Spring Clean Your Email List

Written by: Charlotte Bausch

Before summer begins in earnest, take the time to spring clean your email list! 

The idea of list cleaning can be frightening–for many beginner email marketers, it’s hard to believe that we need to just delete all of these contacts we worked so hard to get in the first place. But making sure your email list is clean and organized is an essential part of any email strategy. Cleaning old, bouncing, and unengaged email addresses from your list has lots of benefits. Doing it regularly will help you market more effectively and make the contacts you have that much more valuable. 

Read below to learn everything you need to know about list cleaning as a beginner: why you should clean your list, when to do it, and how to get started.

Why You Need to Clean Your List

If you haven’t cleaned your list in a while, you could be dealing with a host of problems. An uncleaned list has higher unsubscribe rates and spam reports, since some contacts in a large list will lose interest in your emails over time. High spam report rates can impact your reputation with Email Service Providers and lower your deliverability rate. 

Cleaning your email list raises your deliverability rate and open rates because it removes contacts that are no longer active. It will also increase engagement rates, since the emails you’re sending to are people who really still want to be on your list. Cleaning can even help you lower email marketing costs–many email marketing services charge in tiers by the number of emails you send, so sending fewer emails to just the people who actually want them will help you market more effectively for less money.

When to Clean Your List

As a rule of thumb, think about cleaning your list at least once a year (or every spring!). As you become more familiar with list cleaning, you may want to start doing it every six months, since more frequent cleaning will give you more of the benefits mentioned above. However, depending on the size of your list, you may need to clean more or less frequently. Review your open and click through rates along with your deliverability rate regularly. If your rates have dropped, it’s a good time to clean your list. 

How to Get Started

Cleaning your list begins with finding inactive contacts and deciding whether they can be re-engaged or removing them from your list. Within your email marketing tool, you can filter out which contacts are no longer engaging with your emails by checking which subscribers haven’t opened or clicked an email recently. 

The next step is to find out if those contacts can be salvaged, or if they’re gone forever. Sending a re-engagement email campaign to less active subscribers can help you determine whether they really aren’t receiving or don’t want to receive your emails anymore, or if they’ve just been missing them. The email should let them know you’ve noticed their lack of engagement and ask them to opt-in again, so you know for sure that they want to be subscribed. Re-engagement emails often also include incentive to re-engage–for example, if your brand is in ecommerce, you can offer them a special discount, or if you’re B2B, you can offer them a resource like a whitepaper just for subscribers.
These emails will re-engage some of your subscribers, but sometimes contacts may actually want to unsubscribe or no longer be using their email. Those subscribers have to be removed from your list. You can filter the contacts you need to remove out of your list with tags or segments and delete them yourself, or you can use a service to clean your list for you. Most email marketing tools, like MailChimp, will automatically clean bouncing and unsubscribed emails from your list for you, but you’ll have to remove any unengaged emails from the list yourself. However, if you don’t have the bandwidth to clean your list yourself, there are also a variety of online services, like NeverBounce or ZeroBounce, that can clean it for you.

Keep Your List Clean in the Future

Much like with cleaning a house, the best way to keep a clean email list is to have good habits from the beginning. Once you’ve cleaned your list, you should set up methods to make it easier to keep your list clean in the future. 

  1. Use double opt-in to make sure subscribers want to be on your list
    • Setting up a double opt-in system can help ensure that contacts really want to be on your list. With double opt-in, contacts have to first sign up on a form, then confirm through a follow-up email. 
    • Contacts who complete this process are really sure they want to be on your list. It also shows them which emails are yours, gives them a chance to save your contact information, and lets their email provider know that your emails aren’t spam.
  2. Send a welcome email to set expectations
    • Welcome emails let your new subscribers know what content to expect from you at the beginning so there are no surprises later on. They can choose to unsubscribe right away, and if they don’t, they know exactly what they’ll be receiving from you.
  3. Automate re-engagement emails after contacts have been inactive for a certain period of time
    • Automated re-engagement emails are a good way to stay on top of your email list without having to check it manually. Set up an automated re-engagement email to be sent to contacts when they haven’t engaged with your emails in a certain period of time. The automation can also remove subscribers who don’t interact with the re-engagement email from your sending list for future emails. Later on, you can periodically collect and delete those unengaged contacts from your list altogether.
  4. Segment your email list to lower unsubscribe rates
    • It’s important to segment your email list by categories like demographics, interests, and whether those contacts have signed up for events or bought products. With these segments, you can send emails to the right people and avoid sending campaigns to contacts that aren’t relevant. Your contacts will be much less likely to unsubscribe if you send them only the emails that are interesting and relevant to them.
  5. Make sure there’s a clear way to unsubscribe from your list
    • Not only is this a standard best practice, but including easy unsubscribe options allows your contacts to leave your list when they want to, so you don’t have to do it for them later.
  6. Find out why your subscribers are leaving
    • In an opt-out form, you can include a survey option to ask subscribers why they are opting out of your emails. Did you email too often? Was the content different than they expected? This data can help you make strategic decisions about your marketing plan moving forward.

It’s Time to Get Cleaning

Although list cleaning can feel daunting when you start out, making it a consistent part of your email strategy will make your email marketing easier and more effective over time. Make an investment in your marketing efforts in the years and months to come and get started on list cleaning today–your future self will thank you!

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