List Size Vs. List Quality

When people first start a new email list, they tend to measure their success in terms of how many subscribers they have.

Having subscribers on your list is important, to be sure, but it’s not the only, or even the best, measure of a successful opt-in email campaign.

Why is it, then, that so many publishers fear doing anything that might result in a reduction in the overall number of subscribers on their lists?

Mark Brownlow has published an excellent article discussing our obsession with list size. He makes several good points:

  • There are other metrics that we can and should measure: message open rates, clicks and conversions, for example
  • Subscriber quality is far more important than subscriber quantity
  • It’s “much easier to do what we’ve been doing — with adequate results — than change things and risk a disaster” (in this case, any drop in your list size)

This seems particularly relevant for people who are hesitant to use Confirmed Opt-In. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say “I’ll lose half my list!” (it’s invariably “half”) when talking about using Confirmed Opt-In.

Of course, there are things you can do to maximize your confirmation rate. But the fear that any address may not confirm seems to shut off the creativity of even some of the most innovative marketers.

The New Year is a perfect time to break old habits and out of our comfort zones. Brownlow’s article is a great motivator for anyone hesitant about Confirmed Opt-In or worried about list size.


  1. Michele Dortch

    1/9/2007 1:06 pm

    Last year I was totally obssessed with my list size, but hardly any subscribers converted to sales. Now there are many factors could have contributed to low conversion rates, but I realized that my list quality was my primary issue.

    So, I made a big move and decided to switch to AWeber for my autoresponder service, knowing that in doing so I’d have to get all my existing subscribers to re-optin to my list. So far, only 14% of my old subscribers have opted back in and at first I thought I’d made a huge mistake.

    But then I calculated that my sales conversion rate and it actually increased from less than 1% to 3% in just 30 days. I know that seems like a small increase, but if you consider the size my list size now (86% smaller than before)…it’s a pretty big deal!

    Quality matters…thanks for making the point.

  2. Angela Chen Shui

    1/9/2007 3:26 pm

    I agree. My lists are small but whenever the human element of ‘sooo small…’ or ‘building too slowly’ pays a call, I remind myself that I’m more interested in building relationships with persons who share my vision for creating their lives powerfully and thereby recreating life on Earth.

    Fast, large list-building would be awesome.. but transformation takes time as does magnetising persons vibrating at the same frequency…

    Thank you, Justin… I thoroughly enjoyed your post.


  3. Tim Brocklehurst

    1/10/2007 7:48 am

    This is a great post – and its a brilliant article too. It clarifies some doubts which I used to have (until I joined aweber), and which many of my subscribers still have: List Quality is partially about *getting* unsubscribes:

    Its very easy for people to signup to your list, and it needs to be *as* easy for them to unsubscribe. I used to think I was doing something wrong if I got unsubscribes. But what your post reinforces, is that its OK to get unsubscribes as long as your newsletter remains consistent to the theme you set out with, or alluded to, with the squeeze/signup page.

    People will only unsubscribe if you’re not providing what they want, and if they don’t want what you’ve got, then you don’t want them on your list anyway (because they’re never going to convert to a sale).

    What I’ve learned is that a list is only as good as its conversion rates. If you go into a JV with someone, and tell them you’ve got a list of 10,000, and yet you only give them 100 signups (0.1%), and 10 sales (0.01%), then they’re alot less likely to work with you again (or return the favor), than if you have a *quality* list with a click through rate of 25% delivering 500 signups (5%) and 100 sales (1%).

    Successful List Building, of a Quality list, is all about the relationship you build with the people on it. All you can do is be yourself. You’ll never please everybody all of the time so unsubscribes are inevitable, but as long as you remain consistent, and show some personality, you will succeed in keeping those who will be most responsive.

    Thanks for the post Justin – it was good and highly thought-provoking

  4. Chris Lockwood

    1/10/2007 12:42 pm

    The "obsession" with list size is quite understandable. Potential partners are much more likely to ask how big your list is than what your click through rate or some other metric is.

    List size is also the easiest thing to measure, especially with a smaller list that is not big enough for percentages to be statistically relevant. I’d rather have a list of 200 than 50, but both are small enough that it’s quite possible to make no sales mailing to them.

    I think this is a bit like dieting, where people are "obsessed" with their weight, rather than harder-to-measure but more important things like body fat ratio or overall health.

