Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Author Advice: 5 Reasons Your Open & Click Rates Have Declined on Your Mailing List & How to Fix It

Mailing lists are finicky, tricky things and prone to several different problems. The one that causes a lot of angst for authors is poor performance metrics. You spend all this time hustling to grow a list of dedicated readers only to run into declining open and click rates. What? How does that even happen?

Oh, let me count the ways.

1. You're spam and don't even know it. For whatever reason, your email address has been blacklisted as spam by too many email service providers and they're refusing to deliver your newsletter. This is almost guaranteed to happen, unfortunately. One sign this has happened to you is when personal one-on-one emails from your account start going to spam. If your editor or best writing bud is telling you that they keep having to fish your emails out of spam, you've got a problem.

The fix: Switch out the email associated with your email campaigns to a domain email ( Don't use gmail or hotmail, that just makes you look even more like spam! It costs less than $30 to set up a domain, forward the domain to your website and create a domain email on I'm a Luddite and I managed to do it, so can you!

2. Other people are spam and you share a server with them. Everyone's newsletter is sharing space on various servers and, if too many of your fellow newsletter senders get blacklisted as spam, the entire server can be blacklisted.

The fix: This is a tough one to verify, let alone fix. The newsletter services aren't exactly interested in admitting, 'yeah, our servers are getting blacklisted as spam.' However if you know you're doing everything right, but opens and clicks are dwindling, then it's time to consider migrating your list to another company. Another sign that this may be an issue is if other authors are suddenly noticing big drops in their newsletter metrics--that signals a systemic issue such as...ding ding ding! servers being blacklisted as spammers. (And yep, this is a huge p.i.t.a to deal with. Sorry.)

3.You never talk to your readers. One way to keep your emails in people's inboxes is to periodically encourage replies to your newsletters. Back and forth dialogue tells the email service provider that you're legit.

The fix: Hold a contest where subscribers need to email you. The catch? You should respond personally to each and every response. (Yep, it's a lot of typing, BUT your relationship with your readers will grow, which is a nice side effect.)

4.Your readers have moved on. Did you know? Newsletter subscribers actually go stale? Aw, man. You worked so hard, not only to write the perfect book, but to connect and engage with people and they are so over you. Sad, but true. The life span of your average subscriber is three to six months.

The fix: Engagement, engagement, engagement. Contests, giveaways and exclusive content can prolong your relationship with newsletter subscribers. You need to have a content plan for your newsletter that gives readers a reason to stay tuned in.

On top of a content plan, you need a recruitment plan. You need to be bringing in new readers on a regular basis--that never stops.

5.You can't math. Pop quiz...which number do you want to have 20% of? 1,000, 10,000, 50,000? As your list grows and gets bigger, the performance metrics change. See, when a list is shiny and new (and before you've been blackballed as spam everywhere) you get 80% open rates and 80% click through rates. Over time, though, your list becomes a mix of new and stale subscribers, you start going into spam and your performance metrics decline. Strange but true, a five figure list can yield click rates of just 10% and 20%, which seems shockingly low, BUT you are still coming out ahead...because math.

20% of 1000 is 200.

20% of 10,000 is 2000.

20% of 50,000 is 10,000.

The fix: You can keep your metrics pretty high by properly purging your list of subscribers who've lost that loving feeling. Good content and recruitment plans as explained above are also key. You can also do a little cheap therapy by comparing the actual number of opens and clicks now to what they were when you first started. Do that and you'll see that your metrics may be kind of blah, but you're actually reaching more readers than ever and have no reason to be sad.

So there you have it...5 reasons your mailing list metrics are in the dumps and what you can do about it. Mailing lists are not simple things to manage, they are complex organisms that can veer way off track if you're not careful. Hopefully, you have some ideas now on how to navigate the challenges of your mailing list.


  1. Thank you Michelle! I love this information, it has open my eyes on how I can improve!

  2. Wow, I'm not even someone who has a mailing list to maintain , just a reader but I found this very interesting to read and very well written. Duh, you're a writer, of course you write well. But seriously I'm somewhat of a perfectionist and if you don't capture my attention fairly quickly I move on. Again, we'll done.