The Email Subscribers You Don’t Want

Did you know that zombie email addresses might be sucking

bad email subscribers

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.

getting valid email addresses

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.

email sign up form

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.

fake email addresses

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 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:

effective sign up forms

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.

good email sign up forms

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.

examples of email sign up forms

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?


  1. MM

    1/5/2012 9:41 am

    Deliverability to undeliverable or disposable emails is definitely is a big problem.
    But I think Aweber can and should provide automatic blocks for email addresses that are undeliverable or with domains from known disposable email address services.
    I mean I have seen services that block yahoomail, hotmail, gmail etc and allow only domain specific emails like or addresses.

    So I wish Aweber should come up a solution for this. As an Aweber new user I am not aware of any such features, if there is some feature that can help us please do tell us.

  2. Peggy Hall

    1/5/2012 11:34 am

    Looks like Lake Champlain changed their opt-in box. It was hard to find on their home page (below the fold) and was a single line asking for email address only. After I opted in, there was no confirmation page….in fact, I wasn’t sure if my sign up went through or not, until I got an email confirmation — NOT a double opt-in, by the way. Looks like the changes they made were not for the better.

  3. Johnn

    1/5/2012 11:49 am

    This article makes a great point about removing subscribers not interested in your content.

    We just had our signup form reviewed and were advised to simplify it.

    Other ways to mow zombie emails down:

    * Aweber does regular list scrubbing for me. Bounces and errors.

    * Offer a downloadable signup incentive but deliver it only by email (not on the thank you page). Then send another email immediately that advises of upcoming valuable offerings.

    For example, I zip up archives of past issues for download and offer the link a couple times a year.

    Another example – past freebies I’ve cycled off the home page to freshen up incentive I offer for download on scheduled followup.

    * Use HTML. I currently only send in plain text, but I’d have more tracking and segmentation options if I had HTML versions of my emails and newsletters.

    * When I switched my account to AWeber I asked all my subscribers to re-optin via AWeber. That was scary. About 36% signed up immediately. I got to about 51% over the next month as people got around to reading email. Then more signups as people realized my newsletter stopped arriving.

    All told, I’m at about 60% of my original subscriber base, but my list is now more engaged and responsive, I get fewer spam complaints and a lot fewer bounces.

  4. Crystal Gouldey

    1/5/2012 1:24 pm

    MM- AWeber does have tools in place to protect against known throwaway email addresses, but blocking domains such as Yahoo and Gmail wouldn’t be appropriate. Many of our customers run small businesses catering to individuals, and these individuals use domains such as those. For example, I sign up to stores I like using my Gmail address, not my work address. The “zombie email addresses” I was referring to are the addresses people set up specifically for mail they don’t want and don’t check.

    Peggy- I see that. I loved their old form, I wonder why they changed it.

    Johnn- Awesome tips! Thanks for your input.

  5. Johnn

    1/5/2012 1:36 pm

    Here’s another I just remembered.

    I set up an opt-in form for a site months ago. Checking the logs awhile later I saw the occasional “Your Name Here” and “” entry.

    At first I thought this was from people just looking to get my bonus fast.

    But then I received an email from a person who did this and did not receive their signup bonus. After some back-and-forth talk with him, I realized what was happening: people had javascript turned off.

    Without javascript, people have to manually remove those values from the form fields before clicking submit.

    The person who contacted me just clicked in the email field and typed their address – without clearing from the field.

    So, “” got appended to his addy, thus the non-deliverable account.

    When I changed my site to have “Your name” and “” put above the form fields instead of inside them, all those bad entries stopped occurring.

  6. Hezi

    1/5/2012 9:24 pm

    Hummm….very interesting emails …

    Need to kill some zumbies ( ohh..they are alreaday dad …lol )

  7. Halina

    1/7/2012 2:07 pm

    When you say that AWeber does have tools in place to protect against known throwaway email addresses, does it mean that I don’t have to worry about it? Or is there any specific action I need to take on top of that?

    Thanks –

  8. Andre

    1/8/2012 1:16 pm

    These tips are extremely relevant and is causing serious concern. Thank you for sharing Johnn

  9. Crystal Gouldey

    1/9/2012 9:28 am

    Halina- You’ll still need to be on the look out for subscribers who enter email addresses they don’t really check that often. That’s the zombies I was referring to in this post- real people setting up email addresses they don’t check so they have something to enter in forms.

    What you’ll need to do is make sure your web form explains what they’re signing up for and why they’ll want to get your emails (what’s in it for them). Make sure you’re using confirmed opt-in, and clean up your list by deleting subscribers who are no longer opening your emails.

  10. Pete

    1/9/2012 12:13 pm

    People will always find ways to avoid being advertised at. Nowadays the average internet user is aware that by submitting their email address to a website, especially one which dangles a carrot such as a special offer, will result in them being spammed ceaselessly. I work in marketing, however I use spaminator whenever signing up for a site other than a trusted source. One of the pitfalls of email marketing, an unavoidable one.

  11. How To Attract (and Keep!) the Subscribers You DO Want

    4/2/2012 3:51 pm

    […] month, we talked about the email subscribers you don’t want and how to prevent them from signing up to your list. Now, it’s time to think about how to […]

  12. Gerold

    10/3/2013 8:08 am

    Dear Crystal,

    you mentioned above that aweber has tools in place to protect against known throwaway email domains. We run a service that helps to detect a high number of disposable email domains (as of Oct. 2013 > 3.200) and we provide that data via an api so the users do not have to maintain a local blacklist.

    As I am not familiar with aweber integration I wonder if it would be possible to integrate an api call from eg. aweber signup forms to our service ( Maybe there are similar ways like Marketo’s standard web hook?

    Would be nice to get an advice,