The Power of a Clean List: How Email List Hygiene Drives Results

email list hygieneWhen it comes to email marketing, results are the name of the game. And nothing destroys your bottom line results like bad email list hygiene. Also, contrary to popular belief, “list hygiene” is not just about removing old and bounced emails. That’s more like the spring-cleaning part of it.

Bad hygiene practices go beyond just sending emails to the wrong people. It also includes sending emails at the wrong time, or at the wrong frequency, which ultimately destroys your engagement, but more on that later. The point is that failing to put in the effort sends a signal to the inbox providers that your emails are unwanted in general.

The net result is that more of your emails get labeled as spam and fail to deliver. That’s right, even the emails that you send to your fans will end up undelivered. In a word, you can’t afford to get lazy with email list hygiene. With that said, let’s go into the specifics.

Let’s get familiar with some of the terms first

Before we get into the details about how and why exactly we do email list hygiene, it’s important to get some terms defined for you, just so we’re on the same page.

email list hygieneEngagement

This is just a fancy way of saying “interacted with your email in some way”. This means opening the email, and even better, taking action on links inside of the email. So when we say “email engagement” we’re basically talking about email opens and email clicks.

However, when it comes to the spam filters, they look at how engaged people are with a sender, beyond just the engagement with any one given email. 

The algorithm looks at factors such as when they first opened an email from you or the frequency with which they open and engage with your emails.

Active Contacts

This is someone who is a currently engaged subscriber. This means that they either very recently signed up for your newsletter or if they’ve been around for longer, that they still engage with your emails on a regular basis. 

Inactive Contacts

When a subscriber goes cold, we refer to them as an “inactive contact” or subscriber. The bad news is that these subscribers are proactively harming you merely because they are still on your list. They receive your emails, but never act on them, which sends a really bad signal to the providers.

Please note, the inactive contacts are not a mere net-neutral. It isn’t just that they’re not contributing to your profit, they are proactively harming you. When an inbox receives an email and it goes unread, this is not seen as a default or neutral signal. It is seen as a negative signal, and that in turn reduces your deliverability and reputation with the providers.

Why is email list hygiene so important?

1. Increased Deliverability: Ever sent an email that vanished into the abyss of spam folders? Dirty lists filled with inactive addresses and spam traps can damage your sender reputation. Email hygiene ensures your emails reach the inboxes of real people who want to hear from you.

2. Boosted Engagement: Clean lists are full of engaged subscribers who are interested in your content.  By removing unengaged subscribers, you stop wasting sends on people who aren’t interested, and focus on those who actively open and click on your emails. This leads to a higher click-through rate (CTR) and improved brand loyalty.

3. Enhanced ROI: Every email you send costs money, whether it’s for your ESP or campaign management.  A clean list ensures you’re getting the most out of your investment.  By reaching engaged subscribers, you’re more likely to convert leads into customers, maximizing your return on investment (ROI).

4. Improved Sender Reputation:  Spam filters track your sender reputation based on bounce rates, spam complaints, and overall engagement.  A clean list minimizes bounces and complaints, sending positive signals to spam filters and boosting your reputation.  This translates to higher deliverability and better overall campaign performance.

The most common cause of a dead list, and how to fix it

One of the most common issues I see with businesses starting an email list is this: they start the list, add a bunch of leads, and then don’t send any emails.

The reason that this happens is because in a small or medium-sized business things can get hectic. You’re always putting out fires, pivoting from one idea to the other, and things aren’t very stable.

However, when it comes to email you simply cannot afford this “stop & go” strategy. If you’re going to start an email list, then you have to commit to consistently sending them some emails.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to mean sending 2 new amazing and original emails every other day. If all you can commit to (consistently) is just 2 emails a month, then just do that.

What many businesses do is that they get super excited about email and go through a “high phase”. This is where they get a ton of leads, start sending a bunch of emails and promotions, but then run out of fuel and take a break from sending emails. 

email list hygieneThey realize they can’t keep up this volume of work, but instead of reducing it gradually, they postpone email marketing until they can get back around to it in “full force”. Sometimes months go by before they send an email to their list. Only to discover that they now have a cold, dead list. 

Again, the fix is simple. Prepare enough content upfront, design a solid welcome sequence, and then commit to a frequency that you know you can maintain no matter how busy life gets.

How to reawaken inactive contacts

The best cure is always prevention, that is, making sure to commit to a consistent mailing frequency, as to minimize the damage. In my mind, this should be your primary form of “email list hygiene”, and not just deleting contacts once the damage has gone too far.

