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Why you should clean your email list

Be honest. How often do you clean your email list? As magazine publishers, we’re (usually) meticulous about making sure our magazine subscriber details are up-to-date. That’s a no brainer. There is a dollar figure associated with each magazine return. But do you treat your email lists with the same care? Spoiler alert: you should, and this is how to do it. 

It’s a common practice called ‘scrubbing’ your email list. Here, we’re going to dive into why you should clean your email list, and how to do it.

In a nutshell: removing inactive contacts from your email list can improve your email deliverability statistics and increases your marketing ROI.

I know, I know. You’re worried that your advertisers expect to reach a certain number of contacts via your e-newsletters and sponsored eDMs. Don’t worry – if your list is in need of a cleanse, they’ll reach the same amount if not more of the contacts on your list after you’ve removed the inactive contacts.

The benefits of doing an email scrub

As a publisher, your audience – including your print and online subscribers – are your most valuable asset. Regularly reviewing and cleansing your email list means that you are making sure that the list is accurate and highly engaged. And that’s the key – holding an engaged list with purchasing intent

Removing inactive email addresses will improve your open rates and click-through rates. The all-important engagement metrics that you are reporting to advertisers. 

Depending on the provider you use, your email marketing tool costs may decrease. Most tools will offer different pricing plans based on the number of subscribers in the system. There’s no point paying for subscribers that aren’t engaging with your emails. Remove them and improve your ROI on your email marketing. 

Removing inactive contacts improves your sender reputation and decreases the potential of being marked as spam. This can have a huge impact on your deliverability. There are two ways that your emails can be marked as spam; an individual can manually mark your email as spam, or an email provider can mark your email as spam (sending it straight to the spam folder). 

If an email provider receives a spam complaint, they’ll send all your future emails to that contact into their spam folder, and potentially blacklist your email address. And if they receive a lot of spam complaints – they’ll send your email to the spam folder of all the contacts on your list. 

Some email providers can also detect if emails from a recurring email address aren’t being opened by a contact. You guessed it, these are sent to spam too. 

And lastly, you’ll be able to better assess the success rate of your email content. Removing inactive contacts gives you a more accurate understanding of how your subscribers engaged with certain email content, subject lines, and CTAs. 

Five signs you need to scrub your email list 

  1. Your email open rates are low or dropping
  2. Your click-through rates are low or dropping
  3. Your email bounce rates are increasing 
  4. Your unsubscribe rates are increasing 
  5. You are receiving an increased number of spam complaints. 

How often you should scrub your list 

Hubspot reports that email databases depreciate by about 22.5 per cent every year thanks to subscribers changing jobs or email providers, or by unsubscribing. So it’s important that you review your email list at least once a year – most marketers say every three to six months. Digital marketing superstar Neil Patel reportedly scrubs his email list daily

Choose a timeframe that works for your business based on the frequency of emails that you send, knowledge about the general staff turnover for your brands’ industries, and your own staffing resources. 

How to scrub your email list

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. No matter what the size of your list, ‘scrubbing’ can seem like a big task. Let’s break it down into seven easy steps with the final aim of increasing your engagement results by removing the email addresses that no longer open your emails. 

Step 1: assign the task 

Give someone on your team responsibility for the project, and assign them a timeline to complete the task. Otherwise, it’s just one of those tasks that isn’t going to get done. 

Step 2: prioritise your lists 

If you have multiple email lists that you send to, or have segmented your list, outline which of your lists or segments you’ll scrub first. You might choose to start with the list that you use the most often first, or the list that has the most active subscribers (ideally they’re the same list). 

If you have lists that consist of contacts who haven’t opted in to your emails, these will be in worse-shape than your opt-in lists. Take the time to review and think about if you really need these contacts on your list. While quantity is good, if they aren’t interacting with you they’ll be hurting your overall engagement metrics in a big way. 

Step 3: determine contacts to scrub 

It’s important to clearly identify the contacts that need to be reviewed. 

You should target: 

  • Contacts that are being logged as hard bounces
  • Duplicate email addresses or duplicate names with different email addresses 
  • Any email addresses that look like spam addresses
  • Any email addresses that have typos in them
  • Contacts that have not engaged with your emails in any way in the last six months or year. 

And because we all abide by the Australian Privacy Act, let’s assume that any contacts that have requested to unsubscribe from your lists have already been dealt with. 

Before we move on: a quick word on bounces. It is important to understand the difference between a soft bounce and a hard bounce. 

A soft bounce means that an email address is valid and it reached your contact’s mail server – but it was recorded as a bounce because the server may not have been down, the contact’s inbox was full, or the message was too big. Contacts that have recorded a soft bounce can remain on your lists. 

A hard bounce means an email has been sent to an invalid email address, either the domain name doesn’t exist, the email address doesn’t exist, or delivery has been blocked by the email server. These contacts should be removed. 

If this all sounds a bit too much to handle in-house, there are also a number of email validation tools that you can use to scrub your list. 

Step 4: sort your inactive contacts into three groups 

Now that you’ve got your list of inactive email addresses, they need to be sorted into three groups. 

Group Inactive contact type 
Those that can be removed immediately Hard bouncesSpam addressesUnsubscribes that haven’t been actioned
Those that need to be corrected or merged within your CRMEmails with typos Duplicate email addresses
Those that need to be sent a re-engagement campaignContacts that haven’t engaged over the last six months to a year

Step 5: re-engage your contacts

You’ve still got a chance to hold onto your email contacts that haven’t engaged with you for a while. You just need to grab their attention. Send a re-engagement campaign to these contacts with an ultimatum. That might sound severe, but it’s the best way to sort out who is still interested in your brand versus those that will continue to remain inactive. 

Successful re-engagement campaigns: 

  • Ask the contact to confirm if they’d like to stay on your email list (usually with a link connecting to your CRM or email marketing tool) 
  • Clearly state that the contact will be removed if they choose not to re-engage
  • Aim to find out why the contact has been inactive or is choosing to unsubscribe via a brief survey. 

Other options include offering an incentive for the contact to re-engage, reminding contacts of your purpose or why they are important to your brand, and providing links to your best content that they might have missed. 

The CRM system or email marketing system that you use should have an easy option for you to segment and send a campaign to contacts that have been inactive over a specified time period. 

Step 6: update the remaining email addresses 

Step 6 is pretty straight forward. Tedious – but easy. Update the details of those contacts that have typos in their email addresses or have been recorded as duplicates in your system. 

Keep an eye on the engagement activity for these contacts – you may find that they need to be sent a re-engagement campaign the next time you scrub your email lists. 

Step 7: track your email engagement 

Make a note of the date that your email scrub is completed and re-engagement campaign is sent, and track the change in email bounce, open and click-through rates, and spam complaints over time. 

Make an annotation in your Google Analytics on the date that the project was completed so that you can easily attribute any spike in website traffic to the project. 

If you’re unsure of how often to undertake the scrubbing process, use your statistics as a guide – once they start to go south, it’s your cue to start cleaning again. 

And you’re done… 

Breathe a sigh of relief! It’s over. 

Now all you’ve got to do is keep your list engaged. You know your list is in the best shape possible, so you can start to more accurately measure the performance of your email subject lines, times sent, content delivered, and products offered.

And, you get to report improved deliverability rates to your clients. Win-win! 

Written by Lyndsie Clark

Niche Publishing Network Founder and Editor Lyndsie Clark has over 10 years of niche publishing experience, working in a variety of roles spanning B2B editorial, sales, operations, events, BD, and management.

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