  


To avoid the pitfalls of a subject line like the one above check out this list of spam trigger words from Automational and this one from Hubspot as a guide.


And then there’s a little ol’ thing called a reputation.


Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL use a combination of metrics to decide whether or not your emails are inbox worthy. How your subscribers engage with your emails and respond to them affects your reputation as a sender. These are things like messages read, forwarded, replied to, and marked as spam.

According to a survey by Fluent of nearly 2,000 Americans, 41% claim to ignore emails while another 41% unsubscribe from a list after receiving unwanted marketing emails.

Even worse, 11% move the email to their spam folder with 7% reporting it as spam.

Every time we take action signaling disinterest in the emails we’re receiving, our email providers take note and start filtering on our behalf whether we like it or not.

But there’s a deeper, more fundamental reason why well-meaning emails have disappeared into spam folders never to be seen again.

And it’s one you might not have considered.


Consumers are sick and tired of email marketing as usual. 


Discovering what’s going on in an email subscriber’s head is as easy as reading your Facebook news feed


Just last month while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed I noticed a question in one of the closed small business groups that piqued my interest. With over 300 responses, it had apparently hit a nerve.


FB group survey question

Melyssa Griffin’s Facebook group has over 50,000 members. You’ll find some great advice and a treasure trove of voice of customer insights around what challenges online small business owners face.


Always a sucker for customer research, I felt compelled to find out why all these people chose to respond. 

So I categorized the responses, tallied them up, and gleaned some interesting (if not entirely surprising insights) from them.

Here are the top reasons why your subscribers are ready to abandon your list… and what you can do about it.


#1: They receive too many emails


Across the board, respondents complained about the sheer volume of marketing emails they receive with the frequency being the biggest source of annoyance.

Receiving emails more than once a week seemed to be the tipping point for most people. Anything above that threshold unless there was a very compelling reason (such as a one-off sale or special announcement) sent them to the unsubscribe link.


Pro tip —> Set expectations from the moment someone signs up


Not many brands can get away with showing up in a person’s inbox constantly without quickly turning them off. If you’re going to try it, make sure you:

  • Clearly set expectations when someone signs up with language letting them know how often they will get emails and the type of content in them
  • Make sure you’re sending them content that interests them

For example, I receive a daily email from Dave Pell of NextDraft. He curates what he considers the top 10 news stories of the day and delivers the list with a bit of commentary.


Next Draft landing page

From the NextDraft opt-in landing page


Almost without fail, I open, read, and at least click on a couple of links in his daily email. I’m okay with the frequency because it’s expected and full of content I’m itching to see.


Next Draft email


#2: You asked for the sale too soon or too often


Based on the responses, bombarding your prospects with emails when they’re not ready to buy is counterproductive. The same holds true for hitting them up regularly with your offers.  


“If they constantly sell sell sell. I understand launching a product for a week or so but anything after that is just too much. Can’t possibly buy everything they have to offer.”


Here is an instance when taking the time to segment your email list based on things like what subscribers expressed interest in learning more about or past purchase behavior makes sense.


Ever bought an online course or product during a pre-launch special only to receive all the hard sell launch emails the next week? Yeah… me too. It’s exasperating.


Third party email providers have become highly sophisticated. A solution like Convertkit makes it easy to create tags and segment your users, so this doesn’t happen. It’s well worth the investment.


Pro tip —> Think beyond the coupon in your emails


You probably believe that this is all well and good but what about e-commerce stores. Aren’t people expecting the constant sales and coupons?


Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to be sending them emails several times a week geared towards getting them to buy from you. In fact, you can test not only reducing the frequency but giving your subscribers another reason to connect with your brand.


Minted email


I love this email from the folks at Minted. As you scroll down the email, you find personal stories about their artists with photos and links to their designs online. Part of what differentiates Minted from the sea of online personalized stationery and photo gifts is their support of the independent design community.


Sharing what makes them special reminds me why I always choose their cards to send at the holidays and ignore their competitors.


#3: They don’t find value in reading your emails


Ouch. You’re spending a lot of time putting those emails together or money having someone else do it and they aren’t resonating with your subscribers.


