The Email Subscribers You Don’t Want

Did you know that zombie email addresses might be sucking the life out of your email deliverabilty rate?

This isn’t a teaser for some email marketing horror flick. These zombies are throwaway email addresses that can then end up on your list and prevent your emails from getting to the real subscribers. This can create a domino effect, because once the real ones stop getting your emails regularly, they may become inactive with your business.

Sounds a lot like a formula for horror movie, doesn’t it? We’re here to help you realize what’s happening to your list, who’s at risk and what you can do to keep your delivery rate alive.

The Zombies

Zombies start off as real people (don’t they all?), but not for long. They seek a cure for their hectic inbox, but they still want to be able to sign up for things online. Fortunately for them, there are plenty of options to create an email account that’s disposable or temporary or one they can just leave open but never check.

For example, Google lets you set up as many addresses as you want. I have three different email addresses on Google. I use two of them to sign up for mailing lists when I don’t want to give away my REAL address.

Zombies can also be people who entered their real address to begin with, but later when they change their address they don’t update their subscriptions.

The Victims

Why would someone not want to give their real email address? It could be because they just want the incentive that you’re offering. It might also be they don’t want to commit to your company or what you’re offering. Instead they want to put one of their throwaway email addresses in there and check back on it later… at some point. Maybe.

Any form can have a zombie email address added by a real person, but some forms are more likely to get bitten. Let’s examine some patients.

Name: Spice Islands

Symptoms: Asks for a lot of information such as full name, address, and even number of children. For all that information they’re asking, subscribers aren’t getting many details in return.

In Danger Of: Email addresses that aren’t checked regularly. People may want to sign up for postal mail, but since the form asks for both, they submit a throwaway address.


Name: Dairy Queen

Symptoms: Offering a coupon for their signature Blizzard treat for subscribers plus a BOGO coupon on your birthday.

In Danger Of: Fake email addresses or addresses that aren’t checked regularly. While birthday emails might be enough to get subscribers going back to their inbox, it may not stay like that for long if they decide to say their birthday is soon.


Name: Smoothie King

Symptoms: Form emphasizes the incentive three times. Instead of convincing visitors why they should want to sign up, the focus is on just entering an email address for a free smoothie.

In Danger Of: Fake email addresses. Subscribers just want the free smoothie, not the emails.

You Say You Aren’t Afraid?

You might be saying your subscribers are the bread and butter of your email marketing, so you’d rather see those high numbers and take your chances. After all, they aren’t real zombies.

Of course that’s true, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned.

ISPs are looking at engagement more and more when they decide to deliver an email to the inbox or not. This means if your list is full of addresses that aren’t responding, you can see lower deliverability.

Email addresses that are undeliverable or with domains from known disposable email address services will also hurt your deliverability.

Stayin’ Alive

While you can’t pop through the screen and explain to the visitor why they shouldn’t use a bad email address, you can take other steps to encourage them to use their real one.

First, you have to explain what’s in it for them. You’ll need to give them a reason to want to receive your emails. Talk about what you plan to offer them in your emails, or even offer them choices at sign up.

Here are some examples of effective web forms that get subscribers excited:

Whole Foods allows you to choose what newsletter you’d like to sign up to. You can choose anything from recipes to how you can help poverty; 5 different newsletters total. They’re offering an incentive as well, but allowing visitors to pick what information they receive can help get that real email address.


Applebee’s gives a brief description of what’s in their emails, then takes that a step further with the sneak peek of one of their emails. Applebee’s is another company that wants to know your birthday, but this time visitors can check out what they’ll be receiving on other days, which will make them more likely to provide valid information.


Lake Champlain Chocolates takes incentives to a whole new level: every a month a subscriber is drawn for one of their gift boxes. This is not the only way they’re getting attention either – they’ve also included “5 Sweet Reasons To Sign Up” right in the form.

These are just some examples of what you can do, so think of how you can make your audience excited about your mailing list and put it in your form!

For further protection, you may want to:

  1. Send out a confirmation message. The best way to make sure you have real addresses is to set up a confirmation message that reiterates what they signed up for and asks subscribers to confirm if they would like to receive your emails. In order to respond to this message, they’ll need to log in and open that email.

  2. Monitor your subscribers. Whether you’re using confirmed opt-in or not, some addresses are bound to go inactive. The 2011 MarketingSherpa Email Benchmark Guide found that removing inactive subscribers was “very to somewhat effective” in improving deliverability according to 98% of the marketers surveyed.

Check out who hasn’t opened your messages in awhile, and send out a reactivation message to that segment. You can then remove the inactive subscribers who did not respond.

So How Do You Keep Your List Alive?

Have you checked your list for zombie email addresses? How do you keep your list active?