Re-Engagement Emails: Examples and Best Practices to Win Back Subscribers

Illustration by Mary Delaney Illustration of a satellite sending information to a planet

If you’re like a lot of email marketers, you’re probably always focused on finding new ways to grow your lists and attract new subscribers. But what about keeping the subscribers that you already have?

Email list churn, or decay, is a real problem, with many lists losing 25-50% of subscribers in a year.

Beyond people unsubscribing (“transparent churn”), which is easy to track, you might also have people who churn because they stop engaging with your emails (“opaque churn”), which can be much more difficult to track because these people are still technically “subscribed”.

By sending re-engagement emails, you have a chance to win back those unengaged subscribers and get them to start opening and clicking your emails again.

Or, at the very least, you’ll be able to accurately clean your lists of unengaged subscribers who stopped opening emails but haven’t unsubscribed.

Basically, it’s a win either way, so it’s definitely worth putting in the time to learn how re-engagement emails work.

In this post, we’re going to make that easy for you because we’re going to go over all the important details:

  • What re-engagement emails are
  • Why re-engagement emails are important
  • Best practices for sending re-engagement emails, along with real-life examples
  • How to easily start sending re-engagement emails with MailPoet

What is a re-engagement email?

A re-engagement email is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

It’s an email (or often a sequence of emails) that’s designed to re-engage subscribers who have stopped engaging with your regular emails, as measured by engagement metrics such as click rate, open rate (if available), and so on.

In a perfect world, every single subscriber would open every single email and click on every single call to action.

But in the real world, it’s easy for subscribers to start tuning you out.

There are a lot of reasons why people might stop engaging. Some of those reasons are things that you could maybe improve on while others are just totally out of your hands. Here are some examples:

  • You send too many emails and people are tuning them out.
  • Your emails aren’t relevant to what the subscriber is interested in.
  • Your subscribers’ inboxes are packed full of emails from other brands.
  • Your subscribers really are interested in what you offer, but they’ve been really busy lately and kind of just forgot about you.
  • …you get the idea.

Re-engagement emails are emails that are designed to win back these unengaged subscribers and get them interested in what you have to offer again. For that reason, you’ll also see these types of emails called win-back emails.

Or, for some reason, you’ll find lots of people calling these emails The Divine Jackfruit. It really is a thing, though we’re not sure why. We’re going to stick with “re-engagement email” in this post.

Why are re-engagement emails important?

Having a large percentage of unengaged subscribers on your email lists can be bad for a couple of reasons:

  • You can reduce your sender reputation if you’re constantly sending emails to people who don’t engage with them (or have marked you as spam).
  • Your costs are higher because that subscriber is taking up space on your list. Most email marketing services bill you based on the number of subscribers that you have, so unengaged subscribers are just wasting money and forcing you to pay for a more expensive plan.

Most importantly, if you’re selling products or services, it’s generally easier to re-engage an existing customer than it is to find a new customer, so you could be leaving money on the table by not trying to connect with these people.

Re-engagement emails and Apple’s iOS 15 update

To complicate matters further, it’s also becoming more difficult to actually figure out whether subscribers are even engaged in the first place. This is thanks to some privacy-focused changes that Apple made to email tracking in iOS 15.

We have a whole post on how the iOS 15 update affects email marketing, but here are the basic ideas:

  • It’s difficult to accurately track open rates for people using Apple Mail, so it can be hard to tell whether or not people are opening your emails. You can still see if people click in the email, but you can’t track if Apple users open the email without clicking. This makes it hard to rely on open rates alone as a metric for engaged subscribers.
  • Apple has made it easy for people to hide their real email addresses by letting them create unique, disableable emails that forward to their actual address. Subscribers could have disabled the dummy email without bothering to unsubscribe, which means it’s impossible to tell whether they’re still receiving emails from you.

So, in addition to winning back subscribers, re-engagement email campaigns can also help you verify that people really are engaged in a post-iOS 15 world.

Re-engagement emails are a win-win

To sum up, re-engagement emails are definitely a win-win situation.

If your re-engagement email succeeds in winning back a subscriber, that’s a success because your list now has more engaged subscribers. This is the ideal scenario and, hopefully, your emails work to win back every single unengaged subscriber.

But even if your re-engagement emails don’t win back every single subscriber, it’s still a win because you can now feel confident in deleting those subscribers from your list.

Sure, it’s not as much of a win as re-engaging a subscriber, but at least you’ll now have a cleaner list, reduced sending costs, more accurate analytics, and a better sender reputation.

Nine best practices for sending re-engagement emails (plus real examples!)

Now that you know what re-engagement emails are, let’s go over some re-engagement email best practices that you should consider when you’re setting up these campaigns.

Along with this, we’ll share some real-life re-engagement email examples from brands implementing these best tactics. That way, you’ll have some inspiration to go along with the best practices.

