How to Clean Your Email List and Why

How to clean your email list
Table of Contents

    Email marketing is a numbers game. The bigger your list, the more you’re going to sell. Small caveat here, though, the list needs to be healthy. A big list does nothing for you if no ones is opening your emails. To keep your list healthy, you need to clean it regularly. 

    What does it mean to clean or scrub your email list?

    Cleaning your email list involves removing all the inactive emails addresses, fake email addresses, duplicates, and spam email addresses from your list. 

    Why should you clean your email list?

    Dirty email marketing lists are expensive

    Email marketing isn’t free, and most email service providers (ESP) charge you per email sent. If you are sending emails to inactive subscribers, emails that frequently bounce, spam email addresses, or sending duplicate emails, you are wasting money. 

    It also saves you time and resources down the road. Digging into an email marketing campaign to see why it didn’t work takes time, when in reality you could have just been sending it to a dirty list.

    A dirty list has a negative impact on your sender reputation

    Your sender reputation matters. If your emails are frequently being sent to spam, internet service providers think that they are indeed spam and actively work to keep them out of inboxes. 

    Your sender reputation is based on a number of factors, including: 

    • Open rates
    • Click rates
    • The amount of emails addresses you are sending to that are invalid, incorrect, or don’t exist (hard bounces).
    • The number of emails deleted without opening or marked as spam.
    • If you’re sending to spam traps (invalid emails set up to catch people using shady list building practices. 

    It skews your engagement metrics

    You are probably monitoring your email metrics frequently, but if you are sending to a dirty list, they are definitely skewed. Before you start tearing apart your campaigns searching for the reasons behind low engagement, clean your list and see how much they improve. Yes, your list size will shrink, but your engagement metrics, open and click-through rate (CTR), etc. will increase. Giving you a better idea about the impact of your content and your email marketing as a whole.

    What are the benefits of cleaning your email list?

    Reduces spam complaints

    Some people won’t unsubscribe from your emails and will instead mark them as spam to get them out of their inbox. As we stated above, spam complaints affect your sender reputation, which you want to keep healthy. Getting rid of inactive email address will reduce spam complaints.

    Better deliverability and engagement

    Email deliverability, when an email successfully arrives in the recipient’s inbox, is strongly affected by your sender reputation. If you have a lot of emails being marked as spam, internet service providers may start delivering all your emails directly to spam  – meaning no one is seeing your emails. Successful email deliverability equals successful email marketing campaigns.

    Your email marketing engagement rates will increase significantly. If your engagement rates are floundering, it’s a good sign you need to clean your list. Once it’s clean, your engagement rates will be based on people who actually want to be on your list and subsequently tell you how effective your email marketing campaigns are. 

    When should you clean your email list?

    After you initially clean your list, you should follow best practices for list health, which should keep your email list clean. However, you should make a set schedule for checking and cleaning your email lists in tip-top condition. Every 3 months is usually a good interval, but if your list is big, you may need to clean it more often.

    Signs you may need to clean it include: lower than normal engagement rates, an increase in spam complaints, an increase in bounce rates. You should also clean your list if you are migrating to another email service provider (ESP). 

    How to clean your email list

    Determine what makes a subscriber inactive

    Determine what time frame makes a subscriber inactive for your email marketing program. Most people remove inactive subscribers after 90-120 days, but the correct length of time can vary depending on how frequently you send emails. 

    Divide your list into two categories: Active and Inactive

    Once you’ve decided what makes a subscriber inactive, divide your list into two categories. Active subscribers and inactive subscribers.

    Send a re-engagement campaign

    Once you have your list of inactive subscribers above, make an effort to keep them on your list by firing off a re-engagement campaign. The goal is to pique their interest and hopefully retain the subscriber. Need inspiration? Really Good Emails has an entire re-engagement category full of ideas.

    Move people who respond back to your active subscribers category. Move people who do not respond off alla ctive lists. Keep their email in the system though to prevent them from being readded.

    Remove your unsubscribes

    Hopefully you are using an Email Service Provider (ESP) where unsubscribes are automatically removed from active sending, but if not, remove this emails now. 

