It's a fact of list life: You're always going to lose a chunk of your email list to bounces, unsubscribes, and spam complaints. In the past, you might have just shrugged off this loss—typically 30 percent or more annually—because you were able to acquire new subscribers at a much higher rate than what you lost. But your ability to do so might be getting tougher now.

With consumers getting pickier about whom they want to receive email from, along with the growing constraint caused by consumer and business spending cutbacks and the prospect of tightened marketing budgets, it's more important than ever to focus on retaining your subscribers and customers.

These three strategies can help you reduce list churn and, subsequently, boost list performance.

1. Keep subscribers active and engaged

Get subscribers engaged right at the beginning of the relationship, when they are likely to make quick decisions about their email relationship with your company. These two tactics will help:

  • Manage expectations before the subscriber relationship commences. Be explicit about what kinds of email you will send and how often. Show a sample email and clearly convey the value proposition.
  • Launch a welcome program immediately after confirmation. This is a timed, personalized series of emails in which you greet new subscribers, review their subscription details, invite them back to your Web site to fill out profiles or set preferences, offer special new-member promotions, etc. Use recognizable sender and subject lines to make your message stand out in the inbox.

2. Reach out to inactive subscribers

Maybe your email messages don't measure up anymore to subscribers' expectations. Or, they signed up with you to get an incentive and now regularly delete your emails unopened. Or, your messages always go to their junk folders, which they never check and automatically empty after 30 days.

For these and other reasons, a big chunk of your list is "emotionally unsubscribed." Their addresses are valid, but their attention is elsewhere. They either never clicked or clicked in the past but don't click now. Moving away from one-size-fits-all broadcast emails toward targeted and behavior-based messages will make your email more relevant and more attractive for opening.

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Loren McDonald is vice-president of industry relations at Silverpop, an email service provider for B2C marketing initiatives and B2B lead-management processes. Reach him via