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

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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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