How To Clean Your Email List and Win-Back Subscribers

The fastest way to increase your newsletter open and click rate

Deep Dive

How To Clean Your Email List and Win-Back Subscribers

Here’s the fastest way to increase your newsletter open and click rate AND get more unique opens and clicks in the long run:

Remove subscribers who are no longer engaging with your emails. 

Why remove subscribers?

Your sender reputation is what email providers (Gmail, Apple, Yahoo, etc) use to evaluate where to deliver your emails. 

  • Good sender reputation = more of your emails in the primary inbox. 

  • Bad sender reputation = more of your emails in promotions, spam, or other folders 

Your sender reputation is determined by how people engage with your emails.

(Engagement means opens, clicks, replies, moving to primary, adding to contact list, etc).

If subscribers do those things at a high rate your sender reputation will be good. (There are other factors but these are the most important). 

Also, your current sender reputation will determine how new subscribers get your emails. 

This means: 

  • If your current engagement is bad, more new subscribers will have emails from you sent to their promotions or spam folders.

  • If your current engagement is good, more new subscribers will see your emails in your primary inbox.

You can’t outgrow bad engagement and sender reputation by adding new people to your list. The only way to improve sender reputation, and therefore improve engagement is to clean your list

Okay, now you know why it’s important.

Here’s how to do it…

How and When to Clean Your List

You should be cleaning your list at least once a month.

Or before each send. Or with automated rules.

Here’s how:

Go into your email service provider (ESP) and create 2 segments:

Segment 1 - Users without opens in X days

I use “X” because that time period may be longer or shorter depending on your newsletter frequency, newsletter content, and how aggressively you want to remove subscribers.

For most newsletters, I recommend 60-90 days. 

Here’s what this segment looks like in beehiiv:

Segment 2 - Users that open 100% of emails and have 0 clicks in X days

Again, I recommend 60-90 days for X. 

These are likely Apple Mail Privacy Protection Users who are inactive. If you’re not familiar with  Apple Mail Privacy Protection, read this.  

Here’s what this segment looks like in beehiiv:

After you create these segments I recommend unsubscribing them and excluding them from future newsletter sends.

Now let’s talk about how to prevent users from becoming inactive in the first place. 

How To Win-Back Subscribers 

First off, realize your newsletter is not a fit for everyone. 

You can’t win back all subscribers who stop engaging. You probably won’t win back most disengaged subscribers. 

If someone hasn’t opened your newsletter for 30+ days the odds of getting them to re-engage are low. 

That’s why it’s so important to make a great first impression with your:

  1. Subscriber flow

  2. Welcome sequence

  3. Each new newsletter send

I recommend spending 10x more time improving those 3 things than improving your win-back sequence and strategy. 

That said, here’s how to win back subscribers

Set up a re-engagement sequence that sends messages to your subscribers after they don’t open or click in X days.

Again, “X days” depends on your frequency, newsletter content/type, and how aggressive you want to be.

For daily newsletters (5+ days per week), I recommend entering users into a re-engagement sequence 10-14 days after 0 opens or clicks.

For weekly newsletters, I recommend entering users into a re-engagement sequence 21-30 days after 0 opens or clicks.

How many re-engagement emails should you send?

2-4 emails.

Any more than that is overkill and will increase spam complaints. I have 2 emails in my sequence. 

What should you write about in your re-engagement emails?

Keep them short and simple.

These subscribers are already dis-engaged so get to the point fast.

Include these points in your win-back emails:

  1. Remind them who you are and how you help

  2. Tell them they will be removed and why

  3. Tell them how to stay on the list

  4. Tell them to move your emails to their primary inbox and/or reply 

Here are 3 examples of win-back emails:

Newsletter Operator

The Hustle

Morning Brew

How to set up a re-engagement email sequence

Each email service provider is different. Here are the instructions for beehiiv

You can also send win-back emails manually to segments. 

Want to go deeper on this topic?

There’s a lot more to sender reputation, engagement, and deliverability.

This deep dive covered the basic best practices that every newsletter should be using.

If you want to learn the rest I recommend Stacked Marketer’s Email Deliverability Guide (it’s free).


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