Will Deleting Unengagers Increase My Email Deliverability?

Lots of email deliverability advice is being bandied around suggesting to delete unengagers (those who have not opened your email in say a year?) from your email list and that that will increase your delivery rate.

And yes, that is true to some extent. To a larger extent it may not be…


Delete email icon - Used by permission via Wikipedia creative commons

But before I go into why and why not this could or could not be true, let’s take a look at what inspired this little rant: A post on Facebook from a very skilled email marketer. (much smarter than myself)

She said…

“I deleted almost half of my email list today. I got rid of the opt-outs, the hard bounces and the people who hadn’t opened a message in a year or more…”

My friend, and yes a real world friend went on to say:

“Open rate on a day that was officially a “holiday” [July 4th] here in the states…23%! About 5% higher than I had gotten to lately with all the dead weight…”

I replied:

In a nutshell, of course your open percentage rate went up. You “Physically sent” less email.

Less Email Sent = Higher % Opened – IF (Total Opens remain the same physical number)

So you should not be judging success here by Percentages, but instead the total Number of opens.


Above is Ryan Lee’s email this morning If I don’t download his pixel from AWeber in Outlook? (and I have no reason to since he sends only copy in HTML email–) Should he delete me from his list? Should you be deleting me off your list if I don’t open your images?

While Yahoo and Outlook.com (having replaced Hotmail and all Microsoft mail properties) DO load images by default in the Inbox… Just who is downloading these images? Microsoft, Google or Yahoo? Or your actual recipient? Which brings us to our next question–

Gmail Pre-Fetches Email Images! So Does This Have Effect Where It Is Most Effective- At Gmail

After analyzing Gmail’s Priority Inbox and the Primary tab VS the Promotions tab, not only myself but just about every email marketer have announced “Engagement” as your best chance to be seen in these “Best Inbox” Gmail customizations.

However, since the “automatically display images” default came to Gmail, Gmail began pre-caching images. So does the chance of getting in the primary tab and priority inbox have little or even no effect when it comes to removing un-engagers?

This theory would be the basis for a great test here. I would be thinking:

Does the CTR rate at Gmail correspond with the OPEN rate?

Can we even properly measure engaged VS unengaged users anymore at Gmail?

Paul Myers just pointed out to me that the math most email marketers are using is flawed when talking about Gmail pre-fetched images.

To paraphrase- If pre fetch was causing open rates to be flawed, then there would only be ONE open at Gmail, via pre-fetch? So you would see only one open?

Again anyone is only guessing here. We simply do not have enough data to make a factual decision…

No Immediate Delivery Effect Occurs?

The next question I asked myself is does this have immediate 1 to 1 effect on delivery? Do we see immediate affect like my friend suggested above?

After reaching out to my best delivery peeps, Paul Myers in particular pointed out to me that he doubts any positive or negative change would be seen immediately, going on to say:

“The real measure will be over time. It’s likely to be positive, but the degree of change is uncertain.”

Deleting Hard Bounces?

Yeah, email non existent bounces should be removed. And they should be removed by your mailer application, not by you.

Most mailer apps and software will delete a hard bounce, basically an email address that no longer exists after anywhere from one to three attempts. One hard bounce does not mean the email is dead.

In some mailers like SendGrid you can even remove soft bounces manually, usually an “Inbox full” bounce and I do manually remove Gmail bounces for full inboxes.

You have 15 GB of free storage to share across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos; if your Inbox is at its limit I am removing you.

Deleting the Opt Out / Unsubscribe List?

That will have absolutely no effect on deliverability. But if for some reason you do remove unsubscribes, preserve the list with it’s IP addresses and dates, so should someone later accuse you of sending spam? You have proof of the subscribe process and the associated IP address.

So Let’s Decode Exactly What Is Going On Here:

Okay, so my friend deleted almost 50% of her list. That 50% number may mislead you here, since she also deleted her opt out list. All due to the fact they had not engaged by opening an email in the last 12 months.

And her open rate went up by 5%. The more I try to support this theory, the more I poke more holes in it!

So before making a move like this you should ask yourself this:

  • How do you know that unopens simply mean your email was not seen because it landed in the Gmail promotions tab?
  • Unless you send email with important images in them, might users of say Outlook that does not automatically download images, mislead you?
  • Is your Domain is being filtered due to a blacklist you have no knowledge of?
  • Do you often get buried because you sent at a time of day that landed you on page-2 of Gmail by the time they got around to opening up Gmail?
  • Is your WordPress install is hacked unbeknownst to you and sending spam and that lands your emails in the spam folder at Microsoft properties as well as Yahoo?

So What Should You Do Next?

If you are considering removing a large part of your list we should take some time to sit down and talk about this– Just you and I. Most email delivery experts will agree, this is a drastic step.

It looks to me like you are being misled by a number of big names in Internet Marketing that are suggesting all this is a good idea. When IMHO opinion, it is not.

You have 3 options here:

1) Pick up the phone and call me, I will give you 15 minutes of my time- On me!

2) Schedule a 1 Hour Consult with me, I guarantee it will change how you look at email marketing when it comes to getting to the Inbox!

3) Get your Complete Email Deliverability Analysis

Pick the phone up now, and call 720 328 2341 or email me at chris@keywebdata.com

Because when it comes to email delivery?


Image of Saul Goodman saying- You Better Call Lang

Chris Lang is not a lawyer and does not play one on TV. This is not legal advice :]

3 thoughts on “Will Deleting Unengagers Increase My Email Deliverability?

  1. Hey Chris,
    You made this clear and simple … so it’s obvious (Duh!)
    I wonder if people get this idea of deleting subscribers who don’t open because they are figuring it works just like social media.
    For instance, your reach on FB & Pinterest increases as your virality score increases. So…. if you post stuff on FB that doesn’t get shared, your reach goes down. If you pin lots of images to Pinterest that don’t get repinned, your reach goes down. Want to increase your reach? Delete the pins that get very few repins (ie, unpopular content).
    But with social media virality is related to the content rather than the followers. Deleting subscribers (i.e., “followers”) ignores the issue of which emails are most popular.

    It seems to me that social networks give top priority to rewarding sharing, while email providers give top priority to dinging spammers.

    Your thoughts on this??

  2. Hi Chris! I am the deleter and happy that you shared this with the world…:)

    A little update…my open rate ended up being 10% over average with a 28% open rate and a 3% click rate. I had 22 opt outs and 3 spam hits which implies that some people who had not previously seen my messages probably did that day.

    I DO think I compare this to the Edgerank in Facebook. I have been working REALLY hard to have great content in my emails so that there is TREMENDOUS value to my list. With that in mind, I hated seeing that such a high percentage of the people never even saw it.

    At this point I really feel like I only want people who are raving fans even if my list is a little dictator-like in being deleted if you aren’t actually reading my stuff.

    One last thing, my optouts, spams and bounces are all separate in Infusionsoft. I DID NOT delete the spammers so that I wouldn’t accidentally allow them back on my list…:) Mark me spam and you are dead to me forever!!!

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