List hygiene - reaching the email inbox

Email List Hygiene Best Practices (Don’t Sweat the Deletes)

If you want better email open rates and better click through rates – then it’s time to get familiar with the ‘delete subscriber’ button.

It’s brutal, it’s hard to accept, but boy does it work.

Here’s why and how to approach it.

What Is List Hygiene in Email Marketing?

List hygiene is keeping your email marketing list clean.

It means weeding out the undeliverable addresses. And deleting those who are not opening your emails.

Why Does Email List Hygiene Matter?

Email marketing list hygiene matters because it has a big impact on email open rates.

For two reasons:-

1. Your Reputation With Email Providers

Firstly, because the big email providers like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo don’t just look at emails individually. They are well aware of bulk email and newsletters. So they also look at your email across all of their recipients to judge the quality and importance of what you are sending.

If you send out 10,000 emails, and 3,000 of those are Gmail addresses – Google will look at:-

  • how many of those 3,000 emails are being sent to invalid addresses
  • how many of those 3,000 can’t remember who you are and click the spam button
  • and how many of those 3,000 don’t bother to read what you sent and just delete it

All of this feeds into your reputation as a sender with Google. And Google will use this data to decide how it treats your email as a whole. Will you end up in the spam folder, the promotions tab or go straight into the inbox?

The same applies at Yahoo, at Microsoft and at Apple etc.

And just like reputation in general, it’s not just what you do today but what you do over a period of time that matters. It’s also much harder to fix a bad reputation than to maintain a good one.

2. Your Reputation With Your Email Sending Service

Obviously blatantly sending spam is just going to get an account cancelled. As it should of course. But you also need to be a bit careful of the links you use or promote in your emails. If they have a poor reputation this can also get your account suspended.

But in terms of open rate specifically, this also depends on the ‘sending IP addresses’ that your email service is using to send your emails.

An IP address is just a way internet connected machines find each other, it’s literally that server or computers address on the internet.

Email services will have from hundreds to many thousands of IP addresses that they use. Most likely you will be sharing those addresses will lots of other customers of the email service.

Why does that matter?

Because of the existence of ’email blacklists’. These are services that constantly monitor email at a high level and maintain lists of IP addresses that are sending spam. These lists are then used by email providers to block email or move it to the spam folder.

This means that other customers of your email service can affect your email delivery. If those other customers send emails that look like spam, they can temporarily get that sending IP blacklisted – which can in turn mean your email ends up in the spam folder.

Specifically who you share sending IP addresses with may depend on your reputation with your email service. That is, customers who maintain clean lists will tend to be grouped together which results in their sending IP addresses having better reputation and therefore better delivery. Of course, that also means customers with poor list hygiene will also tend to be grouped together and are more likely to end up with poorer delivery.

So customers who maintain and clean their lists and therefore have less failed deliveries, spam complaints and better open rates will tend to be grouped together with better delivery.

More Answers: What is email marketing?

How Do You Clean an Email List?

To clean an email list you simply need to:-

  • Remove undeliverable email addresses (’email bounces’)
  • Remove people who are not opening your emails

How do email addresses become ‘undeliverable’?

If you’re using ‘double opt-in’ to validate email addresses are correct, you might wonder how an email can become ‘bad’. There’s various ways, but people do just change email address sometimes, and often don’t bother to forward the old one. This can mean the address is still ‘valid’ but it doesn’t fail until their mailbox is full. Or quite commonly people use a work email address – when they change jobs the email is switched off.

Most email services will automatically remove these undeliverables – because they hurt you! Make sure you are clear if this is happening or not.

Deleting ‘no opens’ is hard

Most business owners find deleting subscribers a difficult thing to do. Particularly if their lists haven’t been cleaned in a long time. It can easily be a third or even more of a list.

The important thing to remember is that these emails are effectively ‘dead’ anyway, they’re just numbers clogging up your list. If someone hasn’t opened an email in 6 months or even more, they are not going to open one in the future.

All the time you keep emailing them, it’s hurting your sender reputation. You really need these emails gone as quickly as possible.

Note: depending on your list and on your business model, it may be wise to run an ‘are you still interested’ (or re-engagement) campaign before deleting ‘no opens’.

When Should You Delete a ‘No Open’ Email Address?

Email addresses should be deleted when they haven’t opened or clicked an email for a significant period of time. That period of time depends on your business and how often you send email.

A good general rule of thumb is 3-6 months. If someone hasn’t opened in that time they are unlikely to ever open an email from you again.

How Often Should You Clean Email Lists?

You should clean your email marketing list regularly. This is not a one-off exercise.

We recommend cleaning lists every 1-3 months. More frequently the larger the size of the email list.

So How Do You Keep Your Email List Healthy?

List hygiene is really about more than just cleaning your email list. It’s important to set things up well from the very start.

  • When you promote your list or newsletter, make sure your promise meets what you are going to deliver, and then make sure you continue to deliver what you promised. If you are going to change what you deliver, or how often make sure you tell your list first what to expect – and give them a chance to leave if it’s no longer what they want.
  • Never add people to your list who didn’t ask to be added. Similarly, don’t buy email lists.
  • Welcome your new subscriber when they join – introduce yourself, your company, your best most helpful content and how they can reach you for help. Don’t be all ‘salesy’, be cool about it, you’re getting to know a new friend. So ask about them too – what do they need, what questions do they have.
  • Consider offering different frequencies for your emails. If you send a lot of emails each week, offer a weekly digest version. Some people will want every email immediately, but many won’t.
  • Don’t hide the unsubscribe link! Making it easily found won’t mean interested people unsubscribe. But it will mean less spam complaints from making it annoyingly difficult to stop emails somebody no longer wants.

Finally – keep cleaning your list. Good list hygiene will improve your open rates, click rates and of course your ROI. So schedule it in as a regular job and make sure it gets done.

You can also get in touch with us if you need help with email list hygiene, list management or online marketing in general.

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