Why You Should Delete a Bunch of Your Email Subscribers Right Now

You built up your list of subscribers. Now it’s time to remove a bunch of them. Because a clean email list can work wonders. 

In fact, cleaning your email list can improve three key metrics: deliverability, open rates and click rates. The better these metrics, the more successful your email marketing campaign will be.

That’s because a smaller list of engaged subscribers — people who actively read and interact with your content and brand — are more valuable than a larger list of subscribers who never open your content.

In fact, lists with numerous inactive email addresses typically have higher rates of bounces, spam complaints and unsubscribes than ones that don’t.

Plus, when you continue to send emails to people who don’t open them, internet service providers — like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo — penalize you. Do this often enough, and your emails may end up in their spam folders, which decreases deliverability to people who actually want to read your content.

So, yeah, email list hygiene is important

Want to succeed with email marketing? List cleanup is non-negotiable.

A healthy, well-maintained email list is the foundation for any successful email marketing program. If you’re spending the time and effort on your campaigns, you want to make sure you get results.

Unfortunately, the average email list depreciates over time – nearly 25% a year, according to MarketingSherpa. This is due to a combination of things: bounces, unsubscribes, email address changes. And if you’re not bringing in subscribers at the same rate as they leave, it can feel like your business is taking a hit.

How often should I clean my email list?

How often you should clean your email list will vary from company to company, and list to list. 

But a good rule of thumb is every six months — and definitely not longer than a year.

Or, if you want to keep your list squeaky clean year round, try cleaning your list every 3 months. 

How to clean your email list

Ready to say good-bye to inactive subscribers? Clean your list in 5 simple steps. 

Step 1: Think quality over quantity

A big list certainly seems impressive. There are dozens of blog posts and case studies out there touting strategies to go from 0 to 10,000 subscribers in no time. But not all of these list-building tactics are legit – buying an email list, for example, might get you subscribers, but it won’t get you the results you’re looking for.

Why? Because these subscribers never opted-in to receive your emails. They don’t know who you are and they most likely have no interest in buying what you’re selling – be prepared for your emails to go straight to the spam folder. Plus, if you’re using a reputable email service provider (like AWeber), purchased lists are totally off limits.

Wouldn’t you rather have a smaller, curated list of ideal subscribers who are super excited to read your emails? This would certainly bring joy to your email list – and your open rates.

Don’t give up on growing your list just yet! Check out this video for list building ideas that won’t harm your sender reputation.

Step 2: Commit yourself to letting go

Letting go of clutter is hard to do. The same can be said for your subscribers. Cleaning up your list means having to part with subscribers that you spent time and money to acquire.

Keeping your goal in mind is a great way to stay focused. Are you sending to attain more sales? Readers? Connections? The people on your list should be the ones who help you achieve that goal.

Keep in mind that not only will a clean list mean more attentive readers, but your deliverability and open rates will improve, too. Talk about a win-win!

Step 3: Imagine your ideal subscriber

For us, the ideal subscriber is someone who looks forward to seeing your latest newsletter hit their inbox, engages with your newsletters, clicks through to your offers and shares your emails with friends. While these are the people you want to see on your list, you might find that there are different characteristics and traits among your specific audience.

Having a visual ideal for the type of people you want to send to plays a huge part in how you plan your email strategy. These personas will make sure your content, cadence and promotional strategy are all in check.

A good way to identify these subscribers is by sending out a survey. Ask questions about the type of content they’d like to receive and how frequently, as well as what they expect from your emails. With the feedback you receive, you can learn a lot about your list.

Step 4: Identify your inactive subscribers

Inactive subscribers are people who signed up for your email list, but haven’t opened any of your emails in a long time – or possibly ever. And we always seem to make excuses for keeping these people on our lists.

There are lots of reasons why these perfectly valid subscribers go dark: they no longer need your products or services, they don’t have time to check all of their emails or maybe they just aren’t interested. Sometimes people sign up for a one-time incentive offer but have no intentions on purchasing from you again.

