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Why People Unsubscribe From Your Lists – The Answers

Posted by on Jul 17, 2011

Our buddy Sire recently wrote a post titled Why Do People Unsubscribe From Your List. It was an intriguing little post that asked the question more than attempted to answer it. He’s fairly new to the list game; I only have one email list, and that’s for my own leadership newsletter.

by Bàrbara Bessa via Flickr

Still, I’ve had it for about 8 years now (man, no wonder I’m tired), and I’ve been on many other lists. Initially I thought that maybe he asked the question wrong. My thinking was that people don’t unsubscribe from lists, per se, but from newsletters or blogs or other types of things. Then I thought about it and using “list” or “lists” covers all of these things, so I came back to it.

Back to the topic; why do people unsubscribe from lists. It’s an intriguing question; let’s come up with some answers:

1. Too many emails. This is probably the biggest reason people unsubscribe; I know it’s the biggest reason I’ll drop out of something, usually pretty quickly. We don’t mind information, but we don’t want to be overwhelmed since it’s almost always some kind of sales pitch that we’re receiving at that point.

2. Subscribed to get something and now we’re satisfied. This is kind of disingenuous but it happens all the time. Many people that offer something if a person signs up for a list know this is going to happen, but since by that time most of those lists are automated anyway they really don’t care.

3. Subscribed then realized it’s not what we thought it was going to be. I’ve subscribed to some things and then noticed that I wasn’t getting what was promised so I drop out.

4. You run out of time. This could be for many reasons, such as getting too much other email, not enough time to read what you’re being sent, you’re participating in other things now that you weren’t before… time can be a killer, especially if you’re subscribed to a lot of things.

5. The frequency isn’t what you want it to be. Do you want weekly newsletters? Maybe something every two weeks or so? When you’re putting out a newsletter, it’s hard to figure out sometimes just how often you should be doing anything. If you’re the reader, it’s possible that every time a newsletter or whatever comes to you it’s more irksome because you weren’t expecting it and eventually you decide it’s time to leave.

6. You’re tired of it. Maybe you’ve been subscribed to something for a few years and now you’re just tired of it. It’s not that you don’t like it but you’re ready for something new, something from someone else.

7. You’re on too many lists. Many years ago I subscribed to a lot of things. I eventually created a new email address so I could shunt everything there instead of my regular email address. Then I realized that I just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep up with it all and I started cutting a bunch of them. At this point I only subscribe to two email lists, and it’s eased my load a lot.

8. The other person dropped your list. This one might seem petty, but it happens often. Heck, I know I’ve done it; people leave me and then I leave them because the only reason I was a part of their list was because they were receiving what I was sending out. That was years ago; I don’t do that anymore.

9. You didn’t subscribe to begin with. Man, is this irksome. I meet someone and they just add me to their list that I didn’t ask for. Or suddenly I’m receiving stuff from people I don’t even know, and I figure someone bought a list with my email address on it and just started pumping stuff my way. Some folks say you shouldn’t unsubscribe to these things because all you’re doing is proving that email address is accurate. Heck, spam’s coming anyway, so you might as well unsubscribe because it’s possible the person sending you something will have some ethics and remove you from that list.

10. You’ve irked the reader in some fashion. I had this happen to me where this guy reacted to a newsletter I wrote about my dad’s time in the military with a rant against the American military and government. Eventually, after I tried to have a conversation with them because that wasn’t what the newsletter was about, he threw out a parting shot and left. Frankly, I wasn’t unhappy he left.

There’s 10 reasons for you and Sire; do you have anything more to add?

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Hey Mitch, thanks for the link luv mu friend. I reckon I could add one Mitch, they don’t provide anything of value and the only time they send you an email is when they are trying to sell you something.

As to my list, those who subscribed knew exactly what they were getting themselves into because I outlined it in the email. No-one ever let me know why they unsubscribed, except for Kristi who did leave a comment. She did it because she was trimming her emails as they were taking too much time. I can understand that.

July 17th, 2011 | 10:14 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Sire, I mentioned all 3 of those. lol Still, your post got me thinking about it because I had someone unsubscribe from my newsletter on Friday as well. I don’t ever ask; I just send an email thanking them for the time they were a subscriber and remove them from the list. You know me; sometimes feedback isn’t great for the ego.

July 17th, 2011 | 10:22 AM

I actually emailed one asking as to why, they never did get back to me

July 17th, 2011 | 8:29 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Of course not; people will normally duck having to answer those types of questions.

July 17th, 2011 | 8:45 PM

Still, doesn’t hurt to ask 😉

July 17th, 2011 | 9:03 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Doesn’t hurt you; as I said earlier, I’d rather not know.

July 17th, 2011 | 9:06 PM

Mitch, I think you covered them all. #7 covers my main reason for having unsubscribed in the past: trying to follow the teachings of too many gurus.

