Last Chance: How to Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers

How to Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers

Some of your subscribers are not as active as they used to be while others weren’t active from the first day of subscription? The excitement has faded and they’re not opening your emails anymore…unfortunately, it is a common problem. But the good news is that it has a solution! Email marketing is about building a strong relationship. And, just like in any relationship, there is a point when you need to put an effort to re-ignite that fire again, boost curiosity, and show that you care about your recipients. You can achieve it with the re-engagement email campaign.

Why Re-engaging Subscribers is Important

One thing is certain: you cannot ignore unengaged subscribers. When you regularly send letters to people who don’t open and/or click-through the messages, mailbox providers see that, and your campaigns can start being delivered to the spam folder. As a result, your deliverability will begin to suffer.

Logically, to avoid that, some might suggest eliminating inactive recipients as soon as possible, rather than spending time and effort to re-engage email subscribers. Before rushing to clean out your email list, there are two things worth considering:

– Are all of your inactives the same?

Of course not: some of them were not engaging since they have subscribed and probably haven’t bought anything from you, while others might just need a little nudge to connect with you again. So not all of them should be discarded right away.

– Are you ready to start over again?

Calculate how much time, effort, and money you have spent on the existing recipients. The fact is, acquiring new potential customers will cost 3 to 5 times more than retaining existing ones. In this light, making a re-engagement email campaign is worth a shot.

How to Identify Inactive Subscribers

Let’s start at the top.

Who is an inactive subscriber? It is a person who, at one point, stopped engaging with your emails: no opens, no click-throughs. Note, that to be considered an inactive subscriber, a person has to be opted-in to your email (otherwise it is not a subscriber), and the email address still has to be valid (not, for example, an abandoned address or a recycled spam trap). The period of inactivity can vary and depends on the area where a business is operating, but I will outline the common stages further in the article, so read on!

Why do subscribers become inactive? There is more than just one reason for this.

  • They were never active, maybe subscribed during one of your giveaway campaigns;
  • They don’t care about your emails anymore, but reluctant to unsubscribe;
  • They don’t check their spam folder, and your email happens to get delivered there;
  • They don’t open your emails because they are not ready to make a purchase.

The first category is dead wood, you can chop them down without hesitation, while the last category is the most valuable. These recipients will gladly re-engage when given an opportunity.

Note, due to various reasons emails can be delivered to a spam folder at certain mailbox providers, or get lost on the way. To see what tab your emails are delivered at particular ISPs and mailbox providers you can use an email spam test.

How to Segment Inactive Subscribers

To identify inactive subscribers you have to segment your email list depending on basic engagement metrics: opens and clicks. It is called an engagement-based segmentation. If you use ESP to send out bulk emails, it should not be a problem. Simply categorize them according to the last time they have interacted with an email. The more complex issue is figuring out what period to consider as ‘active’ ‘average/semi-active’ or ‘inactive’ to do that segmentation.

How to Segment Inactive Subscribers

Read also: Everything Email Marketers Need to Know about Sender Reputation

Every business has its own nuances: for companies with seasonal products inactivity would look different than for businesses that operate all year long. Therefore in the end it is up to you to outline the segments. But here are helpful basics to get you started.

As a rule of thumb, we can divide subscribers into four categories according to their engagement:

  • Last engaged: Zero to three months

    If the recipients have opened or clicked through your emails in the last 90 days, they are highly engaged. This is a segment with minimal risk of getting spam complaints and bounces, they are your core audience.

  • Last engaged: Four to six months

    A second-best segment of your email list – people who interacted with your letter not longer than 6 months ago.

  • Last engaged: Seven to twelve months

    This is where things get risky. We do not recommend to apply standard email marketing strategies that work for highly engaged recipients to this audience. They can cause a spike in the bounce rate and spam complaints.

