Email Analytics: Unsubscribes & Bounces in a Nutshell

Two important email analytics metrics you can watch and improve

Most publishers have three basic sets of online analytics to look at: website, email and social media. There are smaller buckets that fit into each category, but for the most part, these are at the top.

Within email analytics, there are two numbers that we have the greatest ability to work with. The human element of email analytics has room for adjustment but is mostly out of our control. We can’t force people to sign up for our newsletter, we can’t get them to read the whole thing, and we can’t get them to click links if our copy isn’t compelling enough.

A few things we can do is lower bounce rates and decrease unsubscribes. These two metrics don’t involve subscribers as much as they do architecture. You can lower bounce rates by cleaning your list, and you can decrease unsubscribes by re-engineering the unsubscribe process.


Using these two numbers, you can determine your email retention rate:

(# of subscribers – bounces – unsubscribes)/# of subscribers

Let’s talk a little more about these numbers.

Lowering email bounce rates

When an email “bounces” it’s returned back to you. The number of bounces you receive is an indication of how good your list is, and if you continue to send emails to addresses that bounce back, you can get blacklisted and be unable to send emails to that domain at all. For a domain like Gmail, you could be missing out on a huge percentage of your list.

Over the course of the last few years, email marketers have been clearly paying more attention to improving bounce rates. As of 2009, the reported average bounce rate was 3.08%. In 2011, that number dropped to 1.84% and in 2012 it dropped again to 1.2%. In 2015, according to Mailchimp, that number is 0.34% for publishers, specifically.

A low bounce rate is not going to be a problem, but 8% or more, your email reputation may become damaged. Being proactive with your email strategy will keep your numbers low and reduce the chances of being considered a spammer.

Here are a few tips for lowering bounce rates, which include getting white-listed.

  • The more consistently you send from month to month, the better your reputation will be. Try not to increase by more than 10% volume from one month to the next.
  • According to Mailer Mailer, your bounce rate will be lower the more frequently you send.
  • Take note of the bounces you receive. Ideally, you should remove undeliverable addresses on a regular basis so your bounce rate stays low. At Mequoda, we clean our list monthly.
  • Monitor spam complaints. Each Internet service provider has its own limit as to when spam complaints become an issue. Contact your ISP or do some research on the topic to be aware of the guidelines. Subscribe to email feedback loops or use an email service provider that does this all for you.
  • Use your website’s name or business name as the “from” address unless there’s a well-known person at the company whose name would entice opens.
  • Avoid spammy words in the subject line and use the headline of the post if you’re featuring editorial content. Our clients have tested this and some have also added the date to show that the content changes.

If you’re not whitelisted, it doesn’t mean you’re blacklisted. Blacklisting is what would happen after you’ve been sending for some time and you continue to have hard bounces or your content is spam. Or, as we learned very recently, have a phone number in your template that one ISP is deeming as spam.

More emphasis on creating a positive email reputation is leading to lower bounce rates. Suggesting your email recipients whitelist you, getting rid of undeliverable email recipients, and addressing spam complaints helps keep an email marketing list clean.

Decreasing unsubscribe rates

The unsubscribe rate has been decreasing for the last few years, which is a positive sign to both B2B and B2C companies.

Initial emails typically have a higher unsubscribe rate than ongoing campaigns. This isn’t surprising to see, especially when it comes to content-based businesses operating a content marketing model. Often times, recipients will register for a free report or a coupon and after they receive the content they want, they opt out of the email list.

People unsubscribe from email lists when they see an email arrive day after day and realize they haven’t opened one in a long time. Sometimes they go on a mass unsubscribing binge and eliminate you along with tens of other email newsletters. Sometimes they’re just tired of seeing your newsletter every day.

Here are a few simple tips to fight back against those unsubscribes:

  • Segment your lists so that people can get less email, perhaps weekly, and so they can opt-out of promotional mailings.
  • Deliver excellent content – stuff you’d want and need to read.
  • Clean your lists often of email addresses with consistently hard bounces.
  • Test out different templates, and brighten and bold your headlines.
  • Improve subject lines so subscribers always feel like they need to open them.
  • Talk to subscribers directly and ask them what they want from you (and look at your email stats too!)
  • Always deliver one quick, great take-away so the subscriber feels you’re worth one more day in their inbox.

Successful email marketing is about getting qualified, opt-in email addresses and then getting your email opened and read on an ongoing basis.

Comment below and tell me how you’re improving the quality of your email list.

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.

    Norann O.

    Thanks for the kind words. The key is to be proactive with your email strategy.


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