My husband loves buying lighters.

He gets the value pack at Costco and we usually have about 20. They’re the Kingsford click ones and they lay around outside by the BBQ. In the kitchen drawer. Underneath the bed and sometimes in the bathroom.

There’s multiple problems happening here, but this is the major one concerning me and you today: only some of them work.

We have 20, but only 3 or 4 are reliable. And instead of tossing them out, for some I’ll-never-understand-it reason they get thrown back in the pile, mixed in with the good ones that light every time.

Why keep them if they don’t work??

This is just like your email list. You have subscribers who stop opening your emails.

The question becomes: Why keep emailing them if they haven’t opened a single email in months…in years?

Having a huge pile of Kingsford lighters with half that don’t work isn’t better than having two or three that work.

Just like having a huge list with a big portion never opening your emails isn’t better than having a smaller list with most people opening and engaging.

I get why it’s hard to cut people from your list. Making it smaller doesn’t seem like a correct step. Growing your list is hard work.

And maybe you’ve been asked this dreaded question: “How many people are on your list?” This feels like someone asking us how much money is in our bank account. It’s personal and we’ve somehow told ourselves that volume equals success.

The bigger the number the better.

The more people on your list, the more you can feel like you’ve made it.

The more people on your list, the bigger the audience you have to sell to. And that’s partly true. Except there’s another element to factor in: engagement.

The more engaged people are on your list, the more money you will make.

Let’s look at this in action.

Here are two people and both have the same size list, the same average open rate of 15%, and the same 3% conversion rate.

Everything is equal.

Lauren notices a big part of her list isn’t opening her emails anymore. So she selects anyone who hasn’t opened an email in the last 90 days and sends them a re-engagement email.

She removes anyone who doesn’t open her “We Miss You!” email. Anyone who does open it will stay on her list.

After this step, she sends out a new email and notices her open rates climb way up. All those inactive names were dragging her down. She’s also inboxing better because her high open rates gets her a better Sender Score. Because she’s inboxing better, she’s reaching more of her audience and she’s selling more.

Her conversion rate climbs to 4%.


Sarah continues on her path, not noticing who is no longer opening her emails. She’s so busy and she’s just focused on getting her emails out the door.  Six months go by and she notices her open rates are going down. What gives?

She’s too busy to look into it, she’s gotta keep everything else going.

On the other hand, Lauren decides to clean her list every 6 months because she knows that 30% of her list will become inactive every year, so she’s relentless about removing them. She sends another “We Miss You” email to the inactive part of her list, and she removes anyone who doesn’t open this email.

She cut more of her list. This can be a tough one mentally…but it’s key to the success of your overall emails.

At the end of the year, the overall size of Lauren’s list didn’t grow much, but her performance increased. She has higher open rates and because her metrics are so great, she’s inboxing vs going to spam…which means she’s reaching her customers and selling more.

Sarah grew her list but the growth hasn’t equated to sales. She has a large portion of inactive names dragging down her performance.

Having a HUGE list does not equal success. It’s more important to have an engaged list.

In order to keep your list clean and not filled up with inactive people, plan to scrub your list every 6 months, or every 90 days if you have a large list.

Here are three quick steps:

  1. Identify people who haven’t opened an email in 90 days. If you want to be more aggressive, set your window to 60 days.


  2. Sort your inactives names by your Prospects and your Customers. Then you can decide if you want to include your Customers in the clean up, or handle them differently. You could send them a coupon or another goodie to get them re-engaged with you.


  3. Scrub the inactive names. You can send a series of 2-3 emails (Still want to get my emails?) and keep the people who actively click to stay on your list. This can re-activate anywhere from 15-30% of your inactive names. Or you can skip this step and just archive them.

Some tools offer features that allow you to set up an automation that will select inactive names and scrub them automatically. I love ActiveCampaign for this reason.

Other tools like ConvertKit (what I use) have “Cold Subscriber” segments you can select.

When you have your list of inactive names and you’re ready to remove them, it’s important to archive them vs. deleting them. If you delete them and they sign back up, you’ll lose all their historical information. 

I cleaned my list for the first time a few months ago. I have a small list and even though I knew all the reasons why it was good for me to cut names, it still hurt.

So don’t be surprised if you find yourself questioning whether you really need to cut names. Do it. It will help you in the long run.

Curious what else you should do to get better results with email? Go back to the beginning and review your Lead Magnet with fresh eyes.


*Note that ConvertKit links are affiliate links. I use it and recommend it.

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