We often make New Year’s resolutions to diet and exercise. And it should be no different for email marketers. In fact, the bulked up sending we do during the holidays can have dire consequences for engagement once things settle down in the new year. The effects of a heavy holiday send cadence are most damaging with Gmail, where a low open rate can cause  your messages to wind up in the spam folder. I’ve actually seen a case where the first message in a cart recovery series – which is a transactional message – was sent to the spam folder. While this is a very rare example, you only need to take a look at your own spam folder in Gmail for confirmation of this phenomena. Yes, in addition to Nigerian royalty offering you a windfall of money, you’ll likely find emails you subscribed for but have not seen – much less opened – in ages.

Identify the Unengaged

When trying to improve engagement, it’s important to clean up these contacts. Most email service providers give you a way to identify those who haven’t opened your emails in X number of days/weeks/years or opened the past X number of messages. One year of un-engagement is a great starting point. Every business has a “busy season,” but these contacts were nowhere to be found during that time. They didn’t pass go or collect their $200. They are completely unengaged. Based on the Gmail example above, it’s likely they’re not even seeing your emails anymore. No need to waste send volume on them and kill your hard-earned reputation by adding mail to their spam folder.

Adopt a New Strategy or Cut Them Loose?

Easy enough, right? But once you have identified those contacts, what do you do with them? One option: Mark them as unsubscribed, or remove them from your email list altogether. Most marketers, however, are very uncomfortable doing this. They point out that these subscribers signed up at one point, so they do have the right to continue emailing them. Here’s a suggestion: Add these contacts to a low engagement segment. This way, you can throttle them from your regular sends, but still market to them! You simply reduce the sends to only your absolute best offers. Email them once a month or 2-4 times per quarter. These sends will continue to have low open rates; however, your will see big improvements with your other sends in terms of engagement and a better overall open rate.

To Re-Engage or Not to Re-Engage?

You may be wondering, “Can’t I just add these unengaged contacts to a re-engagement series?” In my experience, this group is so unengaged that the effort to run a re-engagement campaign isn’t really going to pay off. It’s best to focus this type of campaign on subscribers who are just starting to fall into the deep, dark abyss of total un-engagement. My colleague Kellie Boggs suggests anyone who hasn’t opened in 3-6 months as an ideal target for a re-engagement campaign that culminates with a make-up or break-up ultimatum. Maintaining a marketing calendar is a great way to determine which messages these unengaged subscribers should receive. Then, once they open, they should be removed from that segment and included in your regular email cadence.

Final Thoughts

This process is one of the easiest ways to boost your open rates. You should see positive results as soon as your first message, and if you pursue this path consistently, your open rates will start to soar and help you stay in the good graces of Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and yes, even AOL. Just be sure you have a plan in place to replace those unengaged contacts. Your best bet: a tried-and-true list growth tool, such as a pop-up sign-up. And once on board, get those new contacts fully engaged with a personalized welcome series.