Are Your Unsubscribes Too High? Simple ‘Rule of Thumb’ for a Healthy List

“How bad do you think we burned our list?”

My business partner John recently posed the question during a “post-mortem” on our most recent Simple Programmer product promotion.

This time we’d launched, of all crazy things, a T-shirt.

I typically hate “branded” T-shirts, but this one is actually really cool.

The shirt is emblazoned with a message that’s core to what we do at Simple Programmer: “Trust the Process.”

A few subscribers weren’t digging it though.

John got several stinging replies like: “I signed up to learn more about software development, and now you’re trying to sell me a T-shirt. I’m outta here.”

After seeing a few of those, he was understandably worried that we’d shot ourselves in the foot on this one.

So I decided to take a look at the unsubscribe stats for each email.

Had we caused our audience to tune out in droves by battering them with emails for an “irrelevant” promotion?

I compared the unsubscribe rates of our product promotion emails with our typical weekly “content only” broadcast messages.

And I confirmed something that I’ve long suspected:

The biggest factor by far in how many people unsubscribe is not the content of the email itself.

It’s how many people OPEN the email in the first place.

For our list, open and unsubscribe rates bounce all over the place depending on how I’m slicing and dicing the list for a particular email.

But when I crunched through the numbers from a few week’s worth of broadcasts, I came up with a little “rule of thumb” that helps put unsubscribes in perspective.

Here it is:

For every 100 people who open your email, 1–3 WILL unsubscribe.

This is generally true whether you’re sending “warm fuzzies” (also known as “content”) or a hard “buy now or forever hold your peace” pitch.

In fact, I can’t think of a case where a single email generated much more than this “baseline minimum” unsubscribes.

It’s just part of the normal “living and breathing” of a healthy list.

Each of our T-shirt launch emails fell WELL within this normal range.

So I told John, don’t worry, we didn’t trash our list…

THIS time, anyway.

However, if you’re seeing *too* many unsubscribes, you might be falling into the Cicada Trap. What is the Cicada trap, you ask? I’m glad you asked — read about it here.

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