Why Zombie Subscribers Are Killing Your Email List

By now you’ve probably read at least three dozen out the thousands of articles written on why collecting email subscribers is so important to the growth and success of your blog.

And to a certain extent this is going to be another one… as I agree completely.

Email subscribers are of the utmost importance… Truly the only non-revenue counting stat I care about.

Need some social validation? Read – How to Get Important People to Read Your Newsletter

Here’s the Rub…

What is an email subscriber worth who doesn’t take action?

Yes, you can write blog posts about your thousands of subscribers and newbies and hacks salivate for similar numbers, but what are those subscribers actually worth to you, your community and most importantly your bottom line?
I would argue nothing… Actually I would argue these Zombie Subscribers can take away from the value of your email list.

Zombie Subscribers

Zombie Email list subscribers

When you publish a newsletter article what stats or feedback do you look at to ascertain whether that article was a success ?

  • Opens
  • Unique Opens
  • Clicks on links
  • Social Shares
  • Unsubscribes
  • Purchases of products
  • New subscribers from the article (which means the article is being forwarded to non-subscribers)

Basically you look at the number of subscribers you have and the number of people that take different actions and you can determine if your readers found value in your article.

But Zombie Subscribers don’t take action. They signed up for newsletter because they had to in order to get your Free eBook or e-Course or they’ve changed jobs or lifestyle and simply don’t care anymore.

Now your newsletter articles just sit in their inbox.

At this point one of three things happen in most cases:

  1. The Zombie does nothing (Bad)
  2. The Zombie unsubscribes (Good and Bad)
  3. The Zombie sends your email to Spam (Very Bad)

The Zombie Subscriber Does Nothing

If you are like me and you constantly tweak your newsletter to produce the best product then feedback is very important. You could be writing killer content but see increasingly diminished results because of Zombie subscribers inaction.

That is BAD.

You’re now making decisions on the path of your email marketing based on the inaction of Zombie Subscribers.

The Zombie Unsubscribes

This is Good and Bad. It’s good for you when a Zombie unsubscribes because you don’t have to worry about their inaction any longer.

It’s bad when a Zombie unsubscribes because now their action effects your feedback. They’re not unsubscribing because they didn’t like the direction of your content. They’re unsubscribing because they had no intention of every engaging in the first place and finally got sick of deleting your emails.

You’re now making decisions on the path of your email marketing based on the action of Zombie Subscribers.

The Zombie Sends Your Email to Spam

Spam is the MOST profane of four-letter words in the email marketing world. Too many emails sent to spam and you won’t be sending emails for much longer.

So as email marketers we do everything we can to NOT have our emails/newsletter sent to spam (A good tool for this is Aweber as their delivery rates are fantastic because of strict opt-in rules).

But Zombies, they don’t even remember why nor do they care why you’re sending them emails. So instead of taking the time to scan your newsletter and click the unsubscribe button they just hit SPAM.

This is VERY BAD.

So How Do You Get Rid of Zombie Subscribers

Unfortunately in the case of Zombies Subscribers blunt force head trauma is not an option…

A good place to start is by systematically reviewing your subscriber list. Check to see how long it’s been since someone opened one of your emails. If you have sent three, four, five emails over the course of a month or more and that individual has not opened any of the emails than you have a Zombie.

At this point you can do one of two things:

  1. You can just delete the Zombie immediately or,
  2. You can send them a targeted email sequence.

Option #1 is pretty self-explanatory. Highlight… Hit delete.

Option #2 however could potentially turn a few Zombies back into active participants.

I must admit that is idea is not a Ryan Hanley original thought. I got this idea from Brankica Underwood from Online Income Star. Brankica outlined how a four day email sequence strategy can bring would-be Zombies back to life (Zombie is my nomenclature for inactive subscribers not hers… I’m a huge Walking Dead fan).

In this strategy Brankica creates a sale or discount offer that should in theory entice someone to click on a newsletter article and open it.

Then she targeted only the Zombies and sent four different emails all with the same offer but different titles four days in a row.

