Why People Refuse To Open My Emails!

I've been going through a re-engagement exercise with an old list of subscribers recently.

They're on an old list and they've become very unresponsive.

Those of you who have large email lists will know that the larger your list gets, the more it costs to host all those subscribers.

Simply put, the ROI on these subscribers is now too low for me, so if – after a concerted campaign of re-engagement – they're just not interested … well, it's time to say goodbye!

So, as part of my re-engagement campaign, I sent out a survey to find out why these subscribers weren't opening my emails.


The Results Were Surprising!

The most revealing thing about this survey is that ‘it's not personal' … 0% didn't like my stuff (that was a relief!) or were too polite to tell me.

Although as an email marketer you always get ‘bewildered' people who swear blind that they didn't subscribe to your list – and are unable to find the ‘unsubscribe' link that is at the bottom of every single email you ever send out – the biggest problem seems to be that most people just get too many emails (24.1%).

After that it's a case of being too busy … then the number of offers made becomes a problem, and relevance is also an issue.

So What Do You Want?


So, having worked out why these disengaged subscribers don't open my emails, I set about asking them what information they would like to be receiving from me.

Now, most popular on the list was ‘How To' information … and that's really handy, because ‘How To' guides are what I enjoy producing most.

‘What's working online now' was also a popular category, followed closely by ‘Marketing Updates' and ‘YouTube Videos.

So what do we conclude from that?

Well, most subscribers seem to want useful stuff, and they don't seem to bother about the occasional offer.

Interesting that ‘Fun Stuff' and ‘SMS Texts' barely ranked.

There were two written responses that summed up the overall feeling of these disengaged subscribers.

The response I got time and time again was, that the problem wasn't me, it's just the sheer number of emails received:

Survey comment

I even got a visual illustration of how bad the problem is … this graphic says it all really!

Email overload

So, having figured out what's bugging my reluctant subscribers, it's worth finding out how active subscribers feel about things.

After all, the aim of this entire exercise is to send my subscribers what they want to receive, to build a better relationship with them over time.


So the first question I asked was related to what they wanted to see more of.

It's really interesting to see that they want more email updates!

That's precisely what the disengaged group didn't want!

So, I wonder if it's a case of ‘if they like you, they want more of you, if they don't care for you, they want less of you'?

Most interesting for me was the request for more coaching webinars.

I actually love delivering coaching webinars, and I haven't done it for a while, so this is music to my ears.

Look how little appetite there is for SMS texts, social media updates, direct mail and YouTube videos – I'm quite surprised by those results.

So let's find out what this group wants less of.


Right at the top of the list is that my engaged subscribers want fewer affiliate offers.

At 33.3% that's not as high as I would expect, but it's a definite rejection of receiving too many offers of that type.

I have massively reduced the number of affiliate offers that I send out these days, and as I move forwards, I will almost exclusively be promoting only my own content with just a handful of high quality affiliate offers from only people or products which I rate very highly and use myself.

I've been out of the JV reciprocity game for a long time now, but I intend to make those rules even tighter in future.

I think that the remainder of those results isn't massively clear – though it is very informative that there isn't a huge appetite for social media among my subscribers (on this list – I do have social media fans on other lists!).


Although this is my list of subscribers, I'm pretty sure we can all draw some useful conclusions from this exercise.

1) It's always really useful and informative to survey your subscribers and they seem to like the opportunity to send feedback.

2) Subscribers don't seem to mind some commercial offers, but they don't want them all the time and they need to be receiving some quality content.

3) ‘How To' information delivered via webinar is most popular.

4) Social media (certainly among my subscribers on this list) does not seem to be that popular.

5) It's not personal when people don't open my emails but I need to try really hard to make sure that my emails are worth opening every time.

Eureka!The Really Big Lesson

This is really painful to admit, especially as I've had a list of subscribers reaching – at its peak – almost 25,000 people.

But, if you don't develop great relationships with your subscribers, it's just a vanity game.

So, I have now reduced my subscriber list massively in size to just those who really want to hear what I say.

I've been getting open rates as high as 43.40% since beginning that process, so it really is worth it.

I've also met so many people who make a great living from very engaged lists of fewer than 500 subscribers, so engagement and relationship not size really is the key issue here!

