So you've been tasked with growing your subscriber base. You've read my previous blog on list growth tactics (obviously), done competitive and industry research, then collaborated with colleagues in email and other marketing channels to implement a handful of acquisition tactics. Now it's time to see the results and… nothing.

Your list is still relatively flat. Once you've gone through all the stages of grief and reached the acceptance phase, it's time to dig in and see where you can optimize. Here are a few places to start troubleshooting, along with a few bonus tactics to try as phase two.

Unsubscribe Rate

If you're adding more subscribers, but your list isn't growing, you might have a higher than usual unsubscribe rate. While this can vary greatly by industry, the average unsubscribe rate is right around 0.12 percent for 2016. Even if your rate is within the "normal" range, working to decrease your unsubscribe rate could save you a substantial number of subscribers over the years. For example, if your list size is 1 million, you could save 1,000 subscribers per email send if your unsubscribe rate improved by just 0.1 percent.

When investigating your unsubscribe rate, be sure to look at promotions vs. automated messaging. Your typical promotional emails might be in the normal range, but maybe your welcome emails have a very high unsubscribe rate because people are opting in and immediately asking to be opted out. Optimizing just one or two campaigns to reduce the opt-out rate could give your list a significant boost.

List Structure/Reporting

One outcome that you're probably simultaneously wishing for and dreading is that your list actually has been growing, you're just not collecting or reporting it properly. A few quick items to troubleshoot here:

  • Is everyone who signs up for your emails actually getting added to your master sending list? Test all of your acquisition tactics (we all have that old Yahoo account we never use) to see if the process works as intended.
  • Is everyone who receives your initial welcome email receiving all the subsequent emails they should be? It would be highly undesirable if someone receives your welcome email then never hears from you again.
  • Are you reporting from the right list and taking into account bounces, holds, and unsubscribes?

All of this goes to the point of having regular audits of your email program a regular basis. We all hope our programs and automations are running as planned, but you know what happens when you assume.

Purchasers vs. Subscribers (includes BONUS tactic!)

You might be thinking "but my revenue and orders are increasing, shouldn't my list be increasing as well?" Not exactly, and for a few reasons. One, those incremental purchases could be coming from the same group of people already on your list. And two, all purchasers might not be opted in to the email. Shocking, I know. A few purchasers may have unsubscribed from your emails after a one-time purchase (shame on them!) but you could also have a situation where your customers are not getting opted in to email at the time of purchase.

Make sure you have an opt-in check box when someone creates an account on your site, as well as at the point of check out, and define the process for your welcome stream and source attribution for those opt-ins. If you find you have not been gaining opt-ins from account creation or checkout, you may be allowed to add them to your master opt-in list based on your existing business relationship.

Check the guidelines with your ESP, but as long as you provide customers with the option to unsubscribe, your email should be compliant. Your messaging to this group can be as subtle as adding them to your welcome stream, or more direct-such as sending as an email opt-in request when a customer makes a purchase but does not subscribe.

In addition to these troubleshooting tactics, consider optimizing the strategies you already have in place:

  • Change the targeting on your on-site popup to serve more often or to a different audience.
  • Revamp your welcome offer: increase the amount, or add an offer if you don't have one already.
  • Move the on-site opt-in from the footer to the header, or vice versa.

Bottom line, don't despair. There is no secret sauce or magic key to list growth, or email marketing as a whole. Find what works for you and your business, and you'll have a healthy, growing list in no time.

Take Your Email to the Next Level

Interested in learning more? Check out 4 Email Practices of Marketing Masters for more insights into how to drive engagement with email.

About the Author:

Laura Madden is an Email Marketing Strategist at DEG, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Overland Park, Kan. that creates relevant and data-driven marketing, e-commerce, and collaboration solutions for national and global brands. Laura applies her eight years of digital marketing experience guiding clients like Purina, Hallmark Baby, and Bayer Animal Health in their CRM and relationship marketing efforts.