No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts
We’re not going to stand on our soap box and tell you how important cleaning your email list is to your email success. We’re going to let a bunch of email experts do that for us. If you’ve been neglecting your list, Spring is a great motivator to get on it. But be sure to read this before you do.
This month, we asked email marketing experts from Campaign Monitor, iterable, dotdigital, AWeber, Email Uplers, eFocus Marketing, Email On Acid, Mailninja & more to share best practices for email list cleaning and how to go about pruning bad data to improve email list hygiene. It’s not as arduous as you may think.
Here’s what they had to say…
Kick Off Your Email List Cleaning Efforts With A Re-Engagement Campaign
As the season changes, our lifestyles do, too—giving us every excuse to get our material lives cleaned up and organized. But a new season isn’t just about boxing up old clothes and rearranging bookshelves. It’s also an opportunity to tidy up the not-so-tangible parts of our lives. And list cleaning is the perfect place to start.
A re-engagement campaign is the first step in a successful list scrub. Pinpoint the subscribers who just need a little nudge versus the readers who are totally disinterested. From there, you can get the cleanup process up and running.
In the examples below, Campaign Monitor customer Digiday gives ghost subscribers an opportunity to update their preferences to ensure they’re receiving the most relevant and personalized content.
Take note of the very obvious link. Respecting your readers’ decision to temporarily—or permanently—cut ties is the first step in maintaining an honest and transparent brand identity. Plus, letting go of disinterested subscribers will only help your engagement in the long run.
After you get rid of the material clutter that no longer sparks joy, you get to put the keepers on display and enjoy them even more. The same goes for your remaining subscribers: Now that you have the readers you really want, be sure to give them the proper attention.
Personalized campaigns are the best way to get—and maintain—attention from your subscribers. And with the right type of attention, you’ll also see increased engagement and higher conversions. It’s called science.
This example from Morning Brew shows the newsletter-based publication proactively follows up to see where a recent subscriber went wrong. Since the subscriber has been inactive thus far, they reach out to see if something went wrong, and encourages action.
Some Things To Consider Before Cleaning Your List
Now that spring has sprung, lots of people are using the seasonal change as a chance to do some housekeeping, in more ways than one! In digital marketing we see this exact thing happening with marketers and their database of recipients, so here are a few things for senders to keep in mind.
The best way to understand what population of your list that you should consider suppressing is to try and understand implicit value signals. In other words, what population of your list has not engaged with your content in six months? One year? More?!
It is easy to suppress users that take actions to not get content anymore, that unsubscribe or complain, but it is much more common for an address to just eventually not engage with your email any longer. So ask yourself, how do you define “active,” and what does the ratio of active vs. inactive look like?
Lapsing from a list is an inevitable part of a recipient lifecycle, and that’s okay. So understand that when you’re looking at your list as a whole, instead of dwelling on those that have long since engaged with your email content, focus more on the top of the funnel of new users and how you can engage with your current audience in ways to prolong their interest.
Of course, database validation is a hot topic as of late as well. Consider it as an option under the following three circumstances:
- Identifying a lapsed portion of your database to try and understand whether the cohort is even still mailable and then put into place some (very strategic) re-engagement logic.
- Determining which users are likely to be active and which demonstrate behavior similar to a potential spam trap.
- Understanding what a new database is comprised of, whether acquired in a partnership or merger, especially if there is limited or no historical engagement data that can be referenced.
How To Keep Your Data Clean
For most marketers, especially email marketers, list growth and customer acquisition are a top priority. A healthy mailing list – one where your subscribers are engaged, opening, and interacting – not only improves results, but also improves your standing with sender platforms such as gmail, yahoo, and outlook. This means fewer bounces and emails falling into spam traps.
But, how do you keep your lists healthy?
Firstly, we recommend introducing a sunsetting policy on your data. This means giving your unengaged subscribers a set timeframe in which to engage with you. Whether you pick 30 days or 90 days, after this period you should move them into an unengaged database (but not an unsubscribed list).
Another great way to keep your lists engaged is to regularly ask recipients to update their preferences. This way you’ll always be sending them content they want. If you combine this with your sunsetting policy, you can prompt customers to choose another channel if they aren’t engaging on email.
Our final top tip comes from your engagement data. Collect implicit information on your subscribers by monitoring engagements. By this we mean see what topics, subject lines, and offers get the most opens and click-throughs. This will help you identify what trends that will keep shoppers engaged and mailing lists clean and healthy.
Release Your Grip On Inactive Subscribers, But Before You Do…
Regular list hygiene is a critical part of maintaining a healthy email list and high email deliverability. I recommend marketers conduct regular list cleaning every three-to-six months. While it can be tough to part with subscribers, remember it’s about quality over quantity. A large list may seem impressive, but a highly engaged list will deliver the results you’re looking for.
However, there are steps you can take before removing inactive subscribers from your list altogether. When done correctly, a reactivation campaign can be an effective way to re-engage subscribers who are not opening your messages.
Start by creating a segment of inactive subscribers. You can consider a subscriber inactive if they haven’t opened an email in 6 months or more. Next, send an attention-grabbing email that reminds them why they subscribed and gets them excited about the email content you send. You can even offer them a freebie for staying subscribed. Create a sense of urgency in your subject line that lets them know they might be unsubscribed.
However, keep in mind that the content you’re sending may no longer be a good fit for a particular subscriber. In that case, it’s great if they do unsubscribe or you remove them from your list. Inactive subscribers are more likely to ignore your messages or delete them, which can hurt your chances of reaching the inbox.