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  • Bob Wilson

    October 10, 2013

    Paul, I’ve followed you for years and most of my online success is a direct result of your coaching, however, I am one of those people who is inundated with internet marketing emails. I find that most of my guru-inspired emails typically contain no substance. After five years of working in internet marketing I have been conditioned NOT to read these IM-guru emails because most of them contain, shiny objects, or links designed to benefit the sender and not the receiver. You teach repeatedly in your courses not to be swayed from your primary tasks by these shiny objects, and you are correct. I am one of those people who loves to read new offers looking for new ideas or new trends, but I find opening these emails and investigating takes hours away from my work. I have one guru whose emails I always read. Their emails are always thought inspiring without the dead of being pulled off track by some new idea. This guru is sending information which helps me with the work I Ann doing, and is not telling me to do some other new program. Lesson learned, become a SME who is known to send client-centric, value-add, emails. I understand many people use email marketing as an abusive technique to spam newbies with every new WSO offering, hoping that 5% of net revenue will stick, but I am sure you know this technique has been abused.

    This is a new era in online marketing. It is time for a paradigm shift. Gone are the days of mass spamming newbies, hoping to gain a few dollars before they become frustrated and quite leaning how to become an online marketer. The new generation of successful internet marketers do not use spam related emails, nor do they use shiny coercive tactics to gain a few bucks (consumers will just request a refund). Today’s successful online marketers are passion driven, helpful and creative. Those who are winning are offering daily inspiration; their followers actually look forward to receiving communication from their SME, because this information will help them become successful too.

    I’m constantly observing high-level GURU communication techniques and I suggest we each conduct the same studies. It’s okay to talk personally to your followers, as opposed to using a Zen-type customer service buffer. Listen to the voice of your followers and their voices well tell you exactly what you need.

    Paul, you are one of the best, so hopefully my comments will help you and others too.

  • Paul Teague

    October 10, 2013

    Thanks for stopping by with your comment Bob, it’s appreciated, and that is an excellent response.

    Your summary ‘become a SME who is known to send client-centric, value-add, emails’ is spot on as is ‘This is a new era in online marketing. It is time for a paradigm shift.’

    The times have been changing for over two years – it began just as I was entering the Internet marketing arena I believe, and I concur completely with your assessment.

    Best wishes, Paul
    Paul Teague recently posted…My Most Recommended ResourcesMy Profile

  • Aline Boundy

    November 18, 2013

    Very interesting results Paul,

    As one how completed your survey, I have to say I was surprised to be on the list of people who don’t open your emails, as I usually do. Then I realised I am subscribed more than once, probably as a result of signing up for your webinars and other events. Time to do a bit of pruning!
    I just want to echo the sentiments of the previous poster. Your “how-to” information has been SO VERY helpful to me – as you know I was very lacking in know-how when I first started, and your clear, straightforward style of explanation helped me tremendously.
    I also value your opinion on all aspects of working on the web, as you’ve been around and you know the ins and outs of what’s working.
    Finally, I see you as a shining example (not to be confused with a shiny object!) of integrity on the web, in other words, to quote a well-known phrase, I “know, like and trust” you!
    Aline Boundy recently posted…How Do You Find Your True Passions?My Profile

    Paul Teague Reply:

    Thanks for such a nice comment Aline, I really appreciate it 🙂

    It’s also very handy for me to hear what is most useful to you when I do send out emails.

    You’ll notice I email virtually no offers these days – I’m trying to get to a point where I’ll only be sending out my own original content or sharing other great content, and if you see any offers, 95% of the time it’ll be something that I have done or 5% of the time, something of excellent quality that I can personally vouch for.

    It’s great to have you reading my emails and always nice to hear from you of course.

    Best wishes, Paul

  • Tom Southern

    September 15, 2015

    Hi Paul,

    It’s interesting that the same number of people as gave their reason for not opening emails from you as “too many offers” gave their reason as “you’ve stopped marketing”.

    A sign perhaps that two very different groups of people signed up to your list (which in itself is interesting too).

    I’ve been doing a lot of learning about email list building and email message creation with my small list and it’s interesting to see what emails people open and respond to. I get anything from 28% to 80% open rate for my emails. Another interesting discovery is the number that get re-read several times, or forwarded on. I think this latter point is worth looking at further and is something I’m going to do.

    “if you don’t develop great relationships with your subscribers, it’s just a vanity game.” Is a good point. One to keep in mind whenever list building. Thanks.
    Tom Southern recently posted…How To Find Where Your Potential Readers Hang OutMy Profile

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