How Clean is Your Email List?

How to know what your email list hygiene is like and if the list needs to be cleaned or filtered because of inactive or unengaged audiences.

“To clean or not to clean. That is the question.”

How’s your hygiene? I don’t mean your personal hygiene. That’s none of my business but, how is your email list hygiene? Is it pretty clean? Or is it full of spam email addresses, typos, and email addresses that will never see the light of day? Sometimes it’s hard to know, but today we’re going to talk about some easy ways to clean your email list. 

You can improve your list hygiene to ensure the people who need or want to see your emails are.

What causes an email list to become dirty? It can happen in several ways. If you have an opt-in form available on your website, you could get hit by bots. This could cause your email list could populate with a bunch of spam or invalid email addresses. If that happens, we need to be using Captcha on your opt-in form. Your email list could have invalid email addresses on it for honest reasons.

Somebody could be typing in their email address and make a mistake. I type in “gmial” instead of “Gmail” all the time. It could just be a mistake. There are a lot of different things that could affect the cleanliness of your email list, but it’s up to you to make sure that it stays pretty clean.

Why Do We Care About a Clean Email List?

First of all, if you’re getting emails that are bouncing, whether soft bounces or hard bounces, that sends a message to your email provider that says something’s not right here. Those providers don’t look too kindly on bounces because they’re afraid that you might be sending spam yourself. If you’re getting a lot of complaints about your emails or if your emails are going to the spam folder, they’re never going to get delivered. That could be because of your email list hygiene.

There are so many different reasons that you want to keep your list clean, and there are a couple of easy ways to do that. 

If you have a small list, under a thousand subscribers, one of the easiest things you can do is just to read through your list and look for things that look off. You can look at it through your email service provider, or you can export it through a spreadsheet so you can sort it and move things around. You’re looking for weird email addresses that have just a string of letters and numbers. 

They also may not come from your native country or the country that you tend to serve. Look for a lot of them that look weird from a very short time, within say twenty-four hours. Obvious typos like I said, I mistype ‘Gmail’ all the time. Simple mistakes that you can fix right there in the list and be pretty confident that it’s a valid email. 

Delete those bots right off your list, they’re not going to help you or do anything for you. Going through that list probably will take you ten minutes if you have a relatively small list. 

Look at how the email addresses are formatted; if things look weird, it’s easier to get rid of them instead of trying to track somebody down and ask them if their email address is wrong. Some people will use email aliases with Gmail in particular. You can put in your email address plus one, and it acts as a temporary email address that you could then get rid of. That kind of thing might be on there as well. 

Inactive Subscribers On Your Email List

What happens when a subscriber is inactive?

Some of your email service providers will categorize your subscribers based on different criteria that they have set up. In general, they will give your subscribers a score. So, you might see that out of five stars, this group of 50 subscribers may have a one-star score. If you dig down into the statistics, you’ll see that they haven’t opened an email from you in six months. This tells us a couple of things. Either they’re no longer interested in what you provide, or they’re receiving them, and they’re going to the promotions tab. That’s how you know it’s time to clean your email list by removing them.

The average email open rate is about 20% across all industries. That means 80% of your subscribers aren’t opening your emails.

It’s a combination of things. Is your audience getting your emails? Where are your emails being delivered: the primary inbox or promotions folder? Are your audience looking in their promotions folder? If they’re even interested at all. There are lots of reasons why email providers like Gmail and Yahoo might reject an email from you even if you haven’t done anything wrong. We won’t go into that because honestly, a lot of it is secret. Nobody seems to know exactly why things like that happen.

Cleaning Your Email List

Part of keeping your email list clean is about getting rid of the contacts who aren’t engaging with your emails. What engagement entails is up to you. Maybe if somebody hasn’t engaged with any of my emails within the last 90 days, I’m done. They’re not interested, or they’re not receiving them. I’m not going to chase that rabbit.