    Remove duplicate emails

    Duplicate email addresses are a common thing. Search for duplicate email addresses and remove them.

    Fix typos

    When subscribers are signing up for your list, often times they make a mistake as they are typing. While you can’t really fix typos in the first part of the email address, you can absolutely fix common mistakes in the second half of the email, such as or Setting up a double opt-in process will eliminate these email addresses being added to your list in the future. 

    Remove spam emails

    Whether they came from bad list building practices or bot traffic entering bad email addresses. Removing spam trap emails from your list is essential for keeping your send reputation healthy.

    Remove multiple bounce emails

    Email addresses can decay quickly. Especially B2B emails as employees turnover. Your email service provider (ESP) should remove hard bounce emails (the email doesn’t exist) automatically. Make sure this is happening. For soft bounces (the inbox was full or file sizes too large to deliver) determine how many bounces you allow before you remove the email from your list. Occasional soft bounces happen. Multiple soft bounces should be removed front our list. 

    Use a service

    Yes, you can do all of the above manually, but if you have a large list if probably not realistic. Use an email list cleaning service to do it.

    How to maintain a clean email list

    Now that you have a clean list, let’s talk about how to maintain it. You should still regularly check on the health of your list and go through the process to clean it, but if you follow the best practices you list below it should stay in pretty good condition.

    Set up a double opt-in (this prevents errors on sign up)

    A double opt-in process ensures people who signed up for your list actually want to be on it, and it prevents incorrect emails from being added to your list. 

    Send a welcome email 

    Recency is highly important for email engagement. As soon as a subscriber is added to your list, they should receive a welcome email introducing your company and telling them what to expect from your emails. Sending a welcome email ensures they will remember who you are and their request to be added to your list – they also have the highest open rates of any other marketing email, so make it count!  

    Segment your list

    One of the best ways to keep subscribers engaged with your email campaigns is to send them emails they actually want to receive. The best way to do this is to segment your email list based on interest. Segmenting your email list highly increases the value subscribers receive from your email marketing. 

    Allow subscribers to manage their preferences

    Another way to keep subscribers engaged is to allow them to actively manage what why receive from you. You can do this on both ends of the subscription process. 1) When they sign up, have radio buttons on the form allowing them to choose what they would like to receive. 2) Instead of unsubscribing, allow them to choose both what they would like to receive and the frequency at which they would like to receive it. 

    Set up an automation to sunset inactive email addresses

    Set up an automation within your email service provider (ESP) which will automatically remove inactive emails from active lists. Depending on how frequently you send emails, decide when an inactive email address should be removed (i.e. 90-120 days) and decrease the frequency at which you send emails to that address as you work closer to the inactive data. 

    It would look similar to this. Send emails at your standard frequency until they haven’t opened anything for 30 days. Decrease the frequency slightly. Send emails at the decreased frequency until the subscriber hits 60 days of inactivity, and then decrease the frequency again. Do the same at 90 days. Remove the email from active sending at 120 days. Do not remove the email completely from your ESP because you don’t want it to be re-added to an active sending list later. 

    Regularly clean your list

    Keep your list clean. Set a regular schedule and stick to it. 

    Use an email verification tool

    Integrate an email verification tool into your lead generation systems. New email subscribers should be runt through a verification tool to make sure it’s a valid, active email address and not a spam trap.  

    Increase engagement by encouraging interaction

    Keep your list engaged. Do this by actively working to engage your subscribers. Ask a question, includes survey, include videos and dynamic content they want to check out. 

    Remove hard bounces immediately

    Check with your email service provider to see if this happens automatically or if you have to set it up. These emails will hurt your sender reputation if left on your list. 

    Automate the removal of soft bounces

    Set up an automation in your ESP to remove email addresses with multiple soft bounces. 

    Wrapping it up

    Keeping your email list is tip-top shape is essential to get the most out of your email marketing program. A small engaged lists beats a massive unengaged list any day. Need help growing your list? Check out this post on how to grow your email list. 

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    The RAEK Team

    RAEK was built by a group of digital marketers on a mission to help small businesses grow and easily utilize their first-party customer data.