In this case, the respondents discussed value regarding:


  • Relevance – receiving content that interests them
  • Applicability – receiving content that’s actionable or can easily be put to use
  • Originality – receiving changing/non-repetitive content


“If I get content that starts out like it’s going to be useful but only ends up telling me how important it is to do something rather than teaching me HOW to do it, I unsubscribe REALLY FAST.”


With all the competition for space in their inboxes, emails that didn’t speak to fixing a problem or filling a need got the boot.


Pro tip —> Help your subscribers accomplish their goals


One of the best ways you can express value to your prospects and customers is through helping them move from point A to B in their businesses. Achieving their goals starts with doing a bit of research into what their biggest challenges are and then carefully crafting solutions for them.


Psychology for Photographers email

An email from Jenika McDavitt of Psychology for Photographers


As Jenika so artfully does in this email, educate your subscribers about one particular thing they can improve upon to bring them closer to success. Doing so gives them a compelling reason to keep reading your content and (hopefully) buy from you further down the road.


#4: They think your emails are too long


I could have rolled this into reason #3 because a large part of the frustration with long emails has to do with relevance and expectations. If you’ve primed your audience to receive meaty emails from you that are engaging and speak to a need, length shouldn’t be an issue.

But, if an economy of words is not only expected but wanted from your subscribers giving them what feels like the equivalent of a Tolstoy novel in your emails is the surest way to alienate them.


Pro tip —> Ask your subscribers for feedback


It’s time to get meta and talk to your email subscribers about how they feel about your emails. You might think this is the last thing you want to do if you’re already worried about sending them emails too often or that are too long. But, it’s the surest way to understand better what they want and expect from you.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Be direct and to the point – This is the time to be brief.
  • Only ask for what you’re most interested in learning – This means to refrain from asking about the information you’re not prepared to act on.
  • Tell people why you want to know what you want to know – When you give people a reason to do something they are much more likely to follow through.

Check out my post on The Dreaded Email Survey: How to Get Customers to Respond for more help.


#5: You’re creeping them out


Yes, this is a thing. You might think you’re clever, fun, or authentic by addressing all your email subscribers with a nifty moniker, diving headfirst into uncomfortable personal details about your life, or getting down and dirty dropping f-bombs right and left.

You would be wrong.

Being genuine and expressing yourself as a real, relatable person your subscribers can trust are two different things. Only giving them what you think they want or whatever the marketing guru du jour says isn’t going to cut it.


“I sign up to watch a lot of webinars and often they all have the same types of sales funnels, style of writing, and email me too often. I don’t like when people try too hard to be relatable using a ‘hip’ tone of voice or when I get constant emails telling the same long winded story about how the writer was struggling and now makes 6 figures. Seems like they’re all just using the same templates and swapping out their blog or business names.”


Consumers are getting savvier. They can tell when you’re relying on gimmicks to make the sale.


Pro tip —> Mirror your prospects with words they use to describe themselves


One of the best ways to connect with your audience is by folding in their words and phrases into your copy. When you mirror back to them how they identify themselves along with their desires and challenges, they feel like you’re speaking their language.

My friend Rob over at Brand Story consistently writes some of the most engaging emails. He opens everyone with “Hey there marketing expert.”


BrandStory email


And then he goes on to talk about something that crosses just about every marketer’s mind at one time or another: what messages do my customers need to hear.


Contrast Rob’s email with this one I recently found in my inbox:


too friendly email


Buddy? I’m not Sujay’s buddy. I don’t offer WordPress services. And I can’t remember signing up for his emails.


On the other hand, Rob’s emails show up in my inbox every week without fail. He speaks to issues people like me have as a marketer. When he does ask for something of his subscribers, it’s only after sharing a boatload of his wisdom.


There’s nothing that feels “templated” about Rob’s emails. It’s like getting a welcomed email from someone you know.

Are you ready to take a long hard look at your emails?


If you haven’t realized it by now, listening to your customers is the surest way to improve your email marketing. When you understand what they want, need, and care about, you’re much more likely to connect with them.


And you’re far less likely to send them screaming for the unsubscribe button.


So don’t give the email providers or your subscribers any more reasons to toss your content into the spam folder. You might just find all that work you put into growing your list finally has paid off.


If you’re interested you can check out this national survey from Fluent and Litmus to see how my findings stack up.

And take a look at this terrific infographic from the guys at Moosend. Go to their blog for more helpful information about running successful email campaigns.