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If better open and click-through rate, as well as higher sales, is what you’re after — never underestimate the power of regular email list cleaning.

After your email is sent out it can take multiple trajectories. It can end up in a spam folder, never to be seen by the intended reader. Or, it can land in their promotions folder only to be opened when — if — your subscriber chooses to revisit it. Or, it can swoop into their inbox with a notification and an instant open. 

To make sure all of your emails end up in the third category, you need to take good care of your email contacts list. In this article, we’ll share a few of the benefits of email list cleaning as well as some best practices to get you started.

What is email list cleaning?

GetResponse dashboard showing list hygiene statistics

Email list cleaning is a periodic audit of your email lists to ensure that only active accounts make the cut for your next email marketing campaign

This procedure involves removing dead, fake, invalid, or duplicate accounts to maintain good email list hygiene. It also gives you an opportunity to categorize your users and ensure they only receive relevant information, recommendations, and updates. 

Author’s note: GetResponse has built-in solutions to make sure that fake emails are caught before they make their way into the list. Duplicate email addresses are not possible within one list unless you absolutely want them there for a purpose.

Learn more about list hygiene and nurturing here

Why should you clean your email list?

While email list cleaning may not be the most fun activity, it is invaluable in terms of ROI on the time you will be saving. That’s why we strongly encourage you to find some time each month to pay closer attention to the contacts you are marketing to. 

But that’s not all. There are many benefits of regularly cleaning your email lists. Below, we’ve selected the most crucial ones. 

1. Reduced bounce rates

"Address not found" Gmail error

Bounce rates tell you what percentage of your sent emails don’t get delivered to your recipients. There are two kinds of email bounces: 

  • a hard bounce, which is when your email is permanently rejected, with no hope of getting to the recipient. In GetResponse, for example, these hard-bounce emails are automatically removed so that they don’t ruin your email reputation.
  • a soft bounce, which is when the email cannot be delivered because the receiver’s mailbox is full or the message is too large. If an email soft bounces several times in a row most email providers will recognize it as a hard bounce. 

It is extremely important to fight both hard and soft bounces if you want your emails to be of use. A bounce rate of over 3-5% can indicate that a significant number of email addresses on your list are either invalid, inactive, or incorrect. Also, the higher the bounce rate, the greater is the risk of your emails being flagged as spam.

A good email cleaning service will detect email bounces and remove bounced email addresses from the list automatically. However, we encourage you to double-check your contacts if possible.

2. Better email deliverability

GetResponse dashboard showing data for delivery, open, click, bounce, spam compaint, and unsubscribe rates

You could have the most well-crafted content/design and wonderfully executed email campaign, but if your message ends up hit by spam complaints or gets blocked from inboxes, it’s all for nothing. 

This doesn’t mean your email design and content don’t affect where it lands in the recipient inbox — it very much does.

Your subscribers won’t see it and your email service providers might decide to filter your emails. The same happens if you have a high number of people who don’t open your emails on your list.

Take a ‌look at two hypothetical examples 

One business has a modest, yet carefully curated, contact list with 100 email addresses; they take their list cleaning seriously and focus on emailing only engaged contacts. As a result, an average of 95 recipients open their messages, resulting in a modest, yet acceptable 95% deliverability rate. 

Another business has been vigorously gathering email addresses from their customers for months and has accumulated 1000 contacts and never cleans their list. However, only 200 of those actually open the communications they get, leading to 20% of successful deliveries. 

Over the next few months of both these campaigns running, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will most probably decide that the first company provides valuable content to its audience and should be left in peace, while the second one will get filtered out from those 20% inboxes.    

The moral of the story?

Scrubbing your email list rewards you with high deliverability

Learn more about improved email deliverability with these articles:
IP Warmup: What it is, how it works, and why you need it
Email going to spam? 12 reasons why that happens

3. Accurate email marketing campaign data

GetResponse dashboard showing email marketing statistics

Making sense of marketing metrics such as open rates, engagement rates, and click-through rates can be a challenging task when inactive email addresses are skewing your data. An email that doesn’t get delivered doesn’t get opened, clicked on, or engaged with. 

Periodically ridding your email lists of invalid addresses and contacts who’ve marked you as spam can help you accurately track marketing metrics and craft new campaigns based on the results. 

4. Reduced costs

While email campaigns promise some of the highest returns on investment ($36 dollars recouped for every dollar spent), it’s hard to recover your investment if your emails don’t reach your audience. 

With most email marketing tools, you pay for the size of your list, so cleaning it regularly will reduce the size, hence may help with reducing costs and staying on budget.