Fortunately, your inactive subscribers aren’t too hard to spot. Simply take a look at your subscriber stats to see who opens your emails and who doesn’t. People who open but don’t click aren’t necessarily a lost cause – they’re showing some interest in your brand, but maybe the content doesn’t completely resonate. It might be a good option to segment them out from those who don’t engage at all, and follow up with more targeted content.

Cleaning up your list from inactives isn’t easy. It’s hard to part with your subscribers! Before you remove these people from your list, try running a reactivation campaign to give them a second chance and increase engagement. If they still aren’t opening your emails, it’s time to let go.

Step 5: Spark some joy

Email marketers can take a page from Marie Kondo’s playbook — that is, her New York Times #1 best-selling book (and popular Netflix show), The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Rather than give a laundry list of items to throw away, she encourages us to focus on what we want to keep.

Keep your list healthy and maintained by delighting your subscribers with relevant content. After all, these are your ride-or-die subscribers. You should be showing them as much attention (if not more) than your prospects.

Need some ideas for reigniting the spark with your subscribers? Try employing one of these tactics:

Send subscribers a special promo code or discount offer

promo code or discount engagement

Share helpful tips or hacks for using your product or service (bonus points for GIFs)

share helpful tips for engagement

Ask for feedback with a customer survey

Survey email example

Reward customers who frequently purchase from you with a loyalty program

loyalty program email

But before you delete, try a re-engagement email campaign first…

Try a re-engagement email campaign to win back inactive subscribers before you clean your email list. It’s a lot less work to reach out to a current subscriber than it is to add a new one. 

1. Take a closer look at your inactive subscribers

How did they sign up? If, for instance, they subscribed after signing up for a free eBook or webinar, their interest may have waned after they received their freebie. Look at the content you covered in the incentive you offered – can you send them similar content again?

2. Segment your list based on activity

Now it’s time to separate the active from the inactive. As mentioned earlier, you may want to take one extra step by segmenting the totally inactive from the semi-active, or those who have opened your emails but haven’t clicked your links.

3. Reach out to your inactive subscribers

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Send a survey asking what they’d like to see from you in the future.
  • If you already have an idea of what kind of content they want, send them related content.
  • You can try sending them a freebie – an eBook, checklist or another electronic download – to remind them of your value.
  • For those who have opened your emails but haven’t made a purchase from you, a coupon might be the nudge they need.

For any reactivation message, keep these things in mind:

  • Your message should be super compelling and remind your subscribers why they signed up in the first place.
  • Your value proposition should align with the “What’s in it for me?” rule.
  • Make your subject line pops – remember, these are people who haven’t opened an email from you in a while.
  • Let readers know how they can reach you on other social sites. If a reader checks Facebook more than email, it makes more sense for them to stay in touch with you there.

4. If the inactive subscribers still aren’t biting, it’s time for a cut-off email

Send a message to those who were unresponsive to your reactivation email asking them to reconfirm their interest in your mailing list. Remind them about all the valuable content they’ll miss out on from you.

5. Remove those inactive subscribers

At this point, you’ve given your inactive subscribers plenty of chances to reconfirm their interest in your list. It’s time to say goodbye! It might hurt at first, but inactive subscribers can only hurt your email marketing. Here’s why:

  • They skew your email analytics in terms of opens rates and click throughs, hurting your deliverability and preventing you from getting an accurate picture of your emails’ success – and that negatively impacts your entire campaign.
  • You’re better off having a small list of active subscribers than a large list of dead email addresses.
  • It’s the best way to ensure the overall health of your email list.

Reactivating your inactive subscribers is one of the best ways to reinvigorate your email marketing performance.

If that doesn’t work, it’s time to delete inactive subscribers 

If your inactive subscribers still aren’t biting after a re-engagement campaign, it’s time to say goodbye. 

Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to delete inactive subscribers for all AWeber customers.

(Not an AWeber customer yet? Create your FREE account today!)

