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Why Every Smart Email Marketer Should Ask Readers to Unsubscribe

unsubscribe from my email list

If there are three ways we instinctively judge our prowess as email marketers, it is these:

  1. High open rates
  2. High click rates
  3. Low unsubscribe rates

In a perfect world, a click and open rate of 100% would be matched to an unsubscribe rate of zero. But we don’t live in a perfect world—and that is why I actively try to get people to unsubscribe from my email lists.


Resume Trash Can
Throw that resume away, you’re not qualified. (Image source)

Why don’t we get perfect open and click rates? Or perfect conversion rates off every email? Much of the answer has to do with how many of our readers are not ideal customers. Some of them are under-qualified. And some are downright unqualified. If they’d sent in their CV hoping for an interview to become our customer, we’d have chucked it in the trash.

Maybe they don’t have money to spend. Maybe they’re entitled wannabes who expect everything for free. Maybe they don’t have the problems we want to help them solve. Maybe they just joined our list out of curiosity. Could be any number of things. But the upshot is, a goodly proportion of your readers are never going to buy anything.

Which means you’re giving money to your Email Service Provider (ESP) to send emails that’ll never generate a return on investment.

Of course, your overall ROI is still pretty amazing if you’re doing email right. That’s how powerful it is. But the fact remains: if you could somehow identify every never-gonna-buy reader on your list, you’d remove them to maximize ROI. Right?

Well, you can’t identify every single one — but you can identify quite a few

And it’s actually very easy if you just know what to say and do. Plus, they remove themselves for you—so it saves you administrative time!

What happens when you biff poor prospects is your overall list quality goes up. So your open rates, click rates, and ultimately your conversion rates increase—at the expense of your unsubscribe rate. That’s a good trade.

But here’s the really interesting thing: if you biff lousy prospects in the right way, you simultaneously improve the quality of good prospects. You won’t just passively increase the quality of your list by culling dead weight. You will actively increase its quality too, by increasing your value to your ideal prospects’. So this is really a winning scenario.

Okay, enough blather—let’s get practical.

4 Ways I Get Readers to Unsubscribe from Email Lists in my Own Business

1. Asking readers if they really want my emails

This is a direct question I put to subscribers after they’ve stuck around through my initial autoresponder sequence. I ask them straight if my emails are worth their time. Here’s the copy I use:

Do I email you too often?
You may have noticed by now that I email you just about every day.

If that’s too much, I understand. What I say, and how often I say it, ain’t for everyone.

So I just want to let you know it’s okay to unsubscribe. If you’re having trouble keeping up with my emails, or you’re just sick of getting them, I’d actually prefer you to unsubscribe — which you can do simply by clicking here:


At the moment I don’t have any kind of low-frequency list. But I might consider it if enough people show interest — so let me know.

See you around,

PS. If you’re surprised that I’d send an email like this, you should probably check out the back-issue of the Shirtsleeves Marketing Communiqué entitled “The 6 Ballsy Email Marketing Techniques Smart Entrepreneurs Use To DOMINATE…While Competitors Struggle To Even Keep Their Heads Up”.

In it, I explain why you should not fear a high unsubscribe rate — indeed, why it is a sign of a healthy, money-making email marketing strategy. You can grab it here:


I get a 38.9% open rate on this email, and a 15.4% click rate. But my unsubscribe rate is only 5.8%—so nearly 10% of people are clicking the offer link, not the unsubscribe link! (Notice, however, that my unsubscribe rate is 5.8%. This will get you in trouble with your ESP, as I know from experience. I had to talk to them about this campaign to get them to okay it. It wasn’t a problem, because they saw I was actually trying to help my readers out.)

What’s obvious about this campaign is how I’m prompting poor prospects to unsubscribe. I don’t want them to just ignore my emails. I want them gone. But what’s not so obvious is how I am prompting good prospects to consciously identify themselves as such. I’m getting them to reflect on the value I’ve given them so far, and say to themselves, “Yes, I want to keep getting these emails.” In other words, I’m making them re-qualify for my list—thus consciously reinforcing my value in their eyes.

After all, which do you think a reader will perceive as more valuable: something he gets automatically after requesting it once…or something he gets automatically after trying it out, making a conscious affirmation of its value, and deciding to keep on getting it?

2. Emailing Every Day (ish)

Every day is far too often for poor prospects. They’re simply not interested enough in what I offer to put up with getting an email from me every day. Many of them unsubscribe after the first week or two—many after the first few days.

Conversely, good prospects are really interested in what I offer. They tell me they can’t get enough of my emails because they are so useful and interesting. So emailing more often, rather than less, builds a strong rapport with my most qualified prospects.

3. Pitching in every email

You’ll notice I followed up my “do I email you too often” email with a lengthy PS, tying in a product pitch. And that pitch gets quite a decent click rate. But it’s not just that email I pitch in. Virtually every email I send contains something to buy.

