Why You Might Be Paying For Fake Email Subscribers (!!!)

By Lisa Irby

If you collect emails to communicate with your audience (and I hope you aren’t ignoring this strategy like I did for so long), you need to pay attention to this…
The good news:  My email open rates aren’t as low as I originally thought.
The bad news:  A handful of my confirmed subscribers in the last several months are fake and costing me money.
The same could be happening to you, and I’m going to show you how to check this.


You do know that the bigger your email list becomes, the more you pay, right? Theoretically this shouldn’t bother you because as your list grows, the income grows too.
But if you start attracting fake subscribers, suddenly a growing list takes on a whole new meaning.  You end up paying for dead emails.
And I recently discovered how bad the fake email problem is with my list when I examined my new, confirmed subscribers.
But let me back up a bit…
In this podcast where I talked about selling online courses, you might remember me discussing how I’m working to improve my email open rates. When I wasn’t sending emails regularly it was under 10% when I eventually sent something out.
That’s horrible, I know.  But when you check the industry averages, you’ll see that open rates for almost any industry are in the 20s.
Then I started sending emails more regularly to announce blog posts and podcasts. Then my open rate increased to the 25-30% range, and even higher when I sent out emails ONLY to those who subscribedAFTER I started sending regularly.
Well, that’s all fine and good, but let me tell you why the above stats don’t mean diddly, and my average open rate percentages are better than I originally thought.


I recently noticed that my email subscription rate was on the rise.  I thought that was pretty cool, especially since there was no big increase in traffic. Some days it gets up to 50-60 new sign-ups when my daily average had been around 30 or so.
Whoo hoooo!
Then I took a closer look and noticed something suspicious about the sign-ups.
About 35% of my new email subscribers were from India and Pakistan, but those countries make up a very small percentage of my overall site visits.
Unless certain countries perfer email over others, you would expect your country demographics for your email list to look similar to your site demographics.
I suspected spambots were the culprit.  So I called AWeber Support and they concluded that many were bots based on the pattern, timing, etc.
And these spammers are very methodical about the whole process.  They’ve done their AWeber homework!  Let me explain…
I learned that AWeber has a back-end system in place where if an attempt is made from the same IP address within 3 minutes, they will block the subscriber.  But many of the registrations were coming in at 4 minutes apart.  So they’ve figured out AWeber’s time limit and are able to “beat” the system and subscribe.
The other problem is that taking actions on spammers based on IP addresses is very ineffective because they use proxies.  That means they use different IP addresses, and some don’t even match their actual location.
Blocking Spammers By IP Address is Worthless
That’s why WordPress plugins like Limited Login Attempts that block spammers based on IP logins, are not as helpful as some people think. Once an IP is blocked, the spammer will just use another.
The truth is, spammers are always three steps ahead of us.  By the time CAPTCHAs, spam plugins and other anti-spam products and services come out, they’ve already found a way to get around them and are working on the next exploit.
So we’re constantly in reactive mode and it’s very frustrating! :(


My list has a two-step opt in process.  That means in order to receive my emails, you have to confirm the email address.  That subscriber is not counted by AWeber until the address is confirmed.
Confirmed Opt-Ins
If I didn’t have this in place, the fake subscriber problem would be ten times worse!
Most email services don’t charge you if the subscriber doesn’t confirm.  And in the past, spambots never completed the 2nd step so the address was deleted in 30 days.
Well times are-a-changin’ and now it appears the bots are indeed completing the email confirmation step some kind of way (I have this issue on my forum too.)  That means I am paying for fake subscribers.


If you have a newer AWeber account (you signed up within the last few years), the simple solution is to prune email addresses that haven’t opened your email in X amount of mailings.
That will get rid of these addresses since spambots are not going to open any of your emails.
But if you have a grandfathered account with an awesome price like me, that feature is not available. I can still delete manually using filters, but that takes forever.
However, since it appears I’m getting quite a few fake sign-ups, it may be worth upgrading and then pruning my list.
No matter what service you use, there is probably some kind of pruning option.
You can start by checking for patterns. If you use AWeber, login to your account and click the Subscribers tab.
For example, if your site has mostly U.S. visits and customers, but you see a disproportionate amount of subscribers from other countries, that could be a red flag.
AWeber Subscribers


Spambots target online forms, period.  Submitting to them is an automated process that is done quickly and easily by a script.
Perhaps they are harvesting the “from” address of the list owner in the welcome email so they can sell it or spam them later. Who knows?  But it’s definitely happening more and more.


I hear a lot of people say that email marketing is just not worth the hassle due to issues like this, filters, open rates declining, etc.
Well, I disagree. Despite any challenges I’ve had with email marketing, my list is profitable. I earn more from my list than what I’m paying AWeber every month.
So for me, it’s just a matter of making it even MORE profitable by correcting issues like this and working to improve conversions, etc.  Not to mention, my list plays a big role in bringing traffic to my blog posts.
I also want to emphasize the benefit of having a niche site.  2 Create a Website is NOT a niche website. I cover everything from starting a website to AdSense, YouTube, WordPress tips etc. People subscribe for different types of content and may not tune in to every article.
On the other hand, my email open rates for my hair site are always 80% or higher. Yes, 80% is almost unheard of for email open rates these days.
Because it’s more of a hobby site, I don’t send out emails that often.  In fact, I didn’t start collecting emails right away.  But take a look at the stats from an email I sent in December.
Open Rate

Even though my mailing schedule is sporadic, I still get great results.
When you have a very specific audience, it’s much easier to target content to them because you know more about their needs and interests.  Trust me. Your conversions will be much higher with email, affiliate marketing, etc.
Email is FAR from dead!  It’s just about getting better with engagement.


Even though I’m a bit bummed about the fact my list is not growing as fast as I thought; at least I know why my open rates appear worse than they really are.
And I want to say, I’m not picking on everyone in the countries I mentioned because I’ve got some loyal readers and customers from those locations. However, when your stats and demographics don’t add up, it’s time to investigate.
In any event, I hope you don’t have the same problem!  Check on it because it could be costing you more money.  Prune your list regularly to get rid of inactive subscribers and keep those costs down.
AWeber’s support team is working with my account to help me get my list cleaned up.  [sigh]  :(