How to Handle Newsletter Unsubscribes


This post is by Clint Watson, former art gallery owner and founder of BoldBrush, known for FASO Artist Websites, the leading provider of professional artist websites, the $38,000+ BoldBrush Art Contest & Exhibit and the free daily art marketing newsletter, FineArtViews. As a self-proclaimed “art fanatic”, Clint delights that BoldBrush’s downtown San Antonio, Texas office is full of original art, as is his home office which he shares with his two feline assistants Kiara and Lilly. You can connect with Clint on TwitterFacebook or his personal blog at




We’ve focused a lot over the past few articles on how to encourage people to subscribe to your email newsletter. But what happens when people want to unsubscribe?

All email lists to decay over time. By “decay”, I mean that email addresses that were once active, engaged subscribers become inactive and those addresses are no longer addresses you can send your newsletters to. That is why it is important to have a plan for continually adding new subscribers.

Don’t try and fight that natural list decay. Instead, accept that it is a natural part of marketing via email and plan accordingly.

List decay happens when people abandon email addresses, change jobs (and lose access to their work email), forget they have an address, lose their domain names (which affects their email), get locked out of their email accounts, mark your emails as spam (either accidentally or intentionally), or from a myriad of other causes.

A big part of this natural list decay is made up of people who simply unsubscribe from your list. When this happens, it’s not the end of the world.

It’s part of the “cost” of your email marketing program. And, given how inexpensive email is to send, this is a very reasonable cost.

.2% is the Normal Unsubscribe Rate

The normal, acceptable unsubscribe rate is about .2%.

That means it’s acceptable to have 2 people unsubscribe out of every 1000 emails you send. 2 / 1,000 = .2%.   

For example, at FineArtViews, we send approximately 70,000 emails a day.

That means we could acceptably have up to 140 unsubscribes a day, although, after years and years of refining our list, the actual number is more like 30-40.


If your list is smaller than 1,000, then you calculate the rate over multiple newsletters.  Let’s say your list is 100 people.  That means you would have to send ten newsletters to reach 1,000 emails sent.  (100 subscribers X 10 newsletters = 1,000 emails sent).  In that case, your acceptable unsubscribe rate is 2 people for every 10 newsletters sent.  Keep in mind, in practice, the rates can appear to vary a lot more with very small lists because small lists are such a small statistical sample. 

According to Mailchimp data, the average unsubscribe rate for the “art and artists” category is .28%.  This is slightly higher than my rule of thumb of .2%, so, in practice, anywhere from .2 – .3% is probably acceptable.

What I mean by “acceptable” is if you lose 2-3 subscribers for every 1,000 emails you send, then don’t worry about it.

If you lose a little more than 2-3 subscribers per 1,000 emails sent, then you probably want to investigate.



How to Reduce Your Unsubscribe Rate

And if you lose a lot more than .3%, then you probably need to either change how you acquire new subscribers or change and refine the content of your email campaigns. Or both.

If you are gaining your subscribers via invasive or manipulative techniques such as invasive in-your-face popups, misleading Facebook ads, buying a mailing list, or by simply adding people to your list without permission – your unsubscribe rate (and spam complaint rate) will go up. Don’t use those techniques to build your list.

Your content can also definitely affect your unsubscribe rate. If people subscribe to your list expecting updates about your art, and you start sending rants about one political party or the other, then your unsubscribe rate will go up quite a bit.

Your best bet, in most cases, is to stick to updates and stories about your art. If you feel that you absolutely must talk about a controversial subject (especially if your art is about that subject), then it’s OK to make an exception and send such content. But if you do, just know that the “cost” of that decision will be a higher unsubscribe rate.

Unsubscribe Rates on Cold Email Lists

A “cold” email list is one that you haven’t been sending to for months or even years.

The unsubscribe rate numbers outlined in the previous section are benchmarks for active lists that you have been sending to regularly . By regularly I mean at least once a month.