Some experts will tell you this is madness — that you should only pitch in about 20% of your emails, with the other 80% being pure content. But aside from the fact that “content” emails segue beautifully into quick pitches, you only need to do a little math to figure this is tosh:

Imagine you have a 20% open rate. You tend to think this means 20% of your prospects are opening 100% of your emails. But often it’s more like 100% of your prospects are opening 20% of your emails. Worst case scenario, there’s about a 1 in 5 chance of a particular email getting read by a particular person. Now, if you’re doing the 80/20 thing, then there’s only a 1 in 5 chance every email getting read is making an offer. A 1/5 chance to read multiplied by a 1/5 chance to see an offer means that even if every single “pitch” email makes a sale, you’re only making money once every 25 emails. Does that sound like a good number?

Compare it to the odds when you’re pitching in every email: 1 in 5 emails makes a sale. Right there you’ve quintupled your sales. So even if your unsubscribe rate goes up and your open rate goes down, they’d have to increase and decrease by 200% each before it would stop making sense to pitch in every email. (Btw, my emails are about 95% content, 5% pitch.)

Make no mistake—your unsubscribe rate will go up, because there are people on your list who will not put up with you overtly running a business in their faces. It literally offends them that you would spend even 5% of every email trying to profit from helping them out. But if those kinds of people are your ideal customers, you have bigger problems than I can help you with.

4. Asking readers who don’t open my emails to leave

Leaving your email list
Leaving your email list (Image source)

Literally — every now and then I manually send out an email to people who haven’t opened any recent campaigns. Here’s what I say:

Should I remove you from this email list?

Not being snarky — but my mail system tells me you haven’t opened any of my emails for a while.

If you’re not reading them, there’s not much point getting them (unless you just like collecting emails or something…but honestly, that’s kinda weird isn’t it?)

So if you want to unsubscribe, just click here:

I keep it short and sweet because people who haven’t opened my emails for a while probably aren’t gonna read much, if they read it at all. But those are exactly the people I want to leave (and about 50% of people who read this email unsubscribe).

What’s interesting is I’ve had people write me back very anxious because they have been reading my emails, and they’ve just been victims of poor tracking. Or they’ve been hoarding my emails, unopened, in an archive folder — waiting for a rainy day. These kinds of responses confirm what I’ve been saying about the power of making people re-qualify themselves. By asking them to leave, I make them choose. Either they agree that I’m not giving them what they want, or they don’t—in which case they are consciously reinforcing my value to themselves.

Furthermore, by tacitly threatening to exclude them from the list, I make use of the very powerful principle of exclusivity. No one wants to be left out. It sounds crazy, but pushing prospects away triggers the good ones to sell themselves to you. It completely changes the direction of the sale, and the dynamic of your relationship. By showing that you’re not needy, you make yourself very attractive; even irresistible.

Do You Ask Your Readers To Unsubscribe?

Or are you perhaps planning to now? Maybe you disagree entirely? Share your results and opinions in the comments — and don’t be shy to ask questions too. I’ll be around.

— D Bnonn Tennant

About D Bnonn Tennant
D Bnonn Tennant is the author of the free email micro-course “5 Sales-Spiking Website Tweaks Gurus & Designers Don’t Know”. When he isn’t teaching on turning visitors into customers, he’s schooling his kids in archery, fisticuffs and how to grapple a zombie without getting bit.
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  1. Andrew

    Just wondering, what subject line do you use for examples 1 and 4? You mentioned a 38% open rate for #1 — I’d be very interested in what you selected for the subject line. Thanks!

    • D Bnonn Tennant

      Hey Andrew, sorry, it’s not very clear in the quoted text, but the subject lines are the first lines. So, “Do I email you too often?” and “Should I remove you from this email list?”

  2. Jane

    I so love this idea and I usually include a link to unsubscribe saying “Unsubscribe here” in the pre-header. As you see I implement it, but not so effectively. If I ask them openly may be I’ll get some more weight off my shoulder. Thanks!

  3. Owen McGab Enaohwo

    I love love love this way/approach to email marketing.
    When folks Zig you Zag.

    • D Bnonn Tennant

      Owen, absolutely. Perry Marshall and Drayton Bird are both fond of saying (in their own ways) that the easiest way to know what to do is to look at what everyone else is doing, then do the opposite.

  4. Lola Zabeth

    Thx so much for this advice. I just sent a ‘kindly unsubscribe’ newsletter. I feel better already. We’ll see what happens…

    • D Bnonn Tennant

      Lola, it’s a good idea to be proactive with your email service provider before you send your first “get outta here” campaign, just to minimize disruption to your own life. I made the mistake of sending my first campaign like this in the middle of doing another launch, and had my account automatically locked out due to a 3.3% unsubscribe rate. Took me a couple of days to get it sorted, which was very disruptive to the launch I was doing!

