High quality email list vs. “I want the hugest, biggest list EVER!”



It’s not hard to get email subscribers, especially these days.

What is more difficult is finding high-quality subscribers.

Why? Because 8 out of 10 people on your list may never even open your emails.

That’s painful.

The good news is, there are things you can do to fix it.

In our experience, we see the highest open rates in our survey funnel emails. The first three emails we send typically have open rates of 40%.

So why is our open rate 2X higher than the industry average for those first three emails?

The most important reason is we segment the people entering our email list. Some need help with traffic, others with lead generation or building their marketing funnel from top to bottom.

Based on a subscriber’s need, we send out different emails.

However, while our survey funnel was helpful in getting us high-quality email subscribers, that isn’t the only tactic that works to engage subscribers and create a higher-quality email list.

The following four tips helped us go from a 4% engagement rate to the 31% average engagement rate we see today.

Let’s check ‘em out.

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Tip #1: The “Messages to the Edges” Strategy — “Meet” Your Subscribers IN their Inbox (Not On Your Site)

It’s literally impossible for you to have more unique clicks than opens on your emails.

It makes sense right?

But have you ever thought about what that means?

On average up, according to data gathered from our email list, up to 15X more people will open an email compared to the number that will click over to our site.

That’s huge.

“But so what?” you might be wondering.

If you’re on our email list for daily Matt Hacks — where I give you ONE easy, actionable tip each weekday to grow your funnel — you might have seen this video yesterday (embedded below).

If you didn’t catch it for some reason, check it out below. I explain how this “obvious” mistake may have cost us $130,000 in 2017 (and why it could be costing you some major $ as well).

The gist of it is the “Messages To the Edges” strategy: do not use email just to drive traffic, use it to bring your message to people who would prefer to consume it there IN THEIR INBOX!

Got it?



Tip #2: Align Your Content (and Lead Magnet) With the Intention of Your Visitor

You can offer a checklist, an email course or an in-depth guide as your lead magnet, but the type of freebie you offer doesn’t usually determine how high-quality your subscribers are.

What matters most is the interest of your visitor. The interest and intent of your visitor will determine how engaged subscribers are on your email list.

Why is this?

It all comes back to a concept we discussed in a previous blog post known as the Law of Alignment. I originally wrote about the Law of Alignment for a guest post on Kissmetrics.

Here’s a simple definition: Your funnel will convert to the level that the offer aligns with the person evaluating the offer.

Say, for example, that you want to buy running shoes online. You see an offer for sneakers, but these are for everyday wear, not athletic wear. Are you going to engage in that offer?

No. The alignment isn’t there.

If you adjust your lead magnet to align with the subject of your content, you’re more likely to capture the right kind of subscribers. People who find what they’re searching for in your content will be more interested in what you have to offer.

These are the kind of high-quality subscribers you want. You don’t want people who only subscribe for a freebie and never engage further.

To use our own data as an example, we have a lead magnet called the 11-Point Sales Funnel Checklist. Our click-thru rate on follow-up emails from that lead magnet is a whopping 10.56%.


Because the majority of our traffic is people searching for sales funnels and funnel-related marketing topics.

Since our sales funnel lead magnet offers a solution that aligns with their interest, our engagement rate is high.

But, this begs the question: how do we know this is better than offering a different lead magnet, one that sets the expectation of follow-up emails and not just a checklist?

After all, a high-quality relationship with our subscribers is the goal, right?

Well, we looked at our data for that as well.

You can see that although the average click-thru rate was decent, the lead magnet for our funnel checklist “wins” in terms of engagement.

This is because even though the expectation of follow-up is set with the DYL free email course, the checklist aligns better with a visitor’s intentions.

I spoke to SJO’s editor-in-chief, Sol Orwell, to see how other marketers are keeping subscribers engaged and opening emails.

Orwell is the face of SJO, an entrepreneurial website, and co-created Examine.com.

Here’s what he had to say.

“Drop some knowledge in the email. Make it an exclusive piece of the conversation.

I’ve noticed that every time I send an email out to the SJO Fam, I always give a bit of background on why I wrote what I wrote. And this background context only goes out via email — it’s not on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else.”

Orwell also shares other tips about beefing up your email list here.

Tip #3: Create a Survey Funnel for Opt-ins  

This tip goes back to what I mentioned in the intro to this article. Create a survey funnel for your subscribers, so they are only getting content they want to read.

To recap:

A survey funnel is a simple, but powerful email marketing mechanism that requires a user to answer a short survey after opting in to your newsletter, ideally before they gain access to your lead magnet.

The data garnered from the form is used to personalize the follow-up email content sent to the subscriber so that it is more relevant to their needs.

So, based on what a subscriber opts in for, they’ll receive targeted emails, and the chances of them opening your emails increase.

Now, when you’re creating your survey funnel, just a few short questions will work. You don’t want to take up your subscribers’ time.

Our survey funnel, for instance, only has two questions. There’s also a video enticing the subscriber to complete the funnel.

