Email List Management: What are the Best Ways to Handle Bad Addresses & Unsubscribers?
If you've got a large and active email list and have previously been emailing to them, even if you've only recently started, Comm100 explains in this article the best practices of email list management in order to optimize delivery and response rates.
Why is Email List Management Important?
In the constant struggle to get your email into your subscribers' inboxes, having bad addresses and not properly managing users who unsubscribe can quickly add up to a deliverability problem. Properly managing the non-viable emails on your email list from the very beginning, as well as throughout you email marketing campaign, can improve not only deliverability but also give you a more realistic view of your email marketing stats.
What Should My Email List Management Metrics Look Like?
The two metrics that you need to concern yourself with when evaluating the quality of email names on your list are the bounce rate and the unsubscribe rate.
Bounce Rate: The bounce rate is the number of email addresses (in percentage form) that you emailed to that were returned to your email server as undeliverable. This could be because the email addresses were mistyped when they were submitted, are deactivated email accounts (or accounts that never existed to begin with), or are email addresses where the user has not checked email in so long that the inbox is full to its maximum capacity. Your bounce rate should never be more than 20%, and that would be considered to be the high end of the scale. You would really prefer, on a house list, to see a bounce rate of less than 10%. Bounce rate is important in terms of making sure that you don't get flagged as spam because most spam filters will look to see how many bad email addresses an email was sent to. The more bad addresses you send to, the more the spam filters assume that you're using a bought, stolen or phished list, and the higher your spam score will be.
Unsubscribe Rate: The unsubscribe rate is the number of users (in percentage form) who unsubscribed from your email program when they received a particular email. If you are using an opt-in or double-opt-in house list, this should be no more than 3%, and 3% would be considered high. You are really looking for an unsubscribe rate of less than 1%. Beyond that, the message is that your users don't like your content and you should begin to revisit what you're including in your email.
How Do I Prevent High Bounce Rates?
Preventing high bounce rates is just as important as any other element of your email list management. As previously mentioned, high bounce rates can mean problems with your email getting flagged as spam. But there is also a cost factor. If you're sending email from a system that charges you by the weight of the email or the number of email addresses that you send to, every bad address that you continue to send to will cost you money and impact the ROI of your email campaign. There are three primary methods for controlling bounce rate.
Check for Email Validity at the Time of Sign-Up: Make sure that form on your website where users enter their email, whether that's during a purchase and registration process or on a newsletter sign-up field itself, is checking for proper email formatting. At a minimum, your email collection script should check for the format firstname.lastname@example.org. However, some scripts can get more detailed and look for common words like "test" or "fake" in the email to throw up warning flags. If you are using a double-opt-in system, you are protecting even further from bad email addresses ever actually being included on your list because the email address needs to actually be delivered to before the customer is ever actually added to the list.
Prune Your List Regularly: "Pruning" an email list means removing bad names, usually after they have been returned as undeliverable a pre-set number of times. Depending on how clean you want to make your list, you can set your pruning parameters to anything from 3 undeliverable emails to 10. Most third party email sending providers offer an automatic pruning option that you can control the number of returns on before a name is removed. If you're not using a system with an automatic pruning option, we strongly recommend having one of your developers create a script that tracks and removes undeliverable addresses.
Periodic Re-Opt-Ins: This measure in email list management is fairly extreme and can make your list too small and targeted, but if you're paying to send email by the number of addresses sent to, it may be a good option for you. Some email senders choose to periodically send an email once a year or so to everybody on their list who they can see has not clicked through, or opened, or subsequently purchased from an email send. Recipients are then asked to opt in back by clicking a link, and, if they don't, their email is removed from the list. The pro of this is that you are sure you are only paying to send email to very engaged users. The con is that you may remove names from your list of lapsed members who at some point would have, in fact, been receptive to your email offer.
How Do I Prevent High Unsub Rates?
Well, the truth of this is that the only way that you can prevent high unsub rates is to use opt-in list gathering and then provide exceptional email content that your users really want to receive. However, there are some other elements to managing your unsubs that you should keep in mind.
Keep Unsubbing Easy: There will certainly be marketers out there who tell you that you should make the unsub link within your email as difficult to use and find as possible so that people have to stay on your list. This is wrong. The reason that it's wrong is because email providers offer a simple option for people who can't find the unsub link: Just mark the email as spam and you'll never see anything from the sender again! Since the last thing that you want is for somebody to mark you as spam, making it easy and simple for them to unsub is your best move.
Offer Unsub Options: If you offer multiple email lists, give users the option to unsubscribe from all emails OR just the individual email list. If you do this, you may be able to keep a user engaged on one list even if they've lost interest in another list.
Use a Great Unsub Confirmation Page: Don't be pushy, but using a great, engaging unsub page to try to re-interest users in signing back up or staying on the email list can actually save sign-ups for you. We think that the best unsub page we've ever seen in our lives is right here: http://www.groupon.com/las-vegas/unsubscribed
Be CAN-SPAM Compliant: We've discussed this in a previous article, but CAN-SPAM laws actually govern how to handle un-subs quite explicitly. Make sure that you're compliant!
Process Unsubs Quickly: You want to remove users who have unsubscribed from your list as quickly as possible. While CAN-SPAM gives you an extended period of time, the reality is that if you don't remove these users immediately and they subsequently receive an extra email from you while they are waiting to be removed, they will mark you as spam.
Should You Use an Unsub Confirmation Email?
This is a highly debated question. When a person unsubs from your email, should you generate an email to them confirming that they've been removed? There is data to suggest both sides of this (to send or not send). We personally don't recommend it. If you're trying to get them to re-engage, do it on the unsub confirmation page. Once people say that they don't want to receive email from you, they usually don't want to receive email from you!
Email list management is a critical component of email marketing that is often overlooked in favor of focusing on acquisition, email creative and activity tracking. However, keeping your email list clean of users who shouldn't be on it has benefits that can't be overlooked, and which are elementally important to successful email marketing.