      So…learn from my mistakes ;)

      • Lola Zabeth

        Thx for the advice! I received an auto-warning from my provider when the unsunscribes reached almost 3% and immediately sent the provider an email letting them know of the nature of my email campaign. I got a response from one of their tech people thanking for me for the info and told me not to worry about suspension or anything like that.
        But yes, I wish I had given them a heads up prior to sending the email.
        Thx again–very helpful!

  5. Sharon Hurley Hall

    I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, so the template you’ve provided is useful, thanks.

  6. Marketing Ideas: A Different Approach to Social Advertising | Sword and the Script

    […] The result is that sales teams are relegated to chasing, and perhaps alienating, a possible prospect. In addition, sending emails to people who aren’t really interested and never open the message may actually harm your email marketing efforts. […]

  7. Judi Ketteler

    Very interesting! As a copy strategist who is cultivating a list & pours A LOT of time into crafting really good emails, I’ve always known *logically* that I should look at unsubscribes as good things. It weeds out the people who don’t need my message & will never buy. But the emotional, “why don’t they like me?” too often eclipses it. This is a really great reminder to let that go already. Thank you!

    • D Bnonn Tennant

      I know what you mean Judi. It’s really hard to let go of wanting to please everybody. But cultivating a kind of hard-nosed desire to piss off at least a few people every day has done wonders for my marketing ;)

  8. Jay Perkins (@Jay_Perkins)

    Have you ever considered removing all the subscribers that have never opened an email and setting up a ‘hey, we noticed you havent been finding value in our emails… yada yada… click here to re-subscribe and continue to receive our content’?

    Be interesting to see how many actually do sign up, especially as the open rates cant be exact numbers.

    • D Bnonn Tennant

      Hey Jay, that’s definitely another thing to try. I haven’t done it myself, largely because it’s just more work to set up than writing an autoresponder ;)

      I think there’s some danger in this approach, since you could easily lose good prospects whose opens just aren’t being correctly tracked. If people miss that particular email, but are still engaged with most of your content, then you could be throwing money down the drain. If email open tracking were 100% reliable (or even 99%) then I’d probably give this a try. But as it is, it’s pretty damned unreliable, so I err on the side of caution.

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  10. Owen McGab Enaohwo

    One of the things I am going to do for my long term email campaign sequence is to add a call to action at the very top of all my emails telling folks to unsubscribe if they do not want to hear from me.

    Matt Lloyd does it in all his emails.

    He actually says “(The last thing I want to do is send emails to people who don’t want to hear from me… if you’re not getting value, you can unsubscribe at the very bottom of this email. OR, you can choose to reduce the number of emails you get from me each week. Either way, no hard feelings…) ”

    mine will be “(If you do not want to hear from me…if you’re not getting real value from me then go ahead UNSUBSCRIBE by clicking this link >>LINK<<, It's okay no hard feelings!) "

    Since I used Office Autopilot I will also set up a trigger to remove folks who do not open my emails. What is the people sending them another email to ask them whether or not they want to receive your email?

    • D Bnonn Tennant

      Owen, just bear in mind that the way email systems track opens is highly unreliable. So if you’re unlitarerally removing people who your ESP shows as not having opened any emails, you could well be removing engaged prospects.

      • Owen McGab Enaohwo

        I get that opens might not be tracked correctly but what if one makes the judgement call based on CTR? I plan on placing a link to my signup page on most of my emails

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  12. ashley

    Hi! I know is hard to please everybody but step by step we can get positive results. Thanks all the info is great!

  13. Judy Jackson

    Fantastic post! Love the informations i got from reading this article. Thanks for sharing this.

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  19. Phil

    What I never understand about this approach is other than saving some money on the cost of your email service, why you bother doing this? It increases open rates and conversion rates, but it doesn’t increase overall opens and conversions, so I don’t really see the benefit. Any thoughts? Thanks.

  20. Tim White

    Great ideas!

    I like to think about emails like my traffic. Quality over quantity wins every time.

  21. Scott

    D Bonn,

    Just discovered your stuff recently. I’m on your list.
    I have a process I use called “thinning the herds”…basically involving a calculation of first mail opening rates. If I get 30% openings on a new list and first email- I’ll immediately delete the 70% who didn’t open. Then in 2 days I mail the 30% who opened, usually 50-60% open again, and then I delete the 40-50% who didn’t, and so on. Avoids the whole ESP getting pissed off at high unsubscribe rate problem, Peace- Scott

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  23. Randall Magwood

    Many people like to avoid this by asking people to “double confirm”. I dont think this is a necessary step though. I think asking readers to unsubscribe is a bit “forward”… and they still have to open up your emails anyway – so might as well try to go and sell them on your product.

  24. Kenneth Elliott

    Very interesting article. I came to read this article as I am trying to decide if to just delete those who have not responded to any of my emails. But I don’t want my ESP to cancel my account either so I am a little on the fence with your method. Although, it does make sense.

  25. Andy Detweiler

    Just awesome. If you ever wanted to focus exclusively on selling, you’d do very well.

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