June 15, 2024

Unsubscribes and pruning: The secret to stronger newsletter audiences

I don't like to admit it, but I used to get really upset when people unsubscribed from my newsletter. I took it personally—it felt like an attack on my content, value, and insight.

It hit me especially hard when someone I respected or with whom I had personal/professional conversations hit the unsubscribe button.

"How could they not want to read my newsletter?"

But that, as you can probably tell, was my ego talking. I was letting people's actions affect my worth and, worse, my content. And if you've spent any time writing newsletters, especially ones that aim to sell products or services, you quickly realize it's never about ego—the only thing that matters is the result.

Today, I'll show you how embracing unsubscribes and being proactive with audience pruning can actually benefit your email marketing strategy, strengthen your messaging, and drive better results.

People who unsubscribe are doing you a favor

As I said above, embracing people unsubscribing took me a while. But ultimately, unsubscribes are a healthy and necessary part of growing a newsletter audience.

Even the most successful newsletters experience people unsubscribing—they know it's part of the process.

So why are unsubscribes a good thing?

First, unsubscribes are a natural, organic way to keep your list clean and focused. If someone opts out, they're probably not finding value in your content. Yes, this can sting at first, but it's a signal to focus on the people who stay—the ones who open, read, and engage with your content.

Second, most ESPs (Email Service Providers) charge you per subscriber. If a subscriber doesn't want to be there, you're better off not paying for someone who doesn't want your content delivered to them.

Bottom line: Unsubscribes are a natural filter that helps cultivate a more engaged and responsive audience. Nurturing the core of your audience creates a more powerful, engaged, and profitable community.

Oh, and before we dive into pruning—make sure unsubscribing is easy for people. We've all seen those emails without an unsubscribe link or the ones saying, "Thanks for unsubscribing, we'll remove you from the list in the next 14 days." That's just sleazy. People shouldn't feel trapped if they don't want to be on your list anymore. Make it simple and let them go about their day.

You'll build trust, and if they decide to come back later, they'll know you're a straight shooter.

The power of pruning your audience

Alright, we've talked about unsubscribes—those happen naturally over time. But what about the subscribers on your list who never engage or interact with anything you send them?

These people, my friend, are a different breed of subscriber. And they need to be pruned.

Now, I know that sounds harsh (and maybe a bit dramatic), but it's true.

And look, it might not even be their fault. Maybe when they signed up, they were searching for answers, and your content delivered those answers. Or perhaps they were initially keen on what you offered because they were in a particular role or stage but have since moved on.

You won't know everyone's circumstances, but if someone isn't engaging with your content, it's probably time to do them a favor and remove them from your list.

This brings me to a very important point: When building any audience, especially a newsletter audience, it's almost always better to have 1,000 truly engaged subscribers than 100,000 people who are checked out and disengaged. Yeah, the bigger number looks better (there's ego again), but 9 times out of 10, that won't translate into more sales.

In fact, most email marketers I've talked to would take the smaller engaged audience over the larger disengaged audience every day.


Because the smaller audience is probably the right audience. They're likely more dialed in and have a better chance of fitting the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).

Almost every time I've either pruned my own audience or helped another digital business owner prune theirs, it results in:

  • Improved deliverability: When you remove inactive subscribers, your emails are more likely to land in the inboxes of your engaged audience instead of the spam folder. This means your messages are actually seen by the people who care, which is the whole point, right?
  • Improved sender reputation: Email providers monitor how recipients interact with your emails. If a large portion of your list never opens or engages, it can hurt your sender reputation. Pruning these inactive subscribers helps improve your reputation, making it more likely that your emails will be delivered to the inboxes of your engaged subscribers.
  • Higher engagement: Most notably, KPIs that move the needle, like increased click rates, response rates, and conversion rates. When your list is full of people who actually want to hear from you, they're more likely to engage with your content, take action on your calls to action, and ultimately become customers.

If this isn't enough to encourage you to actively prune your newsletter audience, I don't know what is.

Wrapping it up

To sum up, unsubscribes and pruning aren't the enemies of your newsletter list. In fact, they can be incredible allies.

By letting go of the disengaged and focusing only on subscribers who truly value your content, you're not just cleaning up your list—you're sharpening your strategy.

A smaller, engaged audience trumps a large, apathetic one every time. Improved deliverability, a stronger sender reputation, and higher engagement rates are just the beginning. The real magic happens when you nurture that core group of subscribers who genuinely want to hear from you. They're the ones who will drive your conversions, spread the word, and become your loyal customers.

So, the next time someone hits unsubscribe, don't get upset—let them go gracefully. And don't hesitate to prune those who have checked out. It's not about the numbers. It's about the quality of connections and the value you bring to the right audience that matters.