Continue reading to find out more about the best contact list management practices

5. More conversions

A clean email list ensures that the addresses in your email database are active and that your campaigns accurately target segmented lists. This gives them a higher chance of a conversion

When your email with promotions, discounts, or fresh arrivals reaches people at the right time, it can compel them to pull out their credit cards and buy from you. But if these emails end up unopened, the chances of your customers completing a purchase are next to zero. 

To ensure that your irresistible offers and promotions lead to conversions, it is important to have a healthy, segmented email list. This way, you can make certain that the information your recipients get is right for them, which will maximize the chances of them actually opening your message.

Email list cleaning best practices

A healthy and functioning email list can make or break your email marketing campaign. These 10 email list cleaning best practices will help you ensure your emails always reach their destination and convert. 

Best practice 1: Focus on your most-engaged lists first

For any email marketing campaign, opt-ins come with different degrees of readiness. Some people will want to hear from you daily, some weekly, and some monthly. Your most-engaged lists consist of people (subscribers) who regularly interact with your emails by opening them, clicking your links, or replying to them. 

When you begin cleaning your email list, ‌start with the contacts who most frequently engage with your communications and separate them from folks who don’t open your emails. 

Spam complaints dashboard from GetResponse
Spam complaints is an important metric that helps you identify subscribers who should be less engaged

Based on their rate of engagement, you can decide which contacts are likely to engage with your emails or if it is better to keep them out of your campaigns or list. After all, a poorly targeted email can cause a person to fill out spam complaints against your email as spam, thus skewing your performance in the wrong way.

Bonus point: You may also find it worthwhile to ask your most active subscribers if they want to receive more frequent updates from you and move them to your weekly list 

Best practice 2: Remove duplicates

Some people might find your brand so relevant and exciting that they sign up twice (or more) without even realizing it. As flattering as that is, it can mess with your digital marketing campaigns’ metrics. 

Regularly removing duplicate email addresses from your email list will make sure your email marketing statistics are up to date. It also prevents you from sending double messages, which might annoy your contacts enough to make them unsubscribe.

Good software for marketing automation will often take care of the duplicates for you. 

Best practice 3: Remove spam email addresses

It is often very easy to differentiate a real person who signed up for your list from a fake one. A real person’s email address generally reads [email protected] whereas a spam address will be more along the lines of a random string of letters, such as [email protected] 

If your email marketing service doesn’t automatically do it for you, it is a good idea to periodically remove these fake email addresses so that they don’t skew your carefully nurtured metrics or, worse, lead to your IP being recognized as malicious by the email client.

Best practice 4: Remove emails with typos

Set verified "from" and "reply-to" fields with GetResponse

You might think that with all the writing and editing tools we have available to us today, it has become impossible to make a typo. However, you’d be surprised at how common they are. 

Email addresses can be riddled with typos. People write “0” instead of “o” or “gnail” instead of “gmail,” creating invalid email addresses amplifies the distance between you and your customers. 

So if you have a relatively small list, try to correct obvious typos like these to elevate your open rates. But if you have a mid or large-sized list, then you’ll need a tool to help identify and fix emails with typos at scale.

GetResponse, for instance, automatically blocks addresses with syntax errors, so if an email address contains a typo after @, it won’t be added to your list.

Best practice 5: Make sure data matches the field

Thanks to marketing automation, you can take personalization to the next level! Ask your subscribers to complete one form and enhance all future communications with intricate details, like their first name, position at their company, or a specific industry their business operates in. 

That is, of course, if all the data is processed correctly. Otherwise, you are risking ending up sending emails with pearls like “Hello, ecommerce!” or “… here are our latest updates from the world of 132.12.31”. Not ideal.

Even though automation tools get better by the day, data still has a notorious habit of ending up in the wrong field, especially with detailed forms. 

Pro tip: If you have a small list, going through your email list and putting the data in the right fields will reduce your bounce rates and ensure your subscribers actually receive your emails. But also, never underestimate the preview function provided by your marketing automation software — most of the mismatches can be easily avoided before the “send” button is hit 

Best practice 6: Re-engage inactive subscribers with win-back emails

A win-back email example from Saks

As time passes, people might become disengaged with your brand and stop opening emails from you. Very often, it is not a reflection on your business but rather a general passivity towards opening piling email updates. You have two options here: remove the disengaged subscribers or re-engage them with win-back emails. We recommend the latter. 

Win-back email campaigns target inactive users and encourage them to start opening your emails and visit your website. You can easily entice subscribers who have only recently stopped engaging with your content to return by offering them a small freebie, a discount voucher, or free shipping.

Did you know that… With GetResponse you can set up a win-back email workflow in just a few clicks thanks to the ready-made automation templates we have included in our platform?

