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Beware of Graymail Screwing Up Your Email Success

 Everyone involved in online marketing knows the value of maintaining a good list of emails. Having a huge audience for your newsletters and promotional emails is almost a necessity for a healthy conversion rate and repeat sales.

Spamming is a big marketing no-no (not to mention counterproductive), but did you know that some of your opt-in subscribers may also become hurdles in your marketing efforts? Although not as bad as spamming, graymail is also frowned upon by email clients and service providers.


What is graymail?

Not everyone who is on your mailing list is truly interested in receiving your messages. Graymail is an email that the subscriber does not want despite having opted for it. Many subscribers sign up for your emails but don't even open them.

Why should someone who does not even want to open your emails subscribe in the first place or continue to stay subscribed? There are two kinds of these inactive subscribers:

Incentive Grabbers

The first category never had any intention of reading your messages. They just subscribed because you were offering an incentive for subscribing. They don't want your emails but don't want to spend the time or take the trouble to unsubscribe either.

The fact that the unsubscribe links are often hidden away in the fine print at the bottom does not make things any easier for them. Their problem is further compounded by the large number of spam emails where the unsubscribe link does not work.

The easy way out for them (but certainly not for you) is to mark any unnecessary email as junk mail, and let the spam filter take care of them.

Inactive Subscribers

The second category consists of inactive subscribers who are genuinely interested in your content and want to read your emails but never manage to do it due to the lack of time. Most of the marketing emails they receive are put away into some folder for later reading. Such folders are usually emptied when they do their next mail cleanup.

Inactive subscribers are not likely to convert. Instead, if you continue to send them email, it may actually create more problems for you. Here’s why…

The problem with graymail

To provide good user experience, email clients and service providers try to weed out as many unwanted emails as possible by filtering them into junk mail folders. To do this, they are in a constant learning mode.

When their systems notice that many messages coming from you are deleted without opening or are marked as junk, they may put you on their list of junk mail or graymail senders. Your emails may thus end up in junk mail folders without any intervention from your subscribers. This graymail can disrupt the delivery of your messages to genuine subscribers and also to new subscribers.

The best way to tackle the problem is to remove inactive subscribers. Yes, I said that. Remove them.

If your mailing list has a sizable number of inactive subscribers, you will naturally be concerned about removing them. After all, it takes a great deal of time, effort and money to build a large mailing list.

That said, inactive subscribers are not going to make any difference to your sales or website traffic unless you can change their behavior. If you can't, there is no harm in unsubscribing them. In fact, the more inactive subscribers you have on your list, the worse it looks for your conversion results.

Identifying and handling inactive subscribers

Before you tackle graymail, you have to identify inactive subscribers. The sure way of identifying them is by checking their click through rate. While the open rate may seem like the best metric, it is not very reliable.

  • First, an email is counted as opened only when the images are accessed by the email client. To protect user privacy, the default setting in many email clients is to block images until the user explicitly asks for them to be displayed.
  • The other problem is that if the email is displayed in a preview pane, it may be wrongly counted as opened.

Once you identify graymail receivers, you should first make an effort to reconnect with them. You can, for example, remind inactive subscribers who you are and what you do, then inform them that they should reconfirm their subscription or they will be automatically unsubscribed after a certain period (two weeks, for example).

If they don't respond, unsubscribe them and inform them that they have been unsubscribed. Give them the option to subscribe again in the same email. This will give you another chance to convert them to genuine subscribers.

How to minimize inactive subscribers

Send fewer emails

Sending too many emails can overwhelm genuine subscribers. People receive more emails than they can handle. No one has the time to read and click through more than a couple of emails a week from the same sender.

Don't push your subscribers to the point where they have to postpone opening your emails. You can try combining some emails instead.

Make good use of the subject line

Teaser subject lines are fine once in a while, but for most part, your subject line should indicate the type of content subscribers can expect inside. For example, instead of a subject line that says, "Here is an offer that you can't miss," say, "Get 25% off on our latest products today."

Whatever you do, don’t pull the bait and switch with your email header. If you tell them one thing just to get them to open the email, then give them something different inside, you’ll lose your readers.

Keep it relevant

Instead of sending the same mail to all your subscribers, use previous site interactions and buyer behavior to classify your subscribers and deliver relevant content to each group. For example, there is no sense in sending a discount coupon valid only for the first order to someone who is already your customer.

Keep it good

If you don’t make your content valuable to the reader, and easy to read… guess what? They’re not going to continue to read it. Send them information that consistently helps solve their problems and they will actually look forward to your emails.

Unsubscribing people who don't engage with your emails may seem like a heavy-handed approach, but it is necessary to keep your email list healthy and maintain deliverability. After Microsoft introduced the concept of graymail back in 2007, most email service providers have mechanisms in place to detect and filter them out.

Having inactive subscribers on your mailing list may reduce the effectiveness of your email marketing. It is better to remove them if you can't persuade them to re-engage with your emails.

These are just a few tips to help improve your marketing results. For more, check out this free download: 6 Marketing Strategies Proven to Drive Results.


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