According to MailChimp stats on our mailing list (that receives a monthly e-mail), I found out a set of members that never open our mails.

Typically, they opened it once, long ago, then stopped (either classed our mails as spam, or developed an automatic "move-to-trash" reflex).

I don't feel very good at continuing sending mails to these people since, as a matter of fact, they don't want to receive our mails, so I'm wondering if it's a good initiative to unsubscribe them and how would be the best way to do it.

Option 1 I wonder if it's useful to send a mail that would go like

Hey, looks like you don't read our mails, have you considered unsubscribing?

(have to find a good way to write it down without being rude, of course...)

But since these people don't read our mails, I'm afraid this would be completely useless (and harmless).

Option 2 On the other side, I could simply unsubscribe them with no previous warning, but sending a mail like

Okay, we got it, never going to bug you again. Bye.

Option 3 The last option is unsubscribing silently. No additional mails are sent. Just disappear.

Do you have any advice on the subject?

  • 11
    I probably shouldn't ask this, but what do your marketing people think of the idea of unsubscribing people? Sounds like something that'll not go down too well with them. (They are stakeholders after all, so I'm sure they'll have an opinion / requirement).
    – JonW
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 11:26
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    A lot of people read the first line or two. For example when I get Groupon emails, I can see the majority of the deals they are offering through the main view of my Gmail inbox without even opening them. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 12:34
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    I wonder if it's not super unsettling to users to get an email that says essentially "We see you're not reading our emails..."
    – Perchik
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 14:29
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    @xBill How would you see if I read an email? That's only possible if I click a link or allow embedding of external images. In a good mail client both of these are manual processes. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 15:49
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    @RichardTingle 'avoid downloading images' is often a default setting, and in some corporate settings it's strictly enforced (i.e., no possibility for users to re-enable it) - exactly due to this tracking reason. You can get useful stats from the changes of those open-notifications, but you shouldn't ever assume that the absolute number of open-notifications reflects the number of opened emails.
    – Peteris
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:31

10 Answers 10


The options to choose

Option 4: continue to send the emails

If people don't want your emails they will tell you


Option 5: imply everyones getting the email

This is a little dishonest but... well, no judgments. Just send them an email; seemingly out of the blue asking if they want to continue with your emails. Something along the lines of

"We want to make sure everyone enjoys our emails so thats why we periodically ask people to resubscribe. Would you like to keep getting our emails?"

Why you shouldn't choose the others

All the other options have serious drawbacks

Option 1 I wonder if it's useful to send a mail that would go like: "Hey, looks like you don't read our mails, have you considered unsubscribing?"

Option 2 On the other side, I could simply unsubscribe them with no previous warning, but sending a mail like: "Okay, we got it, never going to bug you again. Bye."

A significant number of people, on reading either of these is going to think "how do they know that!" After this how people react is going to come down to if they are technical or not:

  • If they are technical (and what I just did) they will find out how you did it and make sure you can't do it again. They are also likely to unsubscribe you on a matter of principle whether they want your emails or not.

  • If they aren't technical they will assume your email contains spyware and will unsubscribe you to protect themselves.

I can only assume neither of these sound great to you.

Option 3 The last option is unsubscribing silently. No additional mails are sent. Just disappear.

Given that people can (and routinely do) prevent this information being sent you will lose a large number of people who read and want your email this way

  • 16
    +1 for the WTF! factor of "they monitor if I am reading my mails!? I will run away from these guys right now!" I sure would :-)
    – user17696
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:18
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    +1 You can't assume that everybody on your mailing list reads the list the way you intend them to. Some might be aggregating a list of emails from you to make access to them easier for others or some might like to binge read emails during their annual sort.
    – Mallow
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:42
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    So to be clear, you're technical and you would unsubscribe on principle from someone who tells you that they've monitored email reads, but not from someone who monitors you but doesn't tell you? That seems ineffectual ;-) I'm reasonably paranoid about monitoring, in fact I block it as far as I can, but if I was going to unsubscribe on principle I'd do it by checking for web bugs myself, not by waiting for the bug-user to tell me about them. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:39
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    @Steve It was actually the "make sure they can't do it again" bit that I had just done. However; a guilty plea is better than being convicted but it's still a guilty plea Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 22:15
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    @RichardTingle thank you for your interesting answer. Seems that the WTF! factor has to be taken into account. Still I find quite sad that the world could actually be split into "the ones who know about tracking" and "the ones who don't" (a portion of the former being concerned about keepin' it seeeeeecret... :)
    – xBill
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 12:17

Quirky employs a variation of Option #1. Instead of asking to unsubscribe, they tell you that they've unsubscribed you, giving you an option (and incentive) to re-subscribe.

