How to Win Back Email Leads Who Have Shadow-Unsubscribed

4 min read
Feb 8, 2021

As a business, you work hard for your qualified leads. You write compelling content, you create downloadable resources for your target audience and every week or month you craft some excellent email content meant to help convert those leads into happy, loyal customers. However, after you get an email address, what then? Almost every subscriber list has a certain percentage of non-responders. They don't come back, and many no longer open a single email.  While, practically, they might as well not be on the email list at all, they haven't actually unsubscribed which means there is still hope. The key is to build an effective strategy to win back these shadow-unsubscribers.


What is a Shadow-Unsubscribe

When you gather email addresses and create an engaging newsletter or weekly digest, there will always be a certain number of people who unsubscribe sooner or later. Maybe they wrapped up their need for your product or service, perhaps they just don't like any newsletters and would prefer to return in their own time. A shadow-unsubscribe, on the other hand, are those who still receive emails, they just don't read them or intend to.


The vast majority of shadow unsubscriptions are caused by spam filters or a casual 'mark as spam' click by accident or in a moment of irritation, so your leads don't even see the emails anymore. Others see the emails but have gotten into the habit of merely deleting or archiving without reading if the headline isn't of particular interest (and it never is anymore).


In other words, a shadow-unsubscriber is someone who receives your emails but never reads them. Now let's talk about getting these leads that used to be interested back into the fold.


Change Your Sender Address

The first step is to change your sender address. There are a lot of different configurations for spam filters out there, and many of your shadow-unsubscriptions may be caused by an overzealous spam filter. This means that your sender email address has been black-listed and no amount of engaging content tactics are going to break through. Of course, you don't want to change your sender address just for targeted recipients, that would become a logistical nightmare with or without automation. Instead, let your active readers know a few newsletters ahead of time that your sender address will be changing. This is a courteous step to take for your most avid readers who may have alerts or special settings arranged to flag your emails as important or auto-sort them into a personal email category.


Keep your sender name and meta-data the same so that your active reader's experience changes minimally while your emails may finally begin reappearing in inboxes that had previously been spam-blocked.


Consider Outreach Emails

However, a new email address won't fix the other kind of shadow-unsubscriber, those who see your emails and don't read them. These leads haven't unsubscribed because, often, they still have some lingering interest in what you have to offer. They just haven't found themselves interested or engaged in a while and have stopped reading. Unfortunately, not opening your emails becomes a habit even if they enjoy seeing them in their inboxes. For these, you might consider outreach emails inviting subscribers to rekindle their interest and to rejoin the mailing list experience you have to offer. The key is to make your outreach emails stand out from the usual automated emails they are so used to disregarding.


First, do not let a computer generate your outreach email content. Write something personal and throw in a few details about each target's history with your company. Reach out as a friend, service provider, and possibly even business partner and assure them that new content will be worth their while. This can kick them out of casual apathy and reignite their interest in your converting content.


You will also want to send your outreach emails at a different time and day from your usual newsletter. Just receiving an email at an unexpected time may 'wake up' your non-readers and the personalized email title should peak their curiosity.


Update and Personalize Your Tactics

Of course, getting back into the inbox and convincing shadow-unsubscribers to start opening your emails again won't do any good if you're still sending out the same boring or purely promotional content that you were when they stopped reading. Make sure that you have updated your tactics, spiced up your content, and created a new engaging reader experience before any outreach approaches in order to make the most of your second and possibly final chance to keep these leads. 


Of course, you don't have to just guess what your current audience and return readers want to see most. You can gain a lot of insight and direction by studying your target audience and openly asking both your returning and loyal readers what they'd like to see more of. These questions are great for your outreach emails, helping those who stopped reading know that you care about creating a newsletter experience they will enjoy. But don't underestimate how much fun your active readers can also have (and how valuable their answers will be) if you ask them what they want to see.


Personalizing the Experience

Finally, if it suits your brand, consider a touch of personalization. Even making your layout border match a lead's favorite color might be enough of a subtle touch to win their attention again. However, with the power of modern CRMs, AI analysis, and advanced email generation there are currently hundreds of ways to personalize whatever style of regular email your brand and business sends out to leads. If your emails offer promotions, use an AI to analyze buying and browsing patterns to provide each individual recipient deals they would be most interested in. And, of course, never forget to celebrate special personal occasions with your leads like birthdays, holidays, and even anniversaries if you have that data.


Shadow unsubscribers are one of the most significant challenges an email marketing expert will face because they create false numbers, inflating your perceived email readers while at the same time slowly corroding the power of your brand. With a new sender address, active outreach, and serious effort to make your emails more appealing to each individual reader, you can not only win these leads back but go above and beyond to impress them with your dedication to customer engagement.


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