You decide how long you’ll give them, but remember if they haven’t opened an email from you in at least 60 days, then you’ve fallen completely off their radar. They probably don’t remember you, and they’re probably not interested in buying from you. Don’t feel bad about trying to get rid of contacts because they’re not serving you, and you’re not serving them.

Let’s deal with the people who are interested in interacting with us. These are the ones who actively engage. You want to focus on because they need what you provide and you have a message to share with them. 

One thing to keep in mind – you may want to put some tighter restrictions or guidelines on how long you keep your email contacts around if you have to pay by the number of contacts you have.

With ActiveCampaign for example, you may pay for up to 10,000 contacts in your list. If you’re at 9,500 contacts, you’re getting close, and you’re going to have to jump to that next payment tier which may be a lot of money. If you go through and you scrub your list of inactive people, you’re saving yourself some money too. You can do this manually.

Look through your list and remove inactive subscribers. Setup automation to help you do this. 

ActiveCampaign has two recipes they call automation. These are preset settings that you can easily set up. You can filter out people who have not engaged with your emails in a certain amount of time. It’s very simple, and you can set them up that way, but there are also ways that you can hand that job off to someone else. 

Many services will do this for you, and some of the most common ones are NeverBounce, MailerCheck, and Mailfloss. They’ll go through and scrub your list for you and provide you with a clean list that you can upload back into your software with a certain tag. This allows you to just email the people with that particular tag. Other services will integrate with your email service provider software and will scrub your list automatically. They use an API to go through and continuously scrub your list. If you scrub your list on Monday and then get a whole bunch of bots, the next Monday, they’ll be gone. It limits your exposure to bad email addresses.

Engaged vs. Unengaged Contacts

Why is it important for us to keep the engaged people and get rid of the unengaged people? There’s a concept in the email marketing world called sender reputation. Depending on who you talk to, a sender’s reputation can be the reputation of ActiveCampaign or whatever platform you use. But you can also have a reputation associated with your domain, a domain reputation.

 If it looks like you’re sending out emails that nobody wants to open (your email rate’s low), that can affect your domain reputation. We don’t want that to happen because that signifies to Gmail, Yahoo, or whoever, that they don’t need to deliver your emails to the primary inbox.

After all, most people aren’t interested in them. That tells them to deliver it to the promotions folder. As we know from personal use, people don’t go through their promotions folder as often as they go through the primary inbox. The goal of all these steps is to help us improve our email domain reputation. It helps us improve our email deliverability, and it makes sure that we’re serving the people who are interested.

This will reassure us we will not be wasting time or money, nor will it allow us to get this idea that nobody will be interested in what we choose talk about. There are people who will be interested! We just need to make sure we’re talking to them. 

Think about this, if you have 5,000 people on your email list and you scrub 1,000 email addresses through this process of cleaning, your open rate increases by 5%. It’s simple math. You are removing people who are not opening the email. The number of people who were opening the email stays the same, so your open rate goes up. It’s not about inflating your numbers so that you feel good about yourself. It’s about getting a more accurate picture of the effectiveness of your email marketing, and that’s the big reason that you want to clean your email list. 

You want to improve your email list hygiene. Here are some things you can do.

You can do a visual review of the emails in your service provider, or if you’re a spreadsheet kind of person, you can export them to a spreadsheet. If they’re never going to buy from you, get rid of them.

You can use a service to scrub your list either as a one-off by uploading your list every once in a while, or by interfacing with one of these platforms that will do it for you. That works well for large lists, if you have a small list, it’s probably good to just review it visually every so often.

You can build automation, so if somebody hasn’t interacted with your emails for the last six months, you can have your automation remove them. Just remember to keep everything clean. It makes it easier for you to evaluate the effectiveness of your campaigns, and it makes email marketers like me happy that we don’t come into a scary situation that we have to clean up.

I hope this has been helpful.

So tell me, how is your email list hygiene?

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