rubber ducksThis is a guest post written by Heather Bonura. Heather is the director of brand strategy for Lititz, PA-based email marketing firm, Listrak.

We all know that email marketing is continually evolving. Subscribers are savvier, and therefore, we need to get more targeted. But many marketers still haven’t adjusted their email strategies to be truly effective. It’s no longer valuable to rent a list and blast out a message to a million recipients in hopes they’ll appreciate your efforts and take advantage of your offer. In fact, tactics like that can often do more harm than good. If you aren’t building and managing your own email lists, you’re not only missing the profiling data that is specific to your company, but you’re running the risk of being flagged as spam and decreasing your ROI.

Here are some tips for managing and optimizing your email list.  

1. Make Sure Your List Has Good Hygiene

Performing a simple data check to correct misspellings and typos entered during the acquisition phase is the first step toward clean lists. This will enable you to clean up simple errors such as, tara@gmailcom, terry!, etc., so you don’t deploy messages to invalid accounts. During this process, you should also remove any distribution email addresses, such as; system email addresses, such as; and any email address with the word “spam” in it. Many email marketing providers have list hygiene tools built in to their services to keep your list clean and bounce rates low.

2. Manage Bounce Rate

Undelivered emails continue to cause a lot of confusion for email marketers, as the bounce codes are cryptic and lack standardization across different email clients. However, this is a critical step in list management, and frankly, it increases your email ROI by not mailing to addresses that bounce. You don’t have to decipher every bounce code, you just have to manage hard and soft bounces.

A soft bounce is a temporary deliverability problem, such as a full inbox or a server that is down. It’s okay for you to resend emails to these addresses because there is a good chance they will go through on the second or third attempt. 

A hard bounce is a permanent deliverability problem, such as an invalid email address. Since there is no chance the email will ever get delievered, it is important to remove these addresses immediately. ISPs track the number of bounces you generate with each send and use it when determining your reputation. If you generate too many bounces, internet service providers (ISPs) may block your messages. Keeping these addresses on your list will also squew your analytics in a negative way. 

3. Monitor Feedback Loops

Another factor ISPs use to determine your reputation is the number of complaints your messages generate. With email clients today, it's often easier for people to report your unwanted messages as spam than it is for them to unsubscribe from your list. Even if you followed all of the acquisition best practices and the subscribers opted in to receive emails from you, they can still report your messages as spam. It is imperative that you monitor feedback loops so you can identify complainers and immediately remove them from your lists.

4. Remove Inactive Subscribers

The thought of proactively removing subscribers from your list who haven’t personally unsubscribed might sound crazy to you. However, it is a current trend and best practice that savvy marketers are using to improve ROI by ensuring their lists only contain subscribers who are engaged. After all, if someone is only going to delete your message, why even send it in the first place?

Before you remove subscribers, try a re-engagement campaign to regain their interest. You might offer a special incentive to recapture their attention. If that doesn’t work, simply ask them if they wish to remain on your list and include an easy way for them to opt out, or send a notification that their subscription period is ending and ask them to opt-in again. If the subscriber remains inactive, remove them from your list. Remember: the success of an email marketing campaign should not measured by the number of subscribers. Rather, it should be measured by the quality of the subscribers and the actions they take as a result of your email (like downloading your ebook and converting into a lead!). Therefore, it’s better to deploy campaigns to 20,000 active and engaged people than it is to blast the email to 30,000 people if half of them don’t care, delete it, or worse -- report it as spam.

With these tips as your guide, you’re now armed with the knowledge you need to clean up your email list so you can increase ROI and revenue.

When was the last time you updated your email list? What’s your bounce rate like?

Image Credit: Kris Bradley

free ebook: how to grow your email list

Originally published Oct 3, 2011 9:00:00 AM, updated June 09 2021


Email Lists and Segmentation Email Marketing Tools