  • Last engaged: Thirteen plus months

    Tread very carefully. Sending emails to this audience frequently is a big ‘no’. These people have become high-risk inactives who may have a big impact on the email deliverability to more engaged audiences. But before you give up and delete them from your list, there is a way to give them one last chance to re-engage.

Re-Engagement Strategies

What strategic moves can you use for re-engaging audiences? It depends on the time of the last interaction with an email. Here are basic outlines:

Re-engagement campaign outlines based on the period of the last activity

  • Last engaged: Zero to three months

    If the person has not engaged in three months even once, start with sending an offer to ignite interest in your emails. If there is no engagement in three months – go easy on the cadence, reduce the email frequency.

  • Last engaged: Four to six months

    Decrease the emailing frequency even more and send only rich and special offers that might boost the interest of your audience. Depending on your business and the frequency of email communication, you can send a critical communication letter; a gentle re-permission email will do you good.

  • Last engaged: Seven to twelve months

    Sending emails to this audience is getting risky. You can see spikes in spam complaints because people might forget they have subscribed to your emails (especially if you don’t email often). Spam trap hits could be an indicator of sending to old email addresses that have been turned into recycled spam traps. At this stage, a re-permission email campaign is a must.

  • Last engaged: Thirteen plus months

    Last chance to re-engage email subscribers before saying goodbye. Send a re-permission email with the best possible offer. This segment of recipients can have a significant negative impact on your overall deliverability so the longer you ignore these people on your list the more damage they can do.

Re-engagement Campaign Best Practices

Opt-in Practice

Double opt-in is the best way to ensure that a person is officially your subscriber and won’t file a spam complaint about receiving an email they did not want. Double opt-in is a must for email marketing according to anti-spam laws in many countries.

Read also: Anti-Spam Regulations in 2020: Do You Comply?

Persuade with Subject Lines

When thinking about a re-engagement it is especially important to stay creative and personal. After all, a re-engagement email campaign is a win-back campaign, so be bold! Show the recipient you are concerned with their absence: “We’ve missed you”, “You haven’t logged in for a while”, etc. Provide the information the customer can catch up on “Here’s what you missed”, “While you were gone, we made improvements”. These are basic examples, add a pinch of your personality in them and your audience will be hooked. And, of course, make recipients feel valued with unique offers.

Have a Dialogue

Don’t be shy to ask your recipients what they want. Some people may be interested in your product/service but the number of different newsletters might be overwhelming, especially if they are interested in one particular topic, product, or service. Ask them to fill out a quick survey: their feedback will benefit you and the clients will see that you care about their preferences.

Test Before Sending

Always perform email testing before sending out the campaign. Your content might trigger spam filtering systems or authentication might not be set properly. GlockApps allows you to run an a deliverability test to check your email campaign top to bottom: delivery time, authentication, risky content and HTML copy, email placement at different mailbox providers, spam score – we test it all.

Measure Results

The increase of active subscribers, opens and clicks, deliverability, as well as a decline in spam complaints rate, are all good metrics to track. They’ll provide visibility on the success of your re-engagement email campaign.


Inactive subscribers are not all the same: some of them have never been active while others stopped interacting with your emails recently. Either way, tracking your engaged audiences and using appropriate strategies is vital for your email marketing success and high deliverability.

To better understand the audiences and know how to proceed with the re-engagement email campaign you should segment your email list according to the last time a person opened an email from you.

The more time had passed since the last interaction with the message the riskier the audience becomes in terms of your deliverability. You might experience spikes in spam trap hits, bounced emails, and spam complaints.

And remember: after you’ve done all you can, there will be time to let some people go. Unsaveable inactive subscribers can mess up your deliverability to recipients who are engaged and want to read your emails.

To get insights on your email performance and inbox placement click, run a quick and free deliverability test.



Julia Gulevich is an email marketing expert and customer support professional at GlockSoft LLC with more than 15 years of experience. Author of numerous blog posts, publications, and articles about email marketing and deliverability.