The thought process was that if after four emails in four days the Zombie did not take action then their condition was truly incurable and it made sense to delete the Zombie.

Zombie Apocalypse

What Brankica found was that she actually was able to bring 17% of the Zombies back to life because of this four day email sequence. That doesn’t seem bad to me when the alternative is to simply delete them all. And it’s possible, though she didn’t mention, that she got a few AWeber affiliate sales out of the campaign as well.

Don’t let the Zombie Apocalypse ruin your email list. Personally, I choose to NOT offer a Free eBook in exchange for a subscription. This limits the number Zombies that inhabit my subscriber list.

Obviously there are benefits to offering a free eBook as well so I’ll leave that choice up to you. What I will recommend is creating a process for removing Zombie subscribers from your list… They could be eating at your results, if they’re not already.

Thank you,

Ryan H.


Listen To – How To Get Subscribers and Keep Them Happy

image credit: www.istockphoto.com


If you received value from this article, I encourage you learn more About Ryan Hanley or visit his website, Content Warfare you can also download his Free eBook the The Complete Guide to a Successful Blog.


    • Lilibeth,

      Active subscribers need to be engaged. Asking questions… Adding links to videos… Highlighting members. and their achievement… Basically keeping your list fresh with different types of media and content can really help to keep your list active.

      If people grow too comfortable with what you’re doing they can often begin to assume they know what’s coming and not read or take action.


      • Great response, I was going to post the same question Lilibeth had. I’m in the process of growing a bigger community through a mailing list and I this is good adivce, thanks Ryan.

      • Thanks for writing the post. I guess I’m still trying to figure out what I should be doing with my email list. I have a couple hundred subscribers, but don’t think I’m doing anything good with it. At best, I’m sending a list of articles I’ve written for the week. Is that good? If not, what should I be doing? Do you have any good resources I should be reading?

        • Damond,

          My advice would be this as I just did it with my own newsletter.

          Pick one piece of what you write about it and make it the focus of your Newsletter. Make the newsletter very detailed oriented. So on the blog you talk about a bunch of different topics that pertain to your overall theme and the Newsletter is How-To to do whatever…

          For me the blog is: Inspiration for Small Business Success Online… Broad

          Newsletter is: How-To Blog Your Business.. very technical details.

          Does that help?

          • Ryan,

            Thanks for the response. Let me think on it some more as my site isn’t really devoted to a single topic. It’s a personal blog with a hodgepodge of posts ranging from technology to personal development.

            One of my biggest issues thus far has been reaching all subscribers. I’ve found that some subscribed after my series on the Slow Carb Diet but may not have been interested in my technology stories.

            My fear is that by choosing one topic to focus on, I’ll lose the others.

            To remedy that, I thought I’d send only ONE newsletter a week and share all my posts. That way I wouldn’t leave someone out.

            Additionally, I thought about putting folks into groups, but I don’t know of a good way to do that. That means I’m not really sure what topics they’re interested in.

            Clearly I’ve gone outside of the Zombie discussion, but I appreciate any wisdom you’re willing to part.


        • Damond,

          In that case just a weekly re-cap of that weeks posts with maybe a small bit of exclusive content might be the way to go!!

          Good luck!

  1. Nice image in the post btw :)
    Those who send your emails to their spambox are really the worst kind of subscribers that you would have.

  2. Zombie subscribers are just very hard to eliminate from the “real” email subscribers. So the best ay to check that is to check them personally, it is a time consuming task but once done, it will be very beneficial to your email list.

    • Mark,

      If you use a Tool like Aweber to manage your newsletter or email subscribers you can easily pick out who has not opened a new email in a given period of time…

      If you’re not using Aweber I would check it out. I love the tool.


      Ryan H.

  3. It’s so cathartic to hit the Delete button Ryan. This is freeing, it feels good, and it makes room for hungry, eager subscribers. Releasing dead weight makes room for new blood, for people who actually want to consume what you have to offer.

    Letting go feels sucky at first, then much better, because our true nature knows releasing precedes acquiring. Trimming list fat is one of my fave practices. Thanks for sharing Ryan.