In the beginning, there was Corey Rudl. Then, because I didn’t know better, I started following Rosalind Gardner (affiliate marketing), John Reese (during his micro niche phase) and a bunch of other folk. Naturally, I was all over the map.

As a result, I not only was ineffective, I also ran into that clash between reasons #1 and #4: too many emails, not enough time. So I ditched them all.

I remain subscribed to three people whose ideas I really pay attention to. Another handful of people just have interesting posts that I want to read – as opposed to having to load up my RSS reader.



July 17th, 2011 | 10:40 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks Mitch. Yeah, #7 will really start dragging people down including me, and I speed read! I have to admit I never heard of Corey Rudl until he was gone and I haven’t heard word one about John Reese since that one thing he had that crashed and burned went away; can’t even remember the name but I remember writing about it years ago.

July 17th, 2011 | 10:47 AM

Hi again. Yeah, Corey was special. I think he is the reason I love autoresponders so much. I used to pay 17.00 / month for his web reviews PLUS 27.00/ month for the java-based list manager. (I was not impressed, but I still kept it for awhile.)

I think you’re talking aboutJohn Reese’s BlogRush, which got gamed to death.

July 17th, 2011 | 11:05 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Yes, that’s the one, BlogRush. Haven’t heard from Reese since then. You’re with a different autoresponder now, correct?

July 17th, 2011 | 6:46 PM

As you said,I mostly unsubscribe,as I get many email.Too many tooo handle!!

July 17th, 2011 | 12:08 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

It can get overwhelming Nipon.

July 17th, 2011 | 6:52 PM

Hi Mitch, I don’t really subscribe to lists for all of those reasons you mentioned. There was one I tried one out for awhile. There was too much discussion about Android apps, and I have no plans for getting a smartphone (unless my old one dies).
I think you covered all angles on this one. Thanks!

July 17th, 2011 | 12:21 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks Ileane. Actually, I could have included why we stop following certain blogs as well. There’s one big time blogger I used to follow who then went off on a quest that I really didn’t care about and thus I dropped it. It’s possible he’s back to writing on what I do care about but I can’t be bothered; isn’t that a shame?

July 17th, 2011 | 6:55 PM

Hi Mitch. You seem to have covered all of the reasons people unsubscribe. My top two reasons for unsubscribing are (1) not having enough time to read everything and (2) the content is not consistently useful.

I am moving into letting it go when readers unsubscribe because it is not personal–it just wasn’t the right time or the right fit.

July 17th, 2011 | 12:43 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Rachel, that’s really how you have to view things to keep your sanity. I do follow up with the email though because it seems the right thing to do.

July 17th, 2011 | 6:56 PM

It can be some of all of these depending on the blog and what it offers. There are so many things one can read in a day. I sometimes have to cull out the ones I tend not to read or don’t really have much to offer to me. My email box starts getting so full that sometimes a house cleaning is in order and certain newsletters just have to go.

Tossing It Out

July 17th, 2011 | 7:22 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

I’m feeling you Arlee. That’s why every once in awhile I go on a mission and clear out some of the blogs I’m subscribed to in my reader; I’m somehow back over 200 again. lol

July 17th, 2011 | 7:27 PM

The matter is too complicated as there can be many reasons. First, I always advice my customers the more than twice a month is too much for newsletter. 2nd really depends on the business, if a website publish daily news no problem, even everyday newsletter is fine. I always use advanced tracking for newsletters, check how many emails have been opened, how many links have been clicked, which customers have clicked which have not. I have also analyze sending time and date, it seems that make huge different if for example newsletter is send on Friday or Monday or beginning or end of the month. I believe that if everything is done properly, number of people that unsubscribe will be close to 0.

July 18th, 2011 | 1:37 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

I’m not so sure Carl. People are hard to group like that. For instance, some people might want a daily reminder of something, and if that suddenly isn’t daily they might get irked. Maybe if it’s a long piece subscribers might want it once every couple of weeks or once a month. If the information is time sensitive then sending a newsletter out once a month makes no sense. I think it first starts with the topic, then the scope, and then the potential irritation level. After that human nature takes its course and it’ll be a hit or a struggle.

And man, I hate the struggle. lol

July 18th, 2011 | 2:44 PM

These are great reasons why people unsubscribe to some lists. I think that it is quite annoying when you receive something that you actually did not ask for.

July 18th, 2011 | 9:15 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Shane, that’s my biggest gripe, and it seems to happen multiple times a day.

July 18th, 2011 | 2:45 PM

having a newsletter once a month is fine with me..i wouldn’t unsubscribe if I still find it interesting…so it has to be something worth subscribing…all the time

July 18th, 2011 | 12:59 PM

And I’d like to place chips on numbers 1, 3, 5 and 6, Mitch.

The others are all valid, but for me #1 is, well… #1. When I’m handling e-mail I’m usually working. Newsletters and such are a side trip that distract me from what I’m doing, so I keep e-mail notifications to a minimum and only for my most favorite. I’ll use my RSS feed collection to peruse headlines of other places when I’m in “not-working” mode.