Survey funnels can be very effective, as this case study from Lacy and Dustin Baier at A Sweet Pea Chef shows. We covered it before on our blog, so here’s a quick overview.

To drive monetization to their blog, the Baiers made a survey funnel with Survey Monkey.

After introducing their survey funnel and other elements of their sales funnel, A Sweet Pea Chef began bringing in $600 in monthly sales revenue. With the addition of lead magnets and a social media strategy, revenue increased even further.

Tip #4: Create an Automation to Eliminate Non-Engaged Subscribers

To maintain a high-quality relationship with your list, you want to see as many of your subscribers opening your emails and engaging with your content as possible.

If you find a portion that isn’t engaging with what you send, set up an automation to remove them.

“But Matt,” you might say. “I want the huge-est, bestest, biggest possible list EVER!”

That’s a no-go, bro.

Here’s why.

See, I used to think the exact same. And if I did, we’d have over 20,000 “active” subs on our list right now.

But today, I prefer the lesser number of 13,000, people who’ve actually opened or clicked in the last 30 days.

Why? A few reasons.

  1. I don’t want to pay for people / fake subs (some are bots) who aren’t getting value from what we send them.
  2. I suspect those people who are NOT engaged would also be more likely to mark us as spam at some point even though they opted-in. This could hurt our overall deliverability.
  3. Keeping them around will only keep your open and click-thru rates down, which skews your understanding of what’s really going on with your list.

Here are some of my best practices for eliminating low-engagement subscribers:

  • Begin the removal automation if the subscriber doesn’t click or open an email within 30 days.
  • Let them know they’re going to be removed from the email list before it happens.
  • Provide a link they can click to stay on the email list.
  • Incentivize them to engage with you by providing links to great content and offers.
  • Give them some time to re-engage, at least four or five days, before removing them.

By following these best practices, you can ensure you don’t accidentally delete any subscribers who still want to be a part of your email list. People get busy, emails get sent to spam folders…there are plenty of reasons a subscriber might miss your email.

The warning email gives them time to keep themselves subscribed. If they still don’t engage after four or five days, then you did what you could. At least you’ll know the rest of your email list is engaged.

Marketer and blogger Kevin Muldoon calls these unengaged subscribers “dead weight.” He shared a case study about pruning his email list.

When Muldoon sent out an email blast, he had a decent click rate (2.24%) and open rate (1.98%). A lot of the emails he sent bounced (13.98%), which, considering he sent 2,703 messages, is a fairly big chunk.

Even his weekly newsletter wasn’t generating as many clicks as desired. You’ll see below that the click-through rate at the time was 2.44%.

The open rate was better, though, at 17.19%.

He decided to segment unengaged subscribers, determining which ones were unresponsive by the last time they opened an email, the date they subscribed and the last campaign they engaged with.

Muldoon then sent a farewell email with this copy:

Hi there.

My name is Kevin Muldoon (from www.kevinmuldoon.com). You have been subscribed to my email newsletter for some time, however I noticed that you have not opened any of my emails for many months.

As such, you have been removed from my newsletter. I am sad to see you go, but I appreciate that you may not be interested in my emails anymore.

Should you wish to sign up again, please sign up at https://www.kevinmuldoon.com/newsletter/

In all, he cleared 1,070 subscribers. Muldoon even took it a step further and removed nearly 300 additional subscribers who bounced.

While he didn’t share what his click and open rates were after the pruning, he said he can see more clearly now who is enjoying his email content and who isn’t.

One Action to Take Right Now

The key takeaway from this post is to pick one of the tips above and implement it.

If you’re not sure, I recommend you start with Tip #1 because that strategy will give you the best long term results. It shows you care about how and where your email subscribers care to consume your content.

If you need help figuring out how to set up your survey funnel, take a look at our blog post here. You can also learn to further personalize your web content from this post I wrote for Crazy Egg.

Also, if you’re interested in setting up automations to routinely clean your email list, check the tutorials of your email service provider. We use Active Campaign, so you can learn more about how to set up your own automations with them here.


Need more email tips? Download our 47 Email List-Building Strategies Checklist PDF today, which includes more than 10 bonus strategies.

You could have a million email subscribers, but if less than 20% of them are engaging with you, the volume doesn’t matter as much.

Instead, you want to build a list of high-quality subscribers who are more likely to open, read, share your content and — of course! — buy from you.

To review:

  • You can potentially 2X your annual revenue if you use your emails to engage rather than just drive traffic. This is the “Messages to The Edges” strategy.
  • The Law of Alignment is key to getting high-quality subscribers. This says that the more aligned your lead magnet is to your user’s needs, the more interested they’ll be.
  • A survey funnel lets you discover your subscribers’ needs and send emails that are relevant to them. Be sure to keep the survey questions short (two to five questions).
  • It’s important to prune subscribers who aren’t engaging. By removing this dead weight, you know the subscribers you reach out to are receptive and ready to engage with your offer.

Would you consider your relationship with your email subscriber list high-quality?

Why or why not?

Which of these tips will you apply to improve that?

Let me know in the comments.

Keep Hustlin’, Stay Focused,

— Matt

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