Should I cut inactive subscribers from my lists?

A laptop and a cellphone showing a subscriber page

In the last few years, more and more major businesses have started to delete inactive users or accounts. Initially, this sounds like a surprising move. Surely more is always better, right? Well, no actually, and especially not in marketing.

While influencers might like to tout follower numbers or average likes on an image, we call those vanity metrics. They can make you feel good and sound impressive, but in reality, they mean very little. Things like engagement rates or conversion rates are way more valuable to track and cutting out inactive subscribers can help you do this more accurately or even improve these metrics.

Why are Companies Cutting Down their Subscriber Lists?

In 2019, Microsoft announced that they would get rid of old accounts that haven’t been accessed for over two years – as a security measure. Accounts that are no longer managed are easier to hack without anyone noticing, so they decided the easiest way to safeguard their (former) users was to delete their old accounts.

In 2020, Netflix decided they would get rid of accounts that have not been accessed in the past year. Their supposed motivation was saving money for users who had forgotten about their ongoing subscription to the service.

Just this year, one of our team members was automatically unsubscribed from a marketing industry newsletter for not opening an email over the course of just a few weeks. For this company, it was to reduce their overhead costs by not paying to send emails to those who would not open.

As the amount of inactive time before a company culls inactive users from their list grows shorter, we wanted to look into the pros and cons of this practice and think about why it’s becoming more common for big and small companies.

Why You Should Delete your Inactive Subscribers:

  • Email Service Providers often charged based on the number of contacts you have or the number of emails you send. Culling your list can help keep costs down.
  • You can send an email before deleting them from your lists allowing them to confirm their interest – that makes it GDPR compliant!
  • The accuracy of your Open or Click-Through metrics will be improved
  • Prodding inactive subscribers might remind them to be active again
  • You’ll only be spending time and money on interested clients

Why it’s a Challenge:

  • It’ll mess up your subscriber number metrics (but don’t despair, this number doesn’t *really* matter, even if it feels good to have a high one)
  • Any social proof counters might drop
  • Deciding what period of time to base it on can be challenging – is 6 months, a year, or just a few weeks enough to know someone won’t convert?
  • Choosing the right metric to assess inactiveness. Will you use open rate, click-through rate, or something else?

The Verdict:

Ultimately, while it takes some careful consideration and your ego might take a hit initially, we think it’s a good practice to cull your inactive subscribers. Let go of those vanity metrics like subscriber numbers and target the people who are genuinely interested in you and your business. For most people, the best place to start with this practice would be on their email lists.


If you need more advice on improving your email marketing or making the most of your metrics don’t hesitate to get in touch. fatBuzz offers a full range of marketing, web development and design services.