  4. Good idea for a post! I like the analogy of zombies! I agree that it’s better to have dedicated subscribers than a large number of ‘zombies’, and it’s interesting how Brankica managed to convert her zombie subscribers into dedicated ones!

    • Liz,

      When you think of it, even though Bran only got 17% to reengage that’s 17% that could have been lost that are back part of her community engaging and sharing…

      Very powerful.


  5. Generally everything can be traced and emails can be validated, as well tracking of opened emails can also be automated and list to be filtered. Killing, I doubt, but for sure isn’t something pleasant for anybody. Spammers are using generators for emails so emails are invalid, they use proxies, so proxies can be blacklisted from spam filters or cloud email database.

  6. Hey Ryan, thanks so much for the shout out. So glad my little experiment helped someone with ideas. I agree with everything about zombies here, they are the ones that are most likely to send your email to spam, even though they themselves subscribed to your email list. Weird, I know, lol.
    I am always about keeping my list fresh and if it means removing people from it, so be it, I would always rather work with less people that are interested than having a list of 5.000 but not have much interaction.

    • Brankica,

      You are very welcome… I should thanking you!!

      I can’t agree with you enough about having less interested people about more people that don’t engage. That’s why I think it always best to look at subscriber numbers in terms of percentages versus total numbers.

      Total clicks means so much less than the percentage of click versus list size…


  7. creative post. Love the way you related Zombie subscribers to email list. I know that some people just subscribe just to get the freebie!

    • Shamelle,

      Freebie chasers can be very annoying… That’s why I’m all about giving my list Free Products just NOT in exchange for their subscription.


  8. Hi Ryan,

    That is a great strategy. It is something that I will probably do relatively soon because as my list grows I will want to get rid of those who really don’t want to be on the list!


    • Stacy,

      It’s a very good idea to stay on top of your list… Especially if you’re using a Premium level service like Aweber where the number of subscribers you have could mean a larger fee.


  9. Hm, I hadn’t really considered the option to try to bring a zombie subscriber back to life. I love the concept, though! My newsletter is still so new that I don’t get too many zombie subscribers (I also don’t offer a freebie, which, as you stated, also cuts down on zombie subscribers), but a client of mine (which is called Zombie Response Team, ironically) was getting dozens a day for a couple weeks at one time. We didn’t do anything about it and they seem to be sticking around.

    Thanks for the tips!!

  10. Great that you make aware of those subscribers. Yes, I too get those kind of subscribers, but I delete them myself! They only cost you and don’t get you anything.

  11. I will definitely be trying out these methods. I love the term “Zombie Subscriber” because that is what they really are. Nice.

    • Thanks Jim…

      Couldn’t help myself with the Walking Dead finale just a couple weeks ago. I’ve been dying to write about Zombies… ha!

      Ryan H.

  12. Thanks for your post and for sharing the tip on dealing with Zombie subscribers that Brankica gave you. She is indeed quite clever.

    As for giving away the Free E-book, you definitely brought up some great points. There are pluses and minuses. On the one hand, the blog visitor may visit only ONE TIME. If you don’t get their email, you will lose track of them, they will lose track of you and the relationship is over — for better or for worse. So give them that Free e-book so their first visit is NOT their last visit. On the other hand, I do have to admit, that sometimes I wonder if some of the people on my mailing list are there because they only wanted the Free Stuff and couldn’t care less about getting my blog posts in their email inbox! Definitely something to think about. I’ve heard valid arguments on both sides.

    Thanks for sharing about the Zombie susbscribers, cause we all get ’em!

    ~ Jupiter Jim

    • Jupiter,

      Check out the post that included CommentLuv style… That has some more ideas on the Free eBook thing.

      I definitely understand your dilemma…


      Ryan H.

  13. Ryan,

    Awesome post and not just because I love reading about Zombies (I do). I’m going to try the email sequence idea and get some zombies off my list. I actually have two email systems (I’m transitioning). Also, some people subscribe twice with different email addresses. One way that I’ve avoided unsubscribes and spam for having duplicate emails go out is to put this message at the bottom of my emails:
    “Hi. If you received this twice, please let me know and I will manually delete one of your email addresses. Thanks!”

