Once you've acquired email addresses and perfected your unsubscribe and opt-out process, there are a number of other activities that you'll want to ensure are happening in order to maintain a clean email list and an successful email marketing. In this section, we'll cover the final steps that you'll need to either manage or be aware of in order to keep your email list in its best shape possible.

Clean Email List: Managing Bounces and Bad Email Addresses

No matter how much you monitor emails as you collect them and attempt to keep your email list clean and ensure that no bad addresses make it into your email list, addresses will eventually go bad or "atrophy" over time. Users may shut down their email accounts, move on from corporate jobs where their email was hosted, or just abandon an email account until the inbox becomes full and can no longer accept messages. When you attempt to deliver an email to an email address that, for whatever reason, is a bad or invalid email address, the send is registered as a "bounce" (as in the email that you tried to send bounced back and was undeliverable).

The more bounces you receive when you send an email, the more your sender reputation will be impacted. This is because most email service providers assume that responsible email senders remove bad addresses from their lists regularly, known as "pruning" the list (similar to "pruning" your hedges). Spammers, because they do not want to allocate resources or time, will often have high bounce rates. That's why it's important to ensure that all of your bounced or bad addresses are regularly removed from your email database.

In most cases, email senders will set a threshold that says how many times an email address can bounce before it is removed from the list. To maintain a clean email list, why not just remove addresses as soon as they bounce once? In many cases, a single bounce or even a handful of bounces can be accounted for by user behavior. For example, a user with a high volume email account goes on vacation. That user's email inbox then fills up and, when you try to send your email, it bounces. If you were to remove that user after one bounce, you would never be able to contact them again even if they actually enjoyed and engaged with your emails and newsletters and simply made an error by letting their inbox become too full.

Another example might be if, on the day you sent your email, the email service provider that your subscriber was using was having technical problems and many inbound emails were undeliverable while they corrected those problems. In that case, if you removed the email from your database after just one bounce, you'd be giving up your right to communicate with the subscriber based on a temporary technical failure.

To keep your email list clean, most email senders suggest a threshold of three to five bounces before you remove an email from your email marketing database. If you are using a third party email marketing platform, such as Comm100, periodic list pruning and cleaning is most likely built into your system. However, if you are manually managing email contacts or building your own proprietary email system, then you'll want to make sure that tracking undeliverable addresses and making sure that they are removed from your email list is happening with regularity.

Clean Email List: Removing Inactive or Non-Engaged Users

Because there's no additional cost associated with sending an email to a user whether he or she opens an email or not, many email senders simply continue to send to their entire email list with every send even if there are many users who have not opened an email in many months. While there's no financial loss associated with doing this, increasingly email service providers are using overall email metrics to impact your sender reputation score. In some cases, this can land you in the spam box for a certain segment of low-activity users and in the inbox for other users. What's the best way to prevent against this? Limit how many times you email a low-activity user.

The first step to maintain a clean email list is to determine what you consider to be "low activity." If you send one email a week, then you may think that somebody is an active customer if they only open one email a month. If you only send one email a month, then you may consider somebody to be an active user if they only open one email every three months. The rule will need to be determined by your best call judgment since there's really no metric that's been released that says what email service providers consider low-activity.

The next thing for keeping your email list clean is to query all of the email addresses that meet your criteria out of your email database and put them on a separate list. It's not that you don't want to ever email these individuals again. You simply want to limit how much you email them.

The third step to clean email list is to try to identify individuals who may be looking at your email but not registering as an opened email because they don't load images or use only the preview pane.Generate a group email to everybody on your low-usage list letting them know that you're doing periodic email maintenance. You've noticed that while they still receive your emails, they haven't opened one in quite some time. You may be going to their spam box or folder, or they may no longer be interested in receiving your regular emails. If they are interested, provide them with an email address or a simple confirmation box or link to check and return them to the main list. If they do not respond, then keep them on your secondary list and only email them during important revenue or traffic times.

You may also want to take the opportunity to remind them that if they do wish to receive your emails, it's important that they add you to their contact list or address book in order to ensure that your emails are delivered to their inbox.

It may seem like a lot of work, but differentiating your email list to obtain the best possible email metrics can vastly improve your email marketing performance. Sometimes, quality does pay off better than quantity.

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