New Year's Cleanup: Essential Guide to Cleaning Your Email List

Business.com / Marketing Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Keeping a clean email list is crucial to ensuring your emails end up in the hands of those subscribers who truly matter to your campaign.

What if you could lower your bounce rates, increase engagement, and reduce the costs of your email list?

Would you go through the process to make that happen? Of course, you would!

How do you reap all these benefits?

By cleaning your email list.

Related Article: Simple Steps to Optimizing Your Email Marketing Campaigns

Why You Need to Clean Your Email List

Even if you’re gathering opt-in emails by the book, your email list can become outdated over time. Eventually, your email list will contain out-of-date email addresses, customers who no longer feel that your content is relevant, and fake/unused email addresses people used only to grab your lead magnet.

This is dangerous for several reasons. For one, if old subscribers no longer feel your content is relevant, they may report your emails as spam rather than simply unsubscribing to the list. One study showed that 37 percent of users do this because they don’t trust the unsubscribe link.

If enough subscribers are reporting your emails, they will automatically be sent to the spam folders of users who still care.

But that’s not the only way your emails make it to the spam folder. Low open rates and high bounce rates are also indications of spam. That means that if you’re sending emails to people who no longer interact with them, you’re increasing your chance of email providers marking your campaigns as “spam.” If sent to the spam folder, your emails will never end up in the hands of the users who truly want them.

So how do you fix this problem and ensure the right eyeballs are on your content and you’re not paying more to send to emails that don’t matter? Clean your email list with the following tips.

Remove Users Who Didn’t Personally Opt-In

There are several ways to gather addresses; however, the only ethical way is to allow users to opt-in to your list. This is also the best way to ensure a clean list.

That means if you purchased or scrapped your email list from a third-party, you’re running with an unclean list. These types of lists are known for containing bad addresses, which will increase bounce rates. Even if the addresses are authentic, the users are likely to report your content as spam since they didn’t opt-in to your list.

Ask first for address owners’ permission before adding them to your list, such as through a sign-up form on your website or on social media. Remove any addresses you did not gather through a permission-based platform.

Check Your List for Misspellings

It’s important for a clean list to make sure you’re sending messages to actual email addresses. A simple misspelling during the acquisition phase means that you have one more address on your list that isn’t getting delivered, which will increase your bounce rates.

Common and obvious misspellings you can fix include things like anna@gmailcom (where the “dot” is missing) or joe!yahoo.com (where the @ symbol was mistyped). Your email list provider may already provide a list hygiene tool built into your service, which will check for this.

Delete Distribution Email Addresses

Certain email addresses are designed for outgoing mail rather than incoming mail. Since your mail is coming into users’ inboxes, you don’t want to be sending emails to inboxes no one checks. Examples of this include sales@company.com or no-reply@company.com. These types of email addresses are typically obvious, so they should be easy to spot and remove.

Related Article: Interview Questions to Ask an Email Marketing Manager [Infographic]

Manage Your Bounce Rates

High bounce rates are dangerous because if Internet service providers see that too many addresses aren’t receiving your emails, they’ll mark your campaigns as spam. High bounce rates also decrease your return on investment (ROI). Many email list providers deliver reports and data on bounce rates, making them easier to manage, but sometimes those delivery failure reports fall short; in that case a real-time, automated third-party report might be a better option.

There are two types of bounces:

  1. Soft bounce
  2. Hard bounce

A soft bounce is when your email can’t be delivered because of a full inbox or other temporary issue. Keep these email addresses on your list; you’ll typically get the emails to go through on a second or third try.

Hard bounces are the ones you have to worry about. These are permanent problems such as invalid email addresses. Remove these addresses from your list as soon as you can since they’re doing you more harm than good.

Remove Inactive Subscribers and Unsubscribed Users

Another metric you’ll find with most newsletter services is engagement rates for individual subscribers — such as the last date the user opened your email or clicked on a link in it. With data like this, there’s no reason you should be sending emails to people who haven’t interacted in years. You’re only wasting your precious dollar to do so, and they’re not opening your emails anyway.

Instead of trying to blast your emails out to as many people as possible, focus on keeping only quality subscribers on your list: those who truly care about your company or cause and interact with you.

Now, before you jump on this tactic, consider ways to reengage your subscribers first. For example, send a campaign to inactive subscribers asking them to opt-in again. Those who truly want to stay on your list will, while the others aren’t worth keeping on anyway. You might also try enticing them with an incentive, such as a free gift or discount, or it may be worth rethinking your entire campaign strategies if the majority of your list is inactive.

After you’ve played with the possibilities and tested ways to get inactive subscribers engaged again, go back through and delete those who still haven’t responded.

You’ll also want to remove addresses from your list that have unsubscribed, since your emails won’t reach them anymore. Some newsletter services do this automatically for you, but other times you’ll have to check and delete unsubscribers manually.

Related Article: Inbox Issues: How to Fail at Email Marketing

Keeping a clean email list is crucial to ensuring your emails end up in the hands of those subscribers who truly matter to your campaign. Not only will a clean email list keep your emails from the spam folder, but it will help reduce costs and increase ROI. Start with the abovementioned tips for cleaning your email list.

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