Quirky Email Sample

I was pretty impressed with this strategy. I didn't resubscribe, but I appreciated them taking me off their list based on my viewing habits.

  • I knew that I had seen an email like this recently, but when I went to try to find it I couldn't. My response to this email was a little bit of amusement - heh, it looks like they can see that I dont care- followed by appreciation -oh well, at least I'm not getting emails anymore. Although, in this case, I couldn't remember getting previous Quirky emails
    – Perchik
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:01
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    This is a great example of a win back strategy :)
    – bzav
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:05
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    @xBill I have never clicked on one of these, which has removed me from many lists, even though I'm still interested in receiving their newsletter. IMHO this is not a great strategy unless you are hurting for subscriber headroom. Instead, filter your lists by "active/hot", "warm", and "cold" each open/click in the past x months, x+y months, > (x+y) months respectively. This way you only "waste" emails to "cold" subscribers maybe once a month. We regularly have "cold" subscribers jump into our warm or hot list after being inactive for a while. Many things can block accurate tracking of opens
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 21:45
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    I like the idea of creating segments of "cold", "warm" and "hot" members, very useful! I don't know if Quirky's solution is horrible, but anyways we're not applying it (that's why it's not marked as the accepted answer event if it has a lot of success)
    – xBill
    Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 18:56
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    @xBill Email Marketing is not an exact science - and it's a constantly moving target... things like Gmail suddenly filtering all "marketing" emails to the Marketing tab destroyed our gmail open stats - (the conspiracy: google does not do email marketing and they want companies to pay for adsense). A good thing to do is setup a testing email account(s) and sign up for a LOT of the "big guys" email lists and see their patterns. Try engaging some emails, ignore others, then switch, etc. Some have very elaborate workflows depending on your interactions. Newegg has a very aggressive system
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Apr 19, 2014 at 19:39

Relax. I get many emails a day from services that I am interested in, but the timing just isn't right (Meetup, Groupon, mailing lists). If I don't want them, I know how to unsubscribe, but usually seeing the first line or two without opening them is all I need. I'd be annoyed if you chastised me for not opening them.

Maybe a more useful strategy is--if it's important to you--find a way to word those first few lines that gets more people to open to them.

  • It's important to me not to bug people and earning MailChimp credits. By the way I found what you say very interesting. Something quite intriguing about user's feeling about brand within communication is emerging from this thread.
    – xBill
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 12:23
  • Note that most users don't know how to unsubscribe. Hell, I often forget I can do that!
    – Darkhogg
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 23:58

I would go with Option 1 which is more like a last chance to see if they react or not, then I would go with Option 2. Of course for Option 1, you have to keep your intro short and precise.

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    Up-voted because there is a possibility that they ARE reading the emails but have external images disabled - the default in most software.
    – mcrumley
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 14:16
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    As a side note, make the goal of the email concise and understandable from the title of the email itself. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 15:15
  • @ mcrumley ... very correct.
    – Shina
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 20:00

I would go with option 1, considering that "open tracking" is not 100% accurate!

Generally it works by including an image in the email body which has to be downloaded from mailchimp servrs once the email is opened; assigning an unique ID to every image they trace back who opened what.

If the user choose not to download the image, or uses a non-HTML email reader (I admit they are rare nowadays) you will see it as an unread message in your stats also if it is actually not!


  • 4
    This. I don't load images in email by default. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:34

A lot of times I subscribe to a mailing list even if I (immediately or not) create filter to redirect their mails to a specific folder (and skip inbox). Some reasons I do it (not all of the apply for every list)

  1. Keeping the inbox clean; the number of unread messages will be displayed next to the message folder so I still get a notification.
  2. Only want to read the emails when I want (e.g. I might want to read emails with offers/sales during the weekend, changes affecting my commute asap, tech news whenever I have some time to kill etc)
  3. Maintain them for future searches.
  4. Keep in touch with the community e.g. "I haven't done X recently but I'm still part of it" or "Ooh look, an email for X, let's visit it again and see what's up"
  5. As other people mentioned, just the subject + a couple of lines could be enough for me to judge if I want to read it.

For all these reasons I believe (but no proof!) that the majority of those users won't feel great when you unsubscribe them; you might get a few "ah, nice" but you could also get the "how did he now?" response that might cause bad rep and even anger because people actually want your emails.

