Should you purge old email subscribers?

The last couple of years I've been hearing that it's a "best practice" to delete inactive subscribers from your email lists.

Basically, find those people who aren't opening and clicking and delete them.

The only two reasons I've heard are:

  1. It makes deliverability "better"
  2. Your open and click rates will go up

Whenever I asked about how deliverability would improve, all the responses were hand-waving with mumbles about Gmail and algorithms. In other words, no one actually knew.

Improving your open and click rates is a reason that makes sense, but lets look at that closer...

If you emailed 100 people and got 10 clicks, that's 10%.

If you deleted half of that list and still got 10 clicks, it's now 20%.


... but you still only got 10 clicks. Changing the divisor doesn't change the behavior, it just makes the math look better.

What really should be the focus is, does deleting inactive subscribers help or hurt sales?

At the end of the day, if you're running a business then sales are your main measurement.

Turns out, Mailchimp has actually studied this: Inactive Subscribers are Still Valuable Customers

Based on that, if you want to lose about 16% of your sales, go ahead and delete those inactive subscribers.

This sort of thing is why I'm careful about which metrics I add to Repeat Customer Insights. Adding vanity metrics might make you feel nice but if it doesn't help you make decisions, it's a waste.

Eric Davis

P.S. A much better option is to try to reengage those subscribers. Often you'll find out they actually are active but the email systems aren't tracking them for some reason (e.g. privacy, ad blockers, Gmail caching).

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