If you’ve been sitting on an older mailing list and suddenly start sending newsletters, your unsubscribe rate will be higher, perhaps much higher for your first few campaigns. That’s normal and to be accepted.

If you are in this situation and you have a list but haven’t used it in a long time, don’t judge the unsubscribe (and bounce) numbers until you’re a bit into your campaign.  As I said earlier, lists get stale and become “cold” over time, so your unsubscribe rates will be higher at first. Simply accept that, and wait 3-4 newsletters to evaluate the true health of your list.

How do you know your unsubscribe rate


To measure your unsubscribe rate, you absolutely have to know who unsubscribed.

That means you cannot and should not send your newsletters with your regular email program using the BCC field for all your subscribers.

Seriously.  Don’t. Do. That.    It will violate the Acceptable Use Policy of most mailbox providers and will put you at risk of having your email box deactivated. We host thousands of email boxes used by visual artists, so we are in a position to see what happens when people break the use policy of the mailbox provider.  Trust me.  You don’t want to do it.  Our mailbox provider fairly regularly shuts down artist email boxes for breaking this rule. (We work with the artist in those cases to get the artist set up properly for email marketing, and help get their boxes reactivated).

What you need to use is an Email Service Provider (ESP) that specializes in sending email newsletters. ESPs are services such as Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Constant Contact, or ArtfulMail, which, if you’re a FASO customer, automatically integrates with your website. All of these programs will tell you your unsubscribe rate and specifically who unusbscribed.

What should you do when someone unsubscribes?

First off, don’t get upset and don’t take it personally. People are busy, sometimes they decide they want to get less email. I’ve often unsubscribed from lists before a vacation and re-subscribed at some later time.

In fact, you should be somewhat grateful when people unsubscribe “properly”.

A regular unsubscribe is much better than people silently filtering your campaigns out of their inbox (reducing your open rate) or worse, reporting your newsletter as “spam.”  Considerate unsubscribers make it easy for you to protect your sender reputation.

Secondly, if the person who unsubscribed was a personal friend or contact, then realize you can still occasionally reach out to them via regular email, by sending them a direct personal email. You are allowed to send a personal email at any time to anyone you personally know. But be very very selective about what you send and who you do this with if you choose to continue sending emails to a person who has unsubscribed.

Sending personal emails to someone who has unsubscribed is something you will have to decide on a case-by-case basis. Absolutely do NOT send anyone who has unsubscribed a copy of your newsletter.

You should only make this exception for those people you have a high degree of certainty would like to hear from you personally but just don’t want a regular newsletter.

A great example of a type of person who would warrant such an exception: Many artists probably have great past collectors on their personal contact lists who would love to hear directly from the artist about specific new artworks, but who don’t want to receive a regular newsletter. Respect that and work with that. Those people are your best prospects for future sales. But the way you approach them must be a separate marketing plan that does not rely on your regular newsletter.

Lastly, it’s imperative that you remove unsubscribed emails from your list. Immediately. If you continue to send to those addresses, then those people will mark you as a spammer and those spam reports will hurt your sending reputation.


If you’re following our recommendation to use a real Email Service Provider (ESP), then this removal process is automatic (except in the rare case someone replies to you with the classic “STOP SPAMMING ME!” reply).

Finally, as I said previously, if you have a list but haven’t used it in a long time, don’t judge the unsubscribe (and bounce) numbers until you’re a bit into your campaign. 


For my latest thoughts on art marketing, art sales ideas, and insider announcements about new FASO features we are working on and releasing, you should Follow me on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.  That’s where I publish ideas and opportunities in real time.  Be the first to know.

Until next time, please remember that Fortune Favors the Bold Brush.





Clint Watson

BoldBrush/FASO Founder & Art Fanatic

PS:  If your website provider doesn’t have a built in ESP, you should give FASO a try.  As mentioned, it’s integrated into your site, so no extra hoops to jump through.  It’s free for 30 days.


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