With that said, there is a way to re-engage contacts that have stopped engaging. Some of your inactive contacts are such because you failed to do email marketing for a long stretch of time. Others will be inactive despite the fact that you send emails on a regular basis.

In both cases, you can utilize a re-engagement campaign to try and turn them into an active and engaged subscriber once again. To give you a quick summary, it’s mostly about “creating a fresh start”. 

Just like the welcome sequence creates a great “head start” when they first sign-up, a re-engagement campaign should achieve something similar, a “reset” of sorts. 

It should first give them enough incentive to engage with you once again, work to habituate them into engaging with your emails, and let them know what kind of value they can expect from your emails going forward.

For more details, check out our guide here: Create a Killer Re-Engagement Email Campaign. At the end you’ll have to drop the ones that fail to re-engage, and keep the ones that re-engaged. The work doesn’t stop here though, you don’t yet have a healthy list. You still need to nurture the list back to full health, but more on that next.

Commit to keeping your list clean

If you’ve done a good job in providing amazing value in the re-engagement campaigns, your subscribers are ready to give you a second chance. But please remember that you still have to meet their expectations. You can’t go back to whatever created the issue in the first place.

You have to think of list hygiene as an ongoing process, and again, it’s about committing to a sustainable plan. This is easy to do. Just underestimate the amount of volume you can provide, and commit to it. If you end up occasionally providing more content, that’s fine.

email list hygieneAnd if over time your business and skills grow, and you find you can do more, please ramp up the volume and frequency gradually. You don’t want to create a spike that can cause issues.

Also, realize that the correct email frequency is a delicate balance between how much you can do, and how much a given subscriber needs. You can, and you should segment subscribers based on their interest level, and have a different frequency for the highly-engaged segments, than the lower-engagement segments.

But again, this isn’t an issue for most people just starting out. With most businesses the issue is that their frequency and volume (once you become consistent) is so low that they’re unlikely to send too many emails to anyone. This is only going to become an issue once you can produce more content than the lower-interest groups want and need from you.

In the meantime, commit to consistency, start building up those automated sequences, and start thinking in terms of “nurturing leads”. Once you commit to these principles, maintaining hygiene will largely take care of itself. You will still have to do the occasional cleanups and re-engagement campaigns, but much less frequently, and for smaller chunks of your list.

Advanced email list hygiene techniques

As we already discussed, list hygiene is more than just “removing dead leads”. It involves all of the efforts that you undertake in the pursuit of maintaining a clean list. 

A lot of these techniques will double as good email marketing practices, as well as techniques to improve deliverability. The 3 things are intertwined, and rarely is anything that you do something that exists in a vacuum under a single area.

email list hygiene

With that being said, once you’ve gotten the basic sequences and consistency under handle, there are a couple of things I want you to consider leveraging, or getting even better at. Note that you’re not required to put these off until you’ve got the frequency done. Many people are able to do this in parallel.

1. Get better at finer segmentation. A big part of “keeping your list clean” will have to do with creating engagement. And that requires sending the right content, to the right people, at the right time. Mastering email segmentation is crucial to achieving higher and higher levels of engagement.

2. Explore more advanced automation. You should start with the really straightforward automated sequences such as a welcome sequence starting from day one. However, over time you can start experimenting with finer levels of automation that more closely aligns with delivering a more customized and personalized journey for each subscriber. This will further reduce the number of subscribers who go inactive.

3. Learn about suppression lists. This is a way to temporarily stop the service from sending emails to certain subscribers, without removing them completely.  If you’re with Emercury, you’re in good hands because deliverability is our second name, so features like suppression lists are quite refined and well-established.

Get A Strategic Partner On Your Side

There’s no need to go at this alone. While we do put out a lot of free content to help you, nothing beats a one-on-one conversation. In these articles we try to help clarify things as best as possible. However, every business is different, so we have to generalize.

If you want to understand better how to implement email marketing in your specific business, let’s have a chat. At the moment I am still able to do some free demos, so be sure to book one while I can still do these.

I would love to hear about your specific needs, challenges and any confusion you might have about email marketing strategies. And then, help you see how you can use Emercury to improve your bottom-line.

Alternatively, or in addition to booking a free demo, you can also grab a username for our forever-free-plan while we still have it. It’s probably the most generous email marketing automation plan on the planet. We include almost every feature in this plan, with very few restrictions.

Remember, you get to keep this plan for life, for free… Provided that you grab a username while registrations are still open. Note that we might decide to pull this way-too-generous offering at any point. So click that link to check if we still allow registrations.

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