It happened to me one dark and stormy night. Someone hit the unsubscribe button. Boo, I thought! Was it something I said? Maybe it was my content? Perhaps it’s dreadfully dull? But then I realized they weren’t in my target market. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Phew.

But then an even scarier thought popped into my head. What if someone who was in my target market unsubscribed? Eek! How would I get them back? Could I? What should I have done differently to keep them engaged? I know I’m not alone in this nightmarish scenario. So what should I have done, and what can you do about low-engaged contacts?

How Do Your Email Open Rates Compare?

First, let’s look at how we compare to others in the consumer products and nonprofit industries. Are your open and unsubscribe rates that dismal?

According to Campaign Monitor’s 2021 data, here are the benchmarks (see the graphic below). When I take a look at my September email compared to other Advertising and Marketing Agencies my open rates are a very healthy 49.2%, my click to open rate definitely needs improvement though at 7.6%, my click rate is intriguingly 15.5%, and my unsubscribe rate is high at .80%. This could be a result of not having the right people on my list and my list being very small. I only send out my email to 118 people total.

How Does Your Email Engagement Compare

Let It Go Like Elsa

Next, if your numbers are in alignment, know it’s ok to let some of them go. It’s not personal, after all. I know some people who have 10,000 unread emails. If I were them, I’d cut all the fat too and start unsubscribing to everything I could.

And according to digital marketing firm Lyris, you should expect to lose 30% of your email subscribers every year. Yikes! That’s a big number.

So how do you keep the remaining 70% engaged? Here are a few tips to help you keep your email contacts engaged and your email list healthy.

Create Crystal Clear Subject Lines

Up first, keep it short. It’s essential to be clear and concise with your email subject line. Don’t try to get too clever. Character counts vary widely across email clients and depend on whether you’re on mobile or desktop or using Outlook or Apple Mail. As a rule of thumb, limit your subject line’s character count to around 40 characters.

But do tell them why your email is worth opening—

  • Is there a discount offer inside?
  • Do you have a contest they should enter?
  • Is there a free template they can download?
  • Can they learn something?

Answer their question — “why I should open this” and show your value upfront.

And try some of these tips I hot of the press from the 2021 Inbound conference.

  • Bookend emojis: ❤️ Volunteers Needed ❤️
  • Make a comparison: Big Stretch vs. DAP Dynaflex 230
  • The Ellipse…: For Marketers Only…
  • The Fake Mistake: Oops, you almost missed this.
  • Special Characters: **Up to 30% Off**

And check out this fun tool by Input a subject line and let it evaluate your open rate.


Make It Personal

Include your email recipient’s name to give it a personal touch. Statistics show that personalized emails sent are 22.2% more likely to be opened. Here are a few ways you can add that personal touch:

    • Use your contact’s name in the subject line or email body.
    • Send them a discount on a product on their birthday.
    • When they sign up, segment them — include questions about their pain points or ask them interests and tell them why you are requesting their information so you can tailor the emails to their specific interests.

Avoid Buzzwords

Too many buzzwords in your email can send it straight into the dreaded SPAM box or Junk folder. And even if they don’t go straight into SPAM if your user isn’t sure they may send you there themselves.

Here are some examples of what to avoid when writing your subject lines:

  • Help
  • Reminder
  • Daily
  • Percentage Off
  • Click here

For a list of the 202 words and catchphrases that trigger a trip to the SPAM folder, click here.

Need more tips for writing the perfect subject line? Read this: 20 Tips to Write Catchy Email Subject Lines

Optimize for Mobile

Nearly 55% of global website traffic is from mobile devices. It’s essential to design your emails for mobile delivery as well as desktop platforms. Learn more from this Constant Contact article, Best Practices for Delivering Email on mobile devices.

Below is an example of an email I designed for desktop and mobile viewing for my friends at Make Philanthropy Work, a nonprofit consulting firm in Denver.


Make Philanthropy Work Optimize for Mobile Example

Image is Everything

From photos to infographics, an image can grab your contacts’ attention in an instant. Images are easily digestible and scannable.

Here are a couple of ways you can use images in your next campaign to grab your contacts’ attention.

Try a GIF. GIFs can add movement and interest and direct your viewer’s eye. According to Mike Isaac at The New York Times, “GIFs have become a mainstream form of digital expression, a way to relay complex feelings and thoughts in ways beyond words and even photographs.” Check out the example below from Rachel Hollis below, it can be as simple as using type. Tools like Canva and Adobe Spark, and Giphy make it super easy.

Use photos of people. Studies show pictures with people get better results, especially people’s faces, since we’re drawn to look people in the eye. Try taking pictures of your employees or customers using your product or capture behind the scenes at your nonprofit’s next event.

But beware! Limit the images in your email, the standard is 1–3 images per email. For more information on how images can impact email campaigns read this from


Create a list of your unengaged email contacts and send them an email to check in— 

  • What content would they like to see? 
  • Would they like to be taken off the list?
  • Get emails less frequently?
  • Say thank you and offer some content or product offer.
  • Remind them of their achievement (I love the Hydrow one below.)

And don’t forget to give them an option to opt out. For some inspiration check out this collection of re-engagement campaigns.

Hydrow Email Engagement Achievement Example

If All Else Fails — Clean Out the Cobwebs

It happens to us all. You’ve tried all the above, but you’re still not seeing the needle move up. It may be time to clean out the cobwebs from your email list—this means removing unengaged users from your list.

Cleaning it up doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Quite the contrary, it means you’re focusing on those contacts who want to read your emails and stay in touch. It means you can create more meaningful and relevant content for those that matter most. It’s just plain ole good email hygiene. You don’t want your email list to stink.

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