Then, in the next section, we’ll show you how you can actually set up your re-engagement emails in MailPoet using MailPoet’s new re-engagement campaign type.

1. Define when subscribers are “unengaged” and create segments

The first step in sending re-engagement campaigns is to make sure you’ve accurately set up your segments so that you really are only sending emails to unengaged customers.

That brings up an important question:

How do you define what an unengaged subscriber is? Is it someone who hasn’t engaged with an email in a week? A month? Two months? A year?

Well, there’s no single “right” answer here, but most experts recommend using around one or two months as the bare minimum of when to consider a subscriber “unengaged”. You’ll also see people recommend longer periods such as six months or even up to a year.

If you’re using MailPoet, the new re-engagement campaign type makes it easy to automatically target subscribers who haven’t engaged in a certain period of time. All you do is choose the cutoff and MailPoet will handle everything else for you (more on this below).

If you’re using a different email marketing service, you’ll need to see if that tool offers something similar or you might need to manually create segments or tags to target unengaged subscribers.

2. Send a sequence rather than a standalone email

As a general guideline, re-engagement emails are generally best sent in a sequence rather than a single email, though this isn’t a hard rule.

Most experts recommend sending about 3-4 emails as part of your sequence but feel free to adjust this to your site’s specific needs.

You typically want the emails to build on one another. So you might start with just a nudge and end with a clear email that tells people they’ll be removed from the list if they don’t engage (in a nice way, of course).

3. Offer an incentive (if applicable)

One great way to win back unengaged subscribers is to sweeten the deal with some type of incentive.

If you have an eCommerce store or sell any type of products or services, the obvious incentive is a sale or discount. You could give them a special coupon with the goal of enticing them back to make another purchase.

GoDaddy isn’t doing anything fancy in this email – just a straight-up “bribe” to keep people engaged:

GoDaddy re-engagement email

For informational sites, you could offer some special content upgrade if they re-engage or maybe a free course.

Note – we’ve sourced this example, and many of our other re-engagement email examples, from the excellent Really Good Emails website.

4. Reinforce your value

If someone took the effort to sign up to your list in the first place, they probably have at least some interest in what you have to offer.

That means a re-engagement email can be a good spot to reinforce those values that convinced them to subscribe in the first place.

If they think you’re not living up to your values, this might not work. But a lot of people might’ve just naturally forgotten about you in their busy inboxes so reminding them why they signed up can be a great strategy to generate interest again.

This email from Airbnb does a great job of convincing potential hosts to re-engage by highlighting their potential earnings. Most people host on Airbnb for the money, so Airbnb is reinforcing that benefit by including the average earnings in the email:

Airbnb re-engagement email for hosts

5. Highlight new benefits/values (if applicable)

If you’ve added new value or benefits recently, another great win-back strategy is to showcase these new features so that subscribers can see that they’re now getting more than they were when they originally signed up.

For example, maybe you recently launched a new feature that you think people will love. Or, maybe you launched a new course that you think people might be interested in.

You could send a re-engagement email that highlights the value of your new offerings with the hopes that it will win back your subscribers.

Here, Clear does a good job of highlighting that they’ve improved their service since the subscriber last engaged, so it might be worth another look:

Clear highlights new value

6. Add some FOMO

FOMO stands for fear of missing out. It’s a pretty powerful motivator because, let’s be honest, no one wants to miss out on cool stuff that’s happening to other people!

If someone unsubscribes from your list, they’ll quite literally be missing out on what you have to offer. So – don’t be afraid to put a little fear into them – in a friendly way, of course!

The way that Other Goose phrases this re-engagement email is a great way to do things – “Click Here to Restore Access”:

Other Goose re-engagement emails

Without being negative, Other Goose makes it seem like subscribers will be missing out on something they’ve been enjoying (access) if they don’t re-engage.

7. Let people optimize their experience

In some situations, it might not be that subscribers aren’t interested in hearing anything from you; it might just be that they don’t want to hear everything from you.

That is, they might only be interested in certain types of content that you send, which is why they generally aren’t engaging with the other content.

One useful strategy here is to create segments or lists that let people subscribe to specific interests. Then, you can use your re-engagement campaign to give people the chance to update their interests.

For example, take this email from Matt D’Avella. This email isn’t technically a re-engagement email, but it demonstrates this principle very well. 

Matt launched a YouTube course that he was marketing to his regular lists. Personally, I’m interested in his regular emails, but I’m never planning to create a YouTube channel, so I didn’t find these specific emails to be very engaging. That’s why it’s nice that Matt adds an easy option at the top to stop receiving emails about his YouTube courses:

Matt D'Avella unsubscribe from certain content

By giving me this option to customize what emails I receive, Matt keeps me engaged with his other content and opening his other emails. 

If you give your subscribers the same choices, you can keep them engaged with the content that they like.