If, however, even after your re-engagement campaign you still have subscribers who haven’t reacted to or engaged with your win-back emails, then it’s time to remove them from your list.

Best practice 7: Understand your readers

As important as it is to segment your customers, it is equally crucial to understand what is driving that segmentation in the first place.

  • Did a particular marketing campaign alienate a portion of your audience? 
  • Was there a popular trend around your product that boosted open rates during a particular week? 
  • Is there a pattern in your customer complaints, and can your email campaigns address those?

Having the answers to these questions (as well as many more) can help you understand which factors contribute to the overall customer satisfaction the most, what your most engaged subscribers respond to best and why.

This, in turn, will help you build a focused niche list that will boost your engagement rates and drive conversions. 

Best practice 8: Pay special attention to subject lines 

Email list cleaning is super useful for maintaining the hygiene of your email lists. But before you start deleting inactive email addresses, make sure your declining engagement scores or rates are not due to poorly-drafted subject lines

Ideally, you should create a subject line that gives away just the right amount of information — not too much, not too little — and has an effective hook to reel in your reader. 

Before you remove subscribers that never seem to open your emails, try a different category of email subject lines to make sure it’s the subscriber’s passivity and not your content’s fault. 

3 steps to get started with email listening cleaning

Email list cleaning may seem like a daunting task, but it is relatively easy to get started — especially if you adhere to email marketing best practices and have your email list segmented.

Here is the procedure in three brief steps:

Step 1: Correct any sender-related issues you may have

Before you start removing addresses that are bouncing your emails, make sure there aren’t any sender-related issues preventing your messages from getting delivered. These could include your email being blacklisted by a service provider or being flagged for frequent spam complaints. 

Use email blacklisting tools to determine if your messages are being blocked. 

Step 2: Filter segments from most impactful to least impactful

To quicken your email list cleaning, start optimizing each category in decreasing the order of impact. Targeting lists that already have a large number of active users can make your cleaning process quicker and yield a higher return on your time investment. 

Trying to revive lists filled with inactive users might bring some of them back, but this is a task that will show results over a longer period of time.

GetResponse's A/B test editor
With GetResponse you can test the most important elements of your email, such as a subject line or anything within the content itself

You need to execute your win-back campaigns with patience and perform A/B testing to see what works before deciding which emails to keep. 

Step 3: Employ an email list cleaning service 

Manually going through your email contacts is a tedious task, no matter how short the list is. Email list cleaning services employ machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to ensure that your email lists are healthy and do not get flagged by your internet service providers. 

Author’s note: GetResponse has built-in email list cleaning service features like suppression lists and filters that help to automatically clean your email lists and maintain good list hygiene. Learn more about it here.

Email list cleaning FAQs

How do I keep my mail list healthy?

There are several ways to do this, but one way to keep your email list healthy is to avoid sending email blasts that target too many of your subscriber segments or lists.

People rarely engage with content that looks like it comes from a one-size-fits-all template — and if you send too many irrelevant emails, subscribers will soon become reluctant to open emails from you in the future. 

Another important tip to keep your email list clean is to avoid assuming that all your subscribers are interested in all your offers. For example, if a person signs up for your webinar, it’s likely futile to try to get them to buy from your partner brand.

Before spamming these subscribers with all your products and services, make sure they are interested in the offer in the first place. Otherwise, all your marketing efforts will go to waste.

Letting your audience easily manage their subscriptions is also beneficial (and required by law). Burying the unsubscribe link in the depths of your email in a grayed-out font may sound like a good email marketing strategy, but it isn’t. In fact, if you’re able to gray it out completely or remove it altogether, then you are likely not using a trustworthy email marketing service.

Unsubscribe links are among the most common channels for contacts to be removed from the list

Making it harder for your subscribers to opt out of hearing from you will only infuriate them. If instead, you give them an option to manage their preferences, you can build credibility and trust with your email subscribers. 

How often should you clean your email list?

As a general rule, a good standard to advise is to run an engagement check every 3-6 months as a minimum for every branch of business. 

However, the frequency of your email list cleaning depends largely on your email marketing goals and the percentage of your sales that come through these channels. Therefore, the frequency of email list cleaning will vary from company to company. 

Get started with the right email list cleaning service today!

Keeping a clean email list is an incredibly beneficial practice. However, you can make it simple by using the right email automation and email marketing tools. 

GetResponse’s email marketing suite allows you to create tailored campaigns that make personalization easier and make your marketing impactful. Automation helps you keep a clean email list so that you don’t have to spend the man-hours going through every single detail. With a service such as this one, email list cleaning is a breeze!

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