5 Steps to Revive a Dead Email List

John Davier
John Davier

Last updated on

February 8, 2023

There’s no easy way to admit that your email list is dead.

You often don’t realize it immediately. It can take several emails to realize it. You see only a few opens, no clicks, and no action. Then you realize: it’s dead.

You wonder what went wrong. You go through the five stages of grief (and for too many companies, the bargaining phase is cringeworthy). It seems like there’s nowhere to go from here and nothing to do.

Thankfully, you can revive a dead list. What is now a wasteland can become an active downtown if you go the extra mile to make it happen.

Revitalizing a dead list isn’t an easy process––it’s hard work. You have to put in the time and effort to get your list back to life. But if you’re after a list full of active subscribers, these steps will work wonders for you.

Here are 5 steps to reviving a dead list:

1. Diagnose the cause of death.

The first step is to conduct a thorough postmortem analysis. What happened to your list? Was it a freak accident or a degenerative problem?

These are some of the most common causes of list death:

Starvation. Have you been stingy in the past? If you’ve withheld value from your subscribers, that’s probably why your list died. Starvation happens when you don’t offer your subscribers anything they want. If there’s no incentive for someone to be on your list, they’ll unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam. You have to earn your way into inboxes.

Boredom. Being bored might not kill people, but it does kill email lists. If you send out the same newsletter every week and never do anything special, you could be boring the brains out of your subscribers.

Annoyance. Just as doing too little is lethal, so is doing too much. In a survey referenced by Campaign Monitor, 53 percent of customers felt they received too many emails. Bombarding your users’ inboxes is perhaps the fastest way to kill a list, and it’s a far too common cause of list death.

Apathy. Eric Dezendorf from Marketing Land says that “when people churn from a list, it’s generally because they stopped caring about your content.” If you’re starving, boring, or annoying people, you’re probably causing them to become apathetic about your content. In other words, the negatives of your list are greater than the positives.

2. Get a plan together.

Now that you’ve figured out why your list died, make a plan to remedy that problem. You’ll need to give lots of value to your subscribers (see #3) and then maintain your email list the right way.

At this step, it’s a good idea to create an email calendar. Decide how often you’ll send content and what kind of content you’ll send. Applying best practices here will prevent you from making your subscribers hungry, bored, annoyed, or apathetic.

Brush up on your subscriber base, and investigate your users’ demographics and psychographics. (If you have none of this info, you can get it in #4.)

Don’t skimp on this step––get to know your subscribers better than ever before. You’ll need to exceed their expectations if you want to get your list back.

3. Give away something valuable.

People love free stuff, and your subscribers are no exception. Freebies can take a list from 0 to 60 if you do it right.

But here’s the catch: You have to make sure your list cares about your freebie. You don’t want people to take your offer just to get something free and then never engage with your emails again.

To make sure your subscribers love your free offer, you have to jam-pack it full of value. In fact, after you’re done, you should feel like you’re giving away too much. Giving away so much value is an easy way to reestablish authority with your list.

The possibilities are endless. You could host a free webinar with no sales pitch or give away a short (but value-packed) ebook full of some of your best actionable ideas.

4. Get subscribers in on the action.

Now, you need a strong call-to-action to get your subscribers to listen. Your list may be dead, but you still have an audience to speak to. Your message just has to be compelling enough, and that’s where your free offer comes in.

But how do you get a dead list to respond at all? The best way is with an eye-catching subject line. Don’t resort to clickbait, but craft a subject line that will grab your subscribers’ attention.

Once your subscribers open your email, they need to take an action. You have a few choices here:

Ask them to take a survey. If you have no information on your subscribers, you can fix that with a survey. After a subscriber has provided you crucial data, you can reward them by customizing your free offer to meet their needs. That’s important––make sure subscribers know what waits them after the survey.

Get them to register. If you’re holding an event like a webinar, you can prompt users to sign up for it. One-click signup is best, since you don’t want to make your subscribers jump through hoops to get their freebie.

Give them the freebie. You can also use this chance to give subscribers your free offer. If you’re giving away something like an ebook or template, this is a great opportunity to present that to your subscribers. It’s a good idea to follow up and send one or two more emails in a week’s time to make sure your subscribers have seen your offer.

5. Deliver and overdeliver

After you’ve given away your freebie, you should see higher engagement on your list. This means you’ve perked the ears of your subscribers again. Don’t let them down.

Stick to your email schedule and send out emails on a regular basis. Every email should provide something valuable, even if it’s something small. Now that you’ve regained your audience’s attention, you have to keep it, and that means taking your standards of quality to the next level.

But what if you’re still seeing inactive subscribers? Even after you do all of this, you’ll most likely still have some unresponsive subscribers. If engagement and interaction rates still stay low, it's time todelete inactive email subscribers. This way you’ll ensure that you’re keeping only the active subscribers.


Reviving a dead list is all about injecting value. Your subscribers need to associate your emails with massive value. Study your subscribers, make a free offer that’s irresistible, and follow up with regular emails with content your subscribers will love. Keep the value bar high, and your subscribers will be happier than ever before.

Author Bio

John Davier

Content marketing guru at Mailmunch. I’m passionate about writing content that resonates with people. Live simply, give generously, stay happy.


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