Too many times I subscribe to get information and end up with nothing but sales pitches. Those get dropped fast.

I may sign up expecting a notice once or twice a week, then get one every day – in on case, several times a day – TOO MUCH!

And as you say, sometimes I just grow bored with what is being said and decide to unsubscribe.

As to why people leave my mailing list – I try not to worry about it much. It’s bound to have been one of your ten reasons, and as long as I’m not doing silly stuff like posting thrice daily or pulling the ol bait & switch, then they simply didn’t find what they were looking for. If they don’t bother to mention their beef, then I will just keep writing for the ones who do read consistently, do tell me what they like about my work, and be happy with that. You can’t please all the people all the time (because they are people).

July 18th, 2011 | 1:48 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Exactly Allan. It’s kind of like going through an exit interview when you leave a company, something I’ve never done but many others have. There’s not going to be any changes to policy so it’s a major waste of time worrying about it. Overall, one hopes that they’re putting out a product that people will like up front and that they’ll stay loyal to it as long as you stay loyal to them. And in the end, well, we all have to make money, so don’t get mad with the occasional advertisement or promotion; heck, it might be beneficial.

July 18th, 2011 | 2:52 PM

I have a question on this, something I have always wondered. I look after the emails at work and the board are very demanding that the unsubscribe link is at the bottom of the email hidden away, I tend to do this because growing the list is one of the things I am evaluated on so if the list size goes down I get it in the neck (they clearly dont understand the concept of clean data and they never will). Our email service provider account manager tells me to put the unsubscribe link at the top of the email so that people can just hit it.

I can see that the board want a bigger list to market to and the account manager wants to have the link at the top so people dont complain about his IPs sending spam (as if they cant unsubscribe they will probably flag it as spam) where would you think that this link should go?

July 18th, 2011 | 4:18 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Danika, traditionally most people have the unsubscribe link at the bottom. I actually have mine on the side of my newsletter, which is somewhat different. No matter where it is that doesn’t constitute spam. If your newsletter is something that someone subscribed to then it’s not spam. And actually, based on US law, as long as you have an unsubscribe link, or some way for people to unsubscribe, and you actually unsubscribe people then you’re good.

July 18th, 2011 | 6:33 PM
John Dilbeck:

Hi Mitch,

I’ve unsubscribed for all of the reasons you list.

I limit email reading and responding to two hours per day. When I get more than I can handle, something has to go. That’s when I remove RSS feeds and unsubscribe from lists that no longer appeal to me.

I go through periods when I’m trying to learn something new and subscribe to everything I can find that covers the subject. Over time, I unsubscribe from everything that isn’t consistently helpful. That’s similar to your #2, but I don’t usually care about the freebies and reports and such. I want the newsletters, opinions, and advice.

When I learn what I want to know, I generally unsub from all the others in that category.

I’m going through this right now as it pertains to SMS text message opt-in list management. When I get up to speed, I’ll be reading a lot less on the subject.

Over the years, I’ve subscribed to well over a thousand lists and I’m still on more than 100. If I’m not learning by reading them, I unsub and move on. I don’t answer the unsub questionnaires, usually. When I do, it’s because I really liked that particular list and I’m unsubscribing based on time constraints and/or the fact that my interests have changed.

When someone unsubscribes from one of my lists, I don’t really want to know why. I probably won’t change anything and you just can’t please everyone. I’m not perfect, of course, but I always try to do my best, and that won’t change because someone doesn’t like something I’m doing or not doing.

Act on your dream!


July 19th, 2011 | 10:37 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

That’s how I feel John. Course, you’re not subscribed to my newsletter! lol Just picking on you, as I assume since you work for yourself that leadership wouldn’t be an area you’d be interested in. Come to think of it, that’s probably why most of the folks that follow this blog don’t subscribe because most are either independents or employed by someone else.

And I’m with you, everyone can’t be pleased so if I know I’m not intentionally insulting someone I’m pretty good.

July 19th, 2011 | 5:51 PM

I actually unsubscribe and want remove my email from their list for some reasons: 1. Too emails that come in a day. 2. I’m afraid that it might be a scam. 3. Not interested anymore.

July 24th, 2011 | 5:34 AM

ah… So I get it now. I was wondering why some people did that. LOL! Thanks for sharing this.

July 27th, 2011 | 12:32 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Andrew, I’m mentioning this for once rather than just deleting the comment like I often do. I hate to say it but this really isn’t a great comment. I mean, you didn’t address anything in the post and look at all the words I wrote. Just so you know if you come back to see if some of your comments are around and they’re not, you now know why they’re gone, and it’s the same for all my other blogs. One or two lines just isn’t going to get it done my man; sorry about that. This one I’m leaving for now; I won’t do it anymore.

July 27th, 2011 | 1:06 AM