1. Hover over the Subscribers tab and click Manage Subscribers.

AWeber Subscriber Management

2. Click the Select Option drop-down menu.

How to find unengaged subscribers

3. Click No Opens from the select field options.

4. Now, click the blank field to the right of No Opens and choose the date you’d like to search by. This will allow you to find all your subscribers who have not opened a message since that date. For instance, if you want to see who hasn’t opened your message in the last 30 days, choose a date 30 days ago.

No email opens in 30 days

Be sure to include another search term by clicking the + button. Choose Date Added, and date is before. Then pick the same date. This will ensure that newer subscribers who may not have gotten to your messages yet won’t be lumped together with the rest of the long-time inactives.

Deeper segmentation

5. Click the Search button, then scroll down to see the list of subscribers who haven’t opened your messages since the date you chose.

6. To delete these subscribers, check the Erase box in the upper left of the list of subscribers to mark them all to be deleted, then click Delete to remove them from your list permanently.

How to delete inactive subscribers

7. If you have multiple pages of subscribers, you can repeat this process to remove them all.

Make a mistake? Don’t worry: AWeber’s award-winning customer service team can restore deleted addresses within 30 days. But you should always download your original list into a CSV ahead of time just to keep a record.

So fresh, so clean.

There’s nothing better than the feeling of a clean email list. Have you employed some of these tactics in your email marketing strategy? What kind of results did you see?

Let us know in the comments or share your own ideas for keeping a healthy list!

Additional reporting by Jill Fanslau, Olivia Dello Buono, and Kristen Dunleavy.


  1. Danielle

    11/30/2017 4:27 pm

    I have a question about this. At one point I was going to delete the accounts that said they hadn’t opened any of my emails since X date. First, though, I sent a sort of “reengagement” message asking them if they wanted to continue to hear from me and didn’t want to be removed. I was surprised to get many emails from people whose subscriber accounts in Aweber looked like they hadn’t looked at an email from me for quite some time, but who stated they did read all my stuff and emphatically wished to remain on my list. I’ve noticed engagement across all platforms is down for everyone (not just me). It’s hard to get people to comment on blog posts or even Facebook posts anymore. It’s like all they want to do is click and not make any more effort or have any input, ideas or opinion than that. You often feel like you’re talking to a brick wall. So, I was really confused about why those folks’ accounts look like they aren’t opening or reading anything, yet when I basically let them know if I didn’t hear from them they would be removed, they jumped up and down asking not to be. I discovered in some instances, the email they were subscribed under was forwarding to another email address. Could that explain why it appears they aren’t opening/reading messages in the Aweber control panel? Are there other instances where their engagement might not accurately show in the admin panel? I want to get rid of the dead weight, but after that experience, I’m not really sure who actually isn’t engaged and who only appears to not be engaging with my content. I do still get a lot of buyers, but actually getting people to open their mouths and make their presence known is another story. Thoughts? Advice?

  2. Liz Willits

    12/5/2017 4:21 pm

    Hi Danielle,

    Thanks for reading! A member of our Customer Solutions team is going to email you to get more information and walk you through solving this.

  3. mat mathias

    12/6/2017 9:03 am

    Some good advice there. It is always good to try and reengage the lead before deleting. We often get bogged down by list size rather than list quality. I have a small list generating $1.21 per lead per month and another large list that is virtually dead.

  4. Thea Westra

    12/12/2017 10:58 pm

    Danielle and Liz, was reading what you wrote and agree.
    I feel that I cannot trust the ‘unopens’ stats because I too have known subscribers to have opened an email yet have shown up in the ‘unopens’ search.
    When they do not have images enabled in the HTML version too, the Aweber pixel cannot ‘read’ that they have opened a message.
    It’s also possible that they have their email client setup to display PlainText versions of the messages, rather than HTML (the default).
    So I think that always finding a way to be certain is best and that’s why the Open Automations tool should be very useful.

  5. Liz Willits

    12/13/2017 8:54 am

    Hi Thea!

    I definitely agree. It’s always good to make sure and Open Automations should really help with that. With an automated re-engagement campaign, you can ask subscribers to click on a call to action in your email to confirm that they still want to be subscribed. This helps alleviate the concern of unsubscribing the wrong people.