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10 reasons why you have cold subscribers

by Patty Ryan Lee

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, The Fiery Well will receive a small commission. There is no charge or increase in price for you.

We all have them on our list, just hanging out. Looking like they aren’t opening or engaging with our emails. What are they? Cold subscribers.

Each email marketing platform, service, or system, will have different metrics for what counts as a cold subscriber, but generally speaking: a cold subscriber is someone that just isn’t opening or clicking on your emails.

Before we get further into cold subscribers, let’s first answer “what is a subscriber?”

A subscriber is someone that has given you their email address and permission for you to show up in their inbox regularly. This article makes the assumption that you are a business and have an email marketing list through an email marketing service such as ConvertKit, Mailchimp, Substack, Flodesk, etc., and that you are sending your marketing emails through this system and NOT your regular email service provider, such as Google, Zoho, Namecheap or the like.

ConvertKit, the email marketing system we use here at The Fiery Well, defines cold subscribers as:

a subset of your confirmed subscribers that we detected haven’t been engaging with your content. For subscribers who have been active for more than 90 days, anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked an email in the last 90 days. For subscribers who have been active for fewer than 90 days, anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked an email in the last 30 days.

– definition of ConvertKit cold subscribers from their official documentation

The usual advice around the internet is to purge or delete those cold subscribers immediately to keep your open rates high and your list healthy. And, to a point, I agree: cold subscribers should go!

But are they really cold?

10 reasons why your subscribers appear cold

There are any number of reasons that your ConvertKit (or any email marketing service) subscribers have gone “cold” but here are a few to consider before purging your list of cold subscribers outright.

You’ll notice that many of the things that make any subscriber look like a “cold subscriber” are either actions you are taking (or not taking) or are the implicit choices of the user.

What does that mean? It means start looking at the big picture of your email marketing strategy and how your subscribers respond. It means your subscribers are people, too. Not just numbers.

#1: you never send emails to your mailing list

This is the biggest reason your subscribers are cold. Are you sending emails to your list? Or are they subscribing to something such as a freebie, you send it, and… that’s it? Do you follow up? Do you engage them? If you don’t send emails on some sort of regular basis, what are you doing? You need to think about how email fits into your overall marketing strategy. If you have no strategy, it’s time to consider one.

#2: you stopped sending emails to your subscribers for a while

Much like reason #1, your subscribers are cold simply because they had nothing to open! When you stop sending emails for whatever reason (you market seasonally, took a break or vacation, or something came up and you just… stopped), especially without notice, your subscribers may no longer recognize you when you come back and stick with the pattern of not opening your emails. (Or worse, marking them as SPAM!)

#3: your cold subscribers are temporarily “out of office”

People go out of town, on vacation, have a baby, adopt a pet, or just stop looking at their inbox for an extended period of time. It happens! But this means your emails are not being opened, and often, auto-deleted when the subscriber returns from their break.

#4: your cold subscriber has simply over-organized their inbox

If your subscribers have over-organized their inboxes, your emails could be filtered away into a folder that rarely, if ever, gets looked at. Or, they use Gmail and it’s organizing their emails on their behalf.

#5: you are not delivering on your cold subscriber’s expectations

This is a hard reality to face, but sometimes you just don’t deliver the value they were wanting you to, or expecting you to deliver and the subscriber goes cold. This could be because you haven’t nailed down your messaging or weren’t clear about what emails you would be sending and they had their own idea of what signing up for your emails meant. This can cause subscribers to lose interest and stop engaging with your emails.

#7: you have changed, but they haven’t

This happens a lot, especially as you start to progress toward your final business messaging! When folks sign up for your newsletter in your early stages, such as in the midst of your “what the fuck muck”, they either grow with you through the evolution or feel left behind. When your message no longer resonates, they stop opening the emails.

#8: you haven’t segmented your subscribers, and are mixing warm and cold

Do you have local workshops? Why are you emailing people across the country about them if there is no virtual option? You’re sending emails to folks that want to be on your list, they just don’t want those particular emails and you’ve trained them to not open your emails because they aren’t often relevant to them. Use email segmentation to your advantage and send specific emails, or show specific content within an email, only to the people that it’s relevant to.

#9: they read your emails in plain text

If your subscriber is loading the plain text only version of an email, it’s not going to load the image pixel tracker, which is the key indicator for an email marketing platform to count the open. Plain text = no images and no images = not opened. They could be opening and reading every email you send and, if you’re only tracking open rates, they won’t be counted as “warm.”

#10: you send emails that are way too fucking long

That pixel tracking image doesn’t get loaded unless the entire email message is loaded. So if your email marketing service puts the open tracking pixel at the bottom of your email and your email is too long? It’s going to get clipped, or cut off. And, despite your email being opened, it won’t count. Now, email clipping in Gmail is a long contested and confusing thing, but when in doubt… keep those emails short. If it’s going to be long – put it on your blog!

Do you have cold subscribers for any of these reasons?

Did we miss anything? Can you think of any other ways your subscribers may have gone cold? Or did we surprise you with a few ideas?

What do you think is the number one way your current subscribers appear to be cold?

And yes, we say “appear” because there is no 100% surefire way to know for certain if a subscriber is cold. Coming up in this series, we’ll look at the opposite side of the coin: when a subscriber looks warm, but actually is ice cold.

But next week, we’ll take a look at why open rates are vanity metrics. Stay tuned!

Tags: affiliate-link, convertkit, , , flodesk, mailchimp, substack

Patty Ryan Lee is the site, systems, and spacious productivity witch behind The Fiery Well, the original tech and business support space just for service-based witches. Read more about her and The Fiery Well journey.
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