How To Lose 50 Email Subscribers in One Day

lose email subscribers

Every time I hit the back button, I just sighed and rubbed my eyes. How long had I been at this? An hour at least.

One subscriber hadn’t opened an email in 6 months…another in 8 months…. With each deletion, I felt a little more and more sick to my stomach.

When you’ve got a relatively small list like mine and you only email monthly, those unsubscribes (yes, even the manual ones) you can’t help but take personally.

Purging my e-mail list of folks who hadn’t opened my e-mail updates in 5 months or more was absolutely a grieving process for me. Here’s how I went through the stages of grief during this time and what you can learn from my mistakes.

Denial and Isolation

I kept clicking around and wondering if I had done something wrong to have so many email subscribers go silent. I’d log out of MailChimp, then log in again.

“Wait. Maybe I have the date wrong? Maybe I sent it to the wrong e-mail address?”

I almost didn’t share this info with anyone. But in a Facebook group, I shared my concerns. A colleague told me maybe it’s because they weren’t selecting “show images,” so it wasn’t counting as an open.

That must be it. Surely, they can’t just be ignoring my emails completely.

Lesson Learned: If you want to know, ask. Don’t let what you’ve perceived as a failure hinder you from getting help.


That day, I wavered in my simmering anger at myself and my followers.

“Why do I suck so much at this? Why can’t I get this right? Why did these people even bother subscribing if they weren’t going to open these emails?”

Yes, there were far too many question marks in that inner dialogue.

Lesson Learned: A list is just a list is just a list. Mine is only about a year and a half old. Even if you are behind in your email subscriber goals, don’t let numbers tick you off too much. This situation has to be approached with calm and a clear head.


There was a point where I wanted to email all of these people and ask, “What can I do to get you to open these emails? Am I boring you? Please, please, for heaven’s sake, come back to me! I’ll stop sucking.”

Earlier this year, I emailed people who unsubscribed on their own. That was a massive waste of time and energy.

I even tried to re-add the folks I had deleted myself. To no avail. Once they are gone, they’re gone.

Lesson Learned: Don’t torture yourself  like this. Ever. It reeks of desperation and will only make you feel worse. Just move on.


Since I struggle with anxiety and depression in my every day life, waves of sadness washed over me throughout the day. I was on the verge of tears.

My husband tried to console me, and I got some encouragement from the Facebook group, but I couldn’t help but feel I had let my readers and myself down.

Lesson Learned: Again, you should never let your email subscriber list cause extreme emotion. It’s simply fruitless.


Once I finally emerged from that fog of mixed and confused feelings, I tried to pinpoint where I went wrong.

I’m not offering enough value. I’m only giving them monthly blog posts and nothing else actionable. Maybe my first affiliate post was too soon, or it wasn’t well thought out. Perhaps I’m not targeting the right people, or my opt-in didn’t meet their expectations.

Personal updates and the exclusive Q&A I did with Tom Ewer got the most opens. Perhaps I need to do more of that. Be more open and talk to more people.

Lesson Learned: Hello. Learn lessons. Stop making excuses and accept the fact you haven’t done quite enough to grow your list. And that’s absolutely okay. Sure, it was probably premature to delete people after 5 or more unopened emails, but I’ve decided it’s for the best.

Take every assumption about what went wrong and turn it into a lesson. Test your assumptions. It’s not fair to grieve over losing subscribers when you can gain others and stay true to the ones who have stuck around?

Is there a part of your business you feel has died? Let me know what you are doing to fix that issue in the comments.



31 thoughts on “How To Lose 50 Email Subscribers in One Day

  1. Ok, I totally didn’t know that it doesn’t count as being opened if they are reading on a mobile device and don’t click “show images”. I read emails all the time without clicking that.

    I love your content. I love that you are so “real”. Keep doing what you’re doing and the right audience will manifest. <3 to you!

  2. Good Morning, Willi!
    I’m glad I ‘made the cut’ –
    What brought you to the decision to prune your list?
    I know there are days (and weeks) when I’m not “in the mood for” (highly judgey term for “in the headspace” or “interested in”) some people’s stuff – doesn’t mean that when I swing back around, I want to have fallen off their list! (blog-bingeing, anyone?)

    1. Oh, yes, I TOTALLY binge read. I don’t remember exactly why I did it? Perhaps it was right after my last email campaign where there was a low open rate? But yeah, I decided if you haven’t opened an email since January or December, it’s time to go.

  3. Williesha,

    Not necessarily comfy walking through this grief process with you this a.m, but definitely instructive. Thanks for your transparency. I’m definitely in the same space, closed my online business for 2 1/2 years, now that I’ve revved up the website/blog again, I have to start all over gaining subscribers. They’re a precious commodity, no wonder they mess with our emotions! Keep writing, keep it real, we’re out here listening.