8. Play around with emotion

If it fits your branding, incorporating emotion into your re-engagement emails can be a fun way to connect with customers.

Typically, most brands will go with the “sad” angle when adding emotions.

For example, Duolingo, the language learning app, is already pretty playful with its cartoon owl. In their re-engagement emails, Duolingo plays things up further by having the owl crying and standing in a puddle of tears:

Duolingo sad owl

Google Local Guides does something similar with a cute sad dog:

Google Local Guides sad dog email

Does this approach work if you’re Salesforce (or another B2B company)? Probably not. But in B2C markets or industries where you have a close connection with your followers, this type of emotion can be a great strategy.

9. Make it easy for subscribers to opt out

In some cases, people might just really not be interested in receiving emails from you anymore. That’s ok – you can’t please everyone!

In these situations, no amount of quality copywriting and email best practices will convince them to engage.

So, rather than annoying these people, make it easy for them to remove their email from your list.

As an example of this, you can check out one of MailPoet’s re-engagement email templates, which includes a clear option for people to unsubscribe right away:

MailPoet re-engagement template

Speaking of MailPoet…

How to set up re-engagement emails in MailPoet

Now that you know all of the best practices for re-engagement emails, let’s talk about how you can set up these types of campaigns using MailPoet.

In MailPoet version 3.74.2 (released in late 2021), we added a brand new re-engagement email type designed to make it easy to run your own re-engagement campaigns. 

Instead of trying to manually set up your own custom engagement tracking, all you need to do is choose the time to consider a subscriber unengaged, customize your email using MailPoet’s builder, and you’re ready to go.

Here’s how it works…

1. Create a new engagement email and choose timing

To begin, go to MailPoet → Emails and click the Set up button under the new Re-engagement Emails option:

How to create new re-engagement emails in MailPoet

On the next screen, you can choose when you want to send the email.

The default setting is to send the email five months after a subscriber has had no activity, which is a good starting point for most sites. 

However, you can also adjust this number higher or lower as needed. You can also set the timing in weeks instead of months.

When to send re-engagement emails

2. Customize your email template

On the next screen, you can choose from MailPoet’s premade re-engagement email templates. 

When we’re writing this guide, there are two different templates:

  • Confirm your interest or unsubscribe – people have two options. They can click the button to stay subscribed to your list or click the link to unsubscribe right away.
  • Confirm interest before deactivation – the template only highlights one option to stay subscribed. There’s still an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email, but it isn’t highlighted in the body.
Premade templates

Once you choose a template for your starting point, you’ll be able to fully customize its content using MailPoet’s visual builder:

MailPoet visual email builder interface

When you’re happy with the design, click Next to advance to the final settings page.

3. Activate your re-engagement campaign

On the last screen, you’ll be able to perform a few final housekeeping steps.

For example, you can choose one or more lists to target with this re-engagement campaign. You could use the same re-engagement email for all of your lists or you could create unique re-engagement campaigns for different lists – it’s totally up to you.

Once you’re happy with the settings here, click the Activate button to make your re-engagement campaign live:

Finalize re-engagement campaign

Now, MailPoet will automatically send your re-engagement emails to people who meet your inactivity condition. You won’t need to lift another finger and you’ll be able to enjoy cleaner, more accurate lists.

If you want to create multiple re-engagement emails in a sequence, you can repeat the same steps above to create another email with different timing.

How to manage your re-engagement emails

If you ever want to disable or edit your re-engagement emails, you can go to MailPoet → Emails → Re-engagement emails.

You can use the Status toggle to quickly enable or disable a campaign and you can hover over an email and click Edit to adjust its content and settings:

How to manage re-engagement campaigns

Get started with re-engagement emails today!

If you want to maximize your email marketing efforts, re-engagement emails are an important tactic to implement.

There’s really no downside to sending them.

If you manage to win back an unengaged subscriber, that’s just as much of a win as getting a new subscriber in the first place.

And even if you don’t succeed in winning back all your subscribers, you’ll at least be able to clean your lists of people who really have no interest in what you offer. That means lowered costs, improved sending reputation, and more accurate engagement analytics.

After Apple’s iOS 15 update, re-engagement emails are even more important because of how Apple has made it harder for email marketers to track accurate open data and easier for people to hide their real email addresses.

Best of all, sending re-engagement emails isn’t complex or time-consuming. With MailPoet’s new re-engagement email type, you can easily set up your own re-engagement emails in minutes by following the tutorial above.

If you’re already using MailPoet, set up your first re-engagement email campaign to try it out.

And if you’re not using MailPoet yet, head to the MailPoet homepage to learn more about how MailPoet can help you achieve your email marketing goals without leaving your WordPress dashboard.

Do you still have any questions about re-engagement emails or how to use MailPoet’s new re-engagement email type? Let us know in the comments!