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Tom,

      Thank you… With everything involving Social Media it seems that when you communicate and up front with people and tell them how to be successful… In this case not subscribing twice… They tend to take the correct action.

      Thanks again!!

      Ryan H.

  14. Very enlightening. I wonder how many zombie subscribers I have.

    Looking at my own practices, I might be guilty of being a Zombie Subscriber, but I do tend to at least open and glance at all the emails for the lists I’m subscribed to.

    Thanks for sharing!

  15. Hi Ryan,

    Very intresting and informative post you shared with us. Zoombie subscribes are really killing our email list. We should check out them. My bad I don’t have Awber, I have feedburner any idea how to check them ?

  16. Chris

    Luckily, I don’t have many subscribers to my blog (yet). But this article has helped me a lot in getting to know different ways to prevent “zombie subscribers” and gain more active subscribers. Thanks!

  17. Kimberly Gauthier

    Great post, Ryan
    I’m most interested in building the list for Keep the Tail Wagging and it’s going well. I’m getting great clicks and I hope that will continue.

    One thing I do is think of what makes me delete/spam/unsubscribe.

    I delete when I don’t realize that it’s a list I signed up for; the topics don’t interest me. I spam when there isn’t an option to unsubscribe, I assume they got my email from someone (not me) and added me to their mailing list. And I unsubscribe when people are only selling to me and when they’re emailing me multiple times a week with their promotions. I’m not going to pay someone $5000 to learn how to leverage Facebook.

    Thanks for this post. I love your writing and how you incorporated one of my favorite monsters into blogging.


  18. Kim,

    First Thank you for your kind words…

    Second, I think the list of reasons that you Unsubscribe/Spam a newsletter is pretty much right in line with most people. Which makes your comment great because everyone should take what you wrote and think about their newsletter campaign. Would you Unsubscribe or Spam your own campaign?


    Ryan H.

  19. Hi Ryan,

    Fantastic insight!

    I had also recently read Pit Underwood’s blog post about how she segmented Aweber to specifically address her “Zombies” and what ended up resulting. This is certainly an eye opener.

    I’m beginning to take better stats of what’s happening in my newsletters too because I simply do not want to put myself through what you described here.

    Thanks for the additional perspective on this. Very helpful info!

    Cat Alexandra

  20. I’m not afraid to admit that I have been a zombie email subscriber at certain times….I bet we’ve all done it at some point in time. I did get the distinct impression that one of the list owners was trying to flush out the dead wood….sort of like the blunt force head trauma you talk about. It was a how to blog list and the final mail I got before I unsubbed was advising me to sign up to a paid survey program with a big juicy affiliate link at the end.

    I am thinking that building a list of buyers is a better option, especially in the IM related niches – sell a cheap cost high value product as it gets raving fans who have shown they will flash their credit card about.

  21. Must engage them as well.
    Zombies need to be eliminated as well, since they don’t help with anything, such as sharing, promoting, etc…

  22. I really give an ebook to atract new subscribers, and you are right, I have tons of these Zombies that never read one of my messages, thanks for your suggestions!

  23. agree with the article but i don’t think that we should we remove such subscribers because usually advertisers also see number of subscribers before purchasing ad spot or review spot so i think we should kept these subscribers instead of just deleting them feed. You can also make another mailing list to make active and profiltabe list

  24. also i would suggest to use aweber to send emails to subscribers. You can find the active subscribers by emailing them a news of giveaway or discount :)

  25. Hi,

    Ryan great job you have done now a days email subscribe is the most important way to get back the user on there blog and they buy many email list from fake or not reliable company and they give them grab email list which are useless, but your topic is good with fully loaded features.


  26. I really like your idea of regularly reviewing your list and looking for people who have not opened the last 3, 4, or 5 emails you have sent. With the way these email management services work, you have to pay by the email account. So, why pay for someone to be on your list when they aren’t even reading your emails. This is a great money saving tip! Thanks, I’m going to be scanning my email subscription list today.