Maintaining List Hygiene to Enhance Email Marketing Strategy

Written by: Chris Donald

Published on: 01-05-2018

Chris is Managing Partner at InboxArmy and has more than 25 years of experience in email marketing

If Harry Potter had reached platform 9 or 10 instead of platform 9 ¾, would he have been able to catch the Hogwarts Express? In other terms, if your email campaign does not reach the right email addresses, you miss “catching the right train” to effective engagement and conversions.

List hygiene is a simplistic way of saying that you should be constantly watching for and keeping the right email addresses on your list at all times.  If you are planning a targeted, personalized email campaign, list hygiene is a crucial first step. Without it, it doesn’t matter how good your strategy is, how ingenious your creative is—if it doesn’t go to the right “platform,” it won’t make a lick of difference.

How important is list hygiene?

  • List hygiene ensures better delivery.
  • Better delivery means better overall deliverability (meaning inbox placement)
  • Better deliverability means more people seeing your messages.
  • More people seeing your message means better chances (we hope) for opens, clicks, conversions, and ultimately, revenue.

It all starts with your list. So, let’s look at how you can maintain good list hygiene:

Get Rid of Hard Bounces

Bad email addresses are just that: bad. People change jobs, change email addresses, mistype their own email addresses, or frankly, give you fake addresses to collect on something of use. Continuing to mail to bad email addresses does you no good.

(Note: Many email service providers will remove bad email addresses for you. But, in the event they don’t, you should stay on top of it.)

There are two main types of bounces you need to be aware of:

Now, there are two types of bounces that you ought to know:

  • Hard bounce: A non-existent email or domain name could lead to a send bounce. This is segmented as a hard bounce.
  • Soft bounce: A temporary delivery issue such as offline server or a full inbox could lead to a bounce. This is registered as a soft bounce.

Hard bounces need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Soft bounces should be handled if an address continues to soft bounce after several sends. Your frequency will determine how quickly you deal with soft bounces—namely if you mail monthly, you may wait longer than if you mail daily.

Segment Your Actives and Inactives

Removing bad email addresses is step 1. Segmentation by engagement is step 2. If you notice you’re having some delivery issues or drops in opens and clicks, start by segmenting your active subscribers and your inactive subscribers. A great starting definition would be:

  • Active subscribers – Any subscriber who has opened or clicked at least one email from you in the previous 90 days.
  • Inactive subscribers – Any subscriber who has not met the above threshold.

From there, you mail your groups separately for a while and watch the opens of both groups. If you need to, only mail the active group for a while and “rest” your inactive groups.

Re-Engage Your Inactive Groups

With your active/inactive segmentation done, send special campaigns to your inactive group. These campaigns should have different content from your regular mailers—content that will hopefully pique their interest and bring them back into the fold.

It could be special incentives or even a blunt “are you still interested” message. You can automate these emails as well, so as soon as someone qualifies as “inactive,” they would start receiving the special messages.

jack wills email

If these messages don’t move the needle and create fresh engagement, you may consider either putting the non-engaged group into a suppression list or unsubscribing them from your program altogether. Which method you choose is up to you and your business model.

beta list email

Clean Up the Mess Periodically

Clean your list at least once every three to six months. This could mean using third-party vendors to clean your list, taking advantage of your email service providers’ cleaning options, or other options. But a periodic look is necessary.

Note: Check your list for role accounts—any email addresses that start with support@, info@, office@, sales@, etc. These accounts can be harbingers of spam complaints and other delivery issues.

Move to Confirmed Opt-In

If you find you’re seeing more and more bad email addresses end up on your list, it may be time to move from a single opt-in process to a confirmed opt-in process. Sending an email confirmation is a great way to ensure that only good addresses make it onto your list. And anyone who doesn’t click on the confirmation link is removed from your list as well.

That said, don’t make this decision lightly. You could miss out on potentially a large percentage of your new subscribers. Only go this route if you are having delivery problems, other privacy concerns, or a business model case for it. It is also recommended to verify your email list to maintain a good deliverability rate.

Send Better Content

If you send the right content, personalized to the subscriber’s needs, you are more likely to get engagement. Clear and compelling CTAs add to the content’s effectiveness and drive better click-through rates.

Wrapping up

Your email list is not static. Just like everything else in life, there is an ebb and a flow to how a list is built and maintained. Regular list cleaning and hygiene efforts will pay dividends now and on down the line.

What are your list hygiene recommendations?

About Author

Chris sent his first email campaign in 1995. He’s worked directly with Fortune 500 companies, retail giants, nonprofits, SMBs and government agencies in all facets of their email marketing and marketing automation programs. He’s also a BIG baseball fan, loves a good steak, and is mildly obsessed with zombie movies. For more information follow him on linkedin

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