    On unsubscribes, I don’t agree that people only leave because they don’t like what you send. People leave for all sorts of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with your messages. I’ll bet the most common reasons are that they are getting too much email in total, or lost interest in the general topic you write about. Of course if you are giving a gift for subscribing, most of your unsubscribes will likely be those who left right after getting their gift.

  5. Mike Herberts

    1/10/2007 4:06 pm

    The content of my site is rich in video and sound materials, which is understandable as this is what I sell.
    I have always had pretty good rates of confirmation from my opt ins but….. Always looking for improvements I decided to re-direct to a ‘thanks for subscribing’ page which contains ‘Further Instructions’. It is just a streaming sound button with a 40 second thanks and ‘look out for your confirmation email’ message from yours truly….Hey you’ll never guess…..confirmation rates have jumped.

  6. Tom Kulzer

    1/10/2007 4:12 pm


    I absolutely agree about putting audio your thank you page. We have some interesting stats coming out shortly about the affect of text, pictures, audio, and video on thank you pages.

    Split testing is always your friend. 😉

  7. Will Barden

    1/14/2007 7:17 am

    This is why I tend to stay away from giveaways and similar list building ventures. Generally those lists are made up of freebie seekers, which is all very well if you can convert them to spenders with an extended campaign, but I’d much rather do a 100% affiliate commission on a low end product to build a list of proven buyers.

    Thanks for the article! 🙂

  8. Mine Is Bigger Than Yours - I Mean, My Mailing List - Healthy WebDesign - Developing and Building Successful Websites for Independent Professionals

    1/16/2007 7:31 am

    […] Over at Aweber, they’ve written a little follow-up, suggesting that double-opt-in alleviates this problem a bit by weeding out list members. I have to agree to some degree. Yet, I’m still not a fan of double-opt-in lists simply because I know how un-techie many people are. So why penalize them for not being with the game? […]

  9. Lori Titus

    1/16/2007 2:30 pm

    I know I personally hate spam. I know that I sign up for some lists, then forget, and consider them spam. I know that, with my original mailing list of close to 1,000 members, there were probably those out there who did not remember signing up, and thought they were receiving spam. Now that I have converted to a double opt-in list, my list is pared down to 1/3 of the original size. However, *I* feel better, knowing that the other 600 names probably were not adding to my sales, and that I have removed an unwanted bit of mail from their box! Plus, now I can prove to companies like AOL that I am not spamming their members!

  10. Andrew Cavanagh

    1/18/2007 2:53 am

    As a professional online copywriter I would take quality over quantity list any day (within reason).

    In the internet marketing niche a very high percentage of emails entered in "squeeze pages" are false.

    You enter email addresses to take a look inside these sites why would you think your visitors would be any different.

    Ultimately you’re far better off having a list where you can send an email and know that 20% to 80% of your subcribers will click through to you site.

    I’ve worked with clients with massive lists where they were lucky to get 1% of his subcribers click through from a link in an email.

    It’s important to note that list quality is determined by many factors and you should have a strategy if you’re selling products to your list so that quality is maintained.

    For example you might give two emails with links to high quality information, audio or software before you send one email to a page where you’re offering a product to buy.

    The prospects and clients on your list likely to be the most responsive to your offers are also the ones who will unsubscribe very quickly if you breach their trust.

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  11. » What Is A Subscriber Worth? - AWeber Blog

    2/1/2007 9:42 am

    […] Also, I can’t leave this post without reminding you that qualified subscribers are better than non-qualified ones. This entry was posted on Thursday, February 1st, 2007 at 9:41 am and is filed under Email Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a comment response, trackback from your own site, or permalink. […]

  12. sally neill

    3/22/2007 6:15 am

    Before I used Aweber, I tried one of those cheap nasty free responders, I had a massive list, but made very little sales.

    I didn’t transfer any of that list when I started using Aweber, and although my list is a fraction of the size, I am seeing much better sales results.

    I used to panic when people unsubsribed from my list, but now I at least get an email from aweber stating the reason the person gave for leaving my list and I amend my opt in forms appropriately so people know exactly what they are signing up for.

    I also tell my subsribers in each message, that if the don’t find receiving my information valuable they should simply unsubscribe.

    My list now contains people who have an interest in the content, so everyone is happy.

    Sally 🙂