    1. What wonderful encouragement. Thank you! I’m planning on re-adding my admin-related blogs to this site. I hope you find support for the growth of your business here or by contacting me. Thanks for walking with me.

  4. Aw, Willi! I love reading your stuff. I have a slow computer so I often read in basic html view or just go on your site. But I always read it. Web statistics are cold and horrible, but real people love you. Hope you’re okay. Keep at it, because you have some really useful, fun, readable stuff on here.

  5. Hi Williesha,
    I’m not sure I would have done that. People may just go to your site and read many posts at once, and still want to be on your list.

    I wonder if you open, but put something into “keep as new” so you don’t forget to go back to it, does that count? I just started using MailChimp (over Jetpack)I have very few subscribers. Did you notice it says industry average (for publishing and media) opens is: 17%? For Clicks it is 3%. Yikes, and yet people are still successful.
    I know if I’m focused on email. I may make a note to visit the site later, I may open the email, I may keep as new if it sounded interesting, I may not open it, but still go to the site.

    People may have a you on feed, in their bookmarks, or they may have the email they signed up with forwarded to a different mailbox. I haven’t been as active as I was since March, when I slowed down a little, but I still want to be on your list. 🙂

    1. I know, I definitely regret doing it now. But this is a huge lesson in email marketing for me, and I hope for others too! Peter, if you were one of the people removed, you can always re-sign up. Thanks so much! I think the people I removed hadn’t been active since January or even 2013.

  6. Hi Willi,
    Thanks for being so honest – I admire your analysis of your emotional roller-coaster. I’ve just started building my list by using my Kindle e-books.

    I read somewhere that one way to reduce stress is to reduce expectations. Keep up the good work.

    1. Yes! Rohi – great point. Perfectionism is not the answer. Will definitely appreciate the small victories more and not jump to conclusions.

  7. Gmail already opens the images. So does Outlook. However, certain devices don’t play along.

    FWIW, I seldom open images when I’m reading in my Kindle or on my phone. They aren’t important to me. It’s the words in the email that I want.

    OTOH, now that I know that your subscriber list – and probably others’ lists – rely on the images, I might need to revise how I send (and receive) emails.

  8. Hey Willi!

    I am just now realizing I haven’t opened some of your emails. I think I need to do some serious in-box clean-up. I think they were getting buried by all the stuff I need to unsubscribe from. So there’s one case that goes to show, it’s not always something you’re doing wrong!

    1. This is great news! Thanks for letting me know Ivy. I realize now that with an email list that’s mainly blog updates, emails may get skipped!

    1. Thanks Alicia! I am overwhelmed by the support and comments this has received. Haha I honestly just want people to learn from my mistakes. 🙂

  9. Thank you for *so clearly* sharing your “Lessons Learned” at each step of the way, too, Willi! ~ Makes it far easier for those who follow you, to really learn from your mistakes, instead of having to extrapolate for ourselves!

  10. Wow, thanks for sharing your process and this information. I personally don’t have an email list. I have people that subscribe to an email of my feed but nothing more.

    Quite frankly, even though “big” bloggers say email lists is where it’s at, I feel as a person who receives emails… I really, really, really dislike wading through too many emails.

    I connect with bloggers in other ways and feel my time is best spent connecting through social media and through investing time in writing good, solid content.

    I may never “grow” as a result but who knows… maybe I will?

    Anyway. Thanks for sharing. I’m certain this will be beneficial for others who have newsletters. (Sorry for the novella here… I’m notorious for leaving long-winded comments).

    Wishing you a lovely weekend and nice to meet you at the #SITSblogging Twitter party.

    1. Nice to meet you! And I tend to agree. Your strategy is great. My inbox is FULL of unread ones, but I try to not let them sit too long.

  11. I really appreciate your post and I know how difficult it must have been to even decide to write it. As one who is ‘behind’ on building my list for various reasons, I look at your experience as a learning process that I will later have to deal with…kind of a ‘be on the lookout’ way of preparing myself for ups as well as downs. It’s all about perspective, I guess. Very helpful – thanks!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it. Yes, you should start learning now not to take unsubscribed personally, and, really, I wouldn’t ever remove people manually ever again.

  12. The mobile issue is a big one, Willi.

    What I do is I send out a final email to what I think are deadwood, letting them know I’m about to cut them from my list, and they should email me if they want to stay on.

    Out of 500 I cut not long ago, I got maybe 20-30 responses where they asked to stay on. The rest I cut.

    Until the mobile problem is fixed, I recommend doing that before cutting any ‘unengaged’ subscribers.

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