Simple Tactics To Keep Your List Clean & Full of Valid Email Addresses
Email list is a dynamic entity that needs constant monitoring and cleaning so that it includes only valid email addresses. It is important for sender reputation, inbox placement, and optimal deliverability rate.
The first step to seasonal list clean-ups is to monitor the subscriber activity and execute a re-engagement email series for any contact who has been inactive for three months. (like Duolingo does)
In case you receive no response, it is recommended to send the next email of the series.
Have a look at this re-engagement email by Crocs. They have informed the user that in case the user does not click on the email, they will remove the email address from their list.
That’s a brilliant way of removing inactive subscribers and maintaining a clean list while cutting down on the email expenses incurred on dead weight.
Additionally, if you observe a rise in the bounce rate or spam complaints, it is time to take a close look at your list and remove all the duplicate or invalid addresses of people who have switched jobs, stopped using that email address, or simply provided a wrong email address. An important tactic that many businesses, including Uplers follow is to have a double opt-in email for email confirmation.
Have a look at this example.
Email List Hygiene Should Be An Ongoing Effort
Having good list hygiene practices is key to a solid foundation for your email program and getting your emails delivered.
This should be something that is worked on throughout the year; using real-time validation on your sign up forms to ensure valid email addresses are submitted, ensuring your have bounce processing rules in place to remove hard and soft bounces after a certain number of hits (we recommend hard bounces are removed immediately and soft bounces after 3-10 instances depending on your send frequency over 3-4 weeks) and ensuring you have feedback loops in place with all the major providers to allow you to remove complaints immediately from your database.
Sometimes it’s prudent to perform a seasonal ‘spring clean’ on your list.
This should include making sure all the aforementioned settings are properly in place, checking in on your spam trap hits (by checking Microsoft SNDS for example to see if you’re hitting any spam traps) and if you see a problem (if you do, then this should be rectified through a process of elimination and then evaluating the sign up sources that could be problematic), conducting a reactivation campaign for any subscribers who have become inactive (if you’re not already automating this process, which we would recommend you do so that its done in real-time for the subscriber), and analysing your sign up forms to see which sources garner the highest quality and most engaged data and those that may be causing problems on your list.
Customize a Cleaning Cadence That Makes Sense For Your Business
I don’t believe activities like list cleaning are seasonal. Every business is different based on their customers, attrition and subscriber behavior. It’s up to the marketer to choose a schedule based on their subscribers’ specific behavior and their selling views.
Those can include list maintenance, policies on triggered email and automations, checking the advocacy of their communications, branding, and making sure lead generation forms work.
Many of our customers do a quarterly business review. Marketers can define a cadence that matches up with their specific needs. For example, many retail clients do a thorough audit in July or August to prepare for the Q4 holiday sending season. Every business is different. You have to define your own calendar.
Out With The Old, In With The New
Email Thought Leader
The time has come again where Spring marks the time that flowers, trees, and our yards begin to bloom. We spring forward with our clocks, test our smoke alarms in our homes, and many of us begin the annual tradition of cleaning up our yards, planting new flowers, and cleaning up our
homes. But, our homes and gardens aren’t the only thing these days that needs cleaning and like our smoke alarms other things need review and testing.
For marketers, this should also be the time again to review your email lists annually. When your email list includes only valid addresses, you have a better sender reputation, which means you are much less likely to have your emails blocked or mistakenly considered spam or hit the dreaded user unknown blocks.
Marketers need to be cleaning their contact list of expired or old email addresses that haven’t been sent to in awhile or where the subscriber hasn’t clicked on anything for quite some time.
Of course, don’t just delete them right away, but testing them for validity using an email validation service will help save some of your list.
But after that, you should send a separate campaign to remind them of why they signed up for your mailing list and if you can offer to the subscriber to validate their email address with a coupon or discount if they do such.
This will even give them a chance to update what email address they want to use, update their frequency. or type of content they want to receive.
According to Marketing Sherpas research, email marketing databases naturally degrade decays at a rate of 2.1% per month. This is an annualized rate of 22.5%! So it’s important to have a strategy to make up for these lost contacts and hit your reputation.
Spring is now upon us and by taking a few minutes to verify your email list and remove invalid addresses, you will save yourself and your company time, money, and lost opportunities..
Cleaning Should Form the Core of Your Email Strategy
When and how should marketers do seasonal list cleanups to keep in good standing with both List management should form the core part of your overall email strategy, especially looking at subscriber engagement levels.
It is also important to leverage the segmentation and personalization features of your messaging platform by using features like segments, tags and groups.
At MailNinja, we regularly review our clients’ audience and create dynamic segments based on engagement levels. We create custom segments from most engaged to least engaged, to work out what percentage of your list is most valuable.
This blog post explains the MailNinja approach to segmentation strategy.
Pro Tip: Hi-iQ by Ematic is fantastic at automagically monitoring your subscriber engagement over time, giving you insight and the ability to respond in real time. You should definitely check it out.
More No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts Coming Soon
Stay tuned, we’ll be posting more No Bullshit Advice soon. Read our last installment, Holiday Email Marketing, Are You Ready? or catch up on the entire series here: No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts.
And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
Keep your list healthy and boost campaign performance by regularly cleaning your email list. We’ll let you know which email addresses are good, bad and risky, before you hit send.
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