So, the only benefit would be cutting costs. Of course, we are assuming that those costs are not trivial (i.e. it's not a micro-optimisation). In that case, while whether people open your email can be a strong indication of if the money are well-spend, you could argue that you should measure the actual effect, e.g. engagement/revenue/reactivation boost and decrease the rate of emails accordingly (instead of completely eliminating). You could send emails in bulk (e.g. monthly, quarterly, yearly), skip some parts etc.

All in all, my main point is that you should make your judgement based on what's the (expected) return of sending an email to the user, not on whether they want to read your email; it's roughly analogous to skipping the ToS because nobody reads it.


Just give them an option to unsubscribe in the email itself. To be blunt, if they can't be bothered to open the email to unsubscribe, then they should continue to receive them until they can be bothered.

Also, I think this is a legal requirement in a lot of places.


  • 3
    The link is always present at the bottom of the mail. MailChimp automatically checks whether you put it and if you don't, it doesn't trigger the mailing campaign.
    – xBill
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 11:51
  • Ah, my apologies.
    – user46618
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 11:53
  • no problem, it's useful to know about the law you cite :)
    – xBill
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 11:58
  • Based on the (limited) experience I have helping non-technical people with mail/internet problems, I doubt many of them know the unsubscribe option exists. Most of them just sigh and delete the mail, decreasing the experience of your brand.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 13:13
  • CAN-SPAM Act requires an unsubscribe link in all marketing emails... so it's going to be there already if you are using MailChimp or any EMS provider.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 21:40

me personally, i'd love it if someone saved me a step of unsubscribing if they can tell i'm not reading the emails.

i can always resubscribe.

i don't unsubscribe from most mailing lists i'm not interested in for fear of confirming that this is a live address and end up with more spam than i started with.

yes, reputable companies don't do that but these days you don't know who does and who doesn't.

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    Answer's shouldn't be in answer to other answers. They should stand alone. That said this does have a stab at answering the question Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 21:20
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    At least in the US, if you were to unsubscribe from a mailing list, and were then sent even a single email beyond the 'unsubscription notification' one, you get to sue their ass off for $16,000 per message as specified in the CAN-SPAM act. Most businesses are not willing to risk that for some stupid promotional messages. Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 1:55
  • i did answer the question, it was in the third paragraph, maybe i should've started with it so i now rearranged the paragraphs.
    – lalachka
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 23:16
  • @AJMansfield lol i'd never sue anyone, especially over stuff like this. but the problem is, if it's a dishonest company - those emails won't come from that company. they will sell your address to some other company as a confirmed live address and you will get spam from 20 different addresses, then that company sells it and so on. good luck trying to figure out who sold your address. if you only gave out your address to one company and never posted it anywhere - then you might know but still can't prove it. if you're like most people that sign up for stuff all the time - then it's a lost cause
    – lalachka
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 23:20
  • You already confirmed that it's a live address when you signed up. So this doesn't make much sense. Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 16:55

The other answers so far are excellent. I just want to add that you should remember to keep a broader perspective on customer engagement.

If your users have accounts and log into your site on a regular basis, then it's possible that they are reading the subject line of your emails and logging in separately via a bookmark (as opposed to opening your email and following a link). I do this with some marketing emails where following the hyperlink in the email is not necessary to claim the discount, etc.

This may also be true for sophisticated users who are blocking your tracking technique but still reading the emails and responding to them.


To add to what's already been said about subscribers who remain subscribed but do not read the email, Mailchimp finds the same thing. Mailchimp has made unsubscribing stupidly easy, as have most such services. Nonetheless, people will stay subscribed. Thumbtackthief captures one of the reasons why this is the case: People use email to remind them to check in on something, but later, when the timing is right. I want to order dishware from Dot and Bo. I don't want to order it now because I'm not completely sure. I subscribe to the email to remind me of the existence of Dot and Bo. Otherwise, I likely completely forget in a world awash with information.

Makes sense based on some findings about the human desire for information, even useless information. Researchers speculate that people really want to have information and feel badly if they think they might miss out on it. They'd rather hang on to the email subscriber than feel they might, just might, miss out on something. Dan Ariey is a well-known scholar and popularizes of this school of research.

The class paper on the topic is "On the Pursuit and Misuse of Useless Information" by Anthony Bastardi, Stanford University, and Eldar Shafir, Princeton University


Here's the article on Mailchimp: http://clatl.com/atlanta/subject-mailchimp/Content?oid=10845994&showFullText=true

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