Keeping a clean contact record list is a main ingredient in getting better results from your campaigns.

What means cleaning your email list?

A clean list is a list with a minimum number of hard and soft bounces, wrong email addresses or purely fake ones. Keeping a list clean requires a lot of work and it’s not something you could do on a daily basis – especially if you gain a lot of new subscribers daily. It is important to clean your email list regularly as all email marketing providers require a low bounce and complaint rate. A clean list is also the only way to understand the real number of your subscribers and to keep your reports accurate (those click-through rates are about to surprise you after the clean up).

How to clean the list – manually and with tools

Most of the times a standard clean up would be sufficient for small to medium sized lists. You should be able to filter your contacts based on the following criteria:

1. Bulk email status: Hard-bounced, Unconfirmed, Opt-out. Yes, everyone has them, and the numbers grow exponentially as your list grows. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do with them. Go through the list of hard-bouncers – are they paying customers, do you have any additional way of contacting them for fixing the problem? Some of the people marked as hard-bouncers are valuable and you should try to restore them. Opt-outs are specific too – don’t delete paying customers, or any of them actually. Export their data, keep it in a safe place and then remove only those contacts you feel would never come back (this is where lead scoring comes in handy). As for unconfirmed – delete and never look back.

2. Email field: Not containing @ or .¬†Start with this simple filter and you will be presented with a list of contacts ready to be erased from your database. Some people would have misspelled their email – you could fix that. Other have switched the places of the email and name field – try fixing that too. But keep in mind that if this mistake took place more than a day-two before, you better delete the contact. Chances are they’ve already resubscribed (if they wanted your content really bad) or they have forgotten about you and you email would be marked as spam. Take a deep breath, click Delete and move forward.

3. Manual email cleaning and blocking – This is a bit more specific. I have found that some people like using disposable email addresses¬†(like Guerrilla Mail or 10minuteMail) for signing up for lead magnets. Those emails self-destruct in 10-15 minutes. After that – they are gone forever. The second time you send them an email they will bounce. They don’t deliver any value to your list – and you could choose to block them. You could do that with special rules that turn their bulk email status to No the minute they sign up. They would never get your guide and you would never send them any bouncy emails. It is all about the way you feel about them – they are clogging your contact list and might expand it so much, that you start paying additional monthly costs. You might need to do a search for the most popular emails addresses and then check your database for entries.

4. Use a professional tool to get rid of bad emails – Keeping your list clean is hard if you have a million of emails. This is when tools come in handy – upload your contacts, start the scan and see the results. Even though there are some good tools, I think they work better for sales automation. Most of the marketers send an email to their new contacts almost immediately. This means that a hard-bounce would be recorded also immediately. But sales people collect emails and then do bigger campaigns. Check the list before doing a blast that might end up with higher complaint and unsubscribe rate.

Re-engage inactive users

The next step to a healthier email list is finding those inactive people and re-engaging them. Depending on how often you email your subscribers, search for the people who haven’t clicked on your emails for the last 3 or 6 months. I suggest you remove them from your main list and keep them there until they start showing signs of interest. Depending on the complexity of the email marketing system you are using, you could launch an automated campaign. Here is how I do it:

  1. Mark contacts as inactive and remove from main list.
  2. Send inactive contacts an email with a tracked link – the email let’s them know that you have noticed they are not engaging with your content and you are going to stop sending them the regular content. All they need to do is click on the tracked link if they want to keep their account active.
  3. Set up a rule that restores them on the main list, as soon as they clicked the tracked link.
  4. Repeat two or three times – if they don’t click on the link, they are not going to engage with you or buy a product. They have never read any of your content probably.
  5. Make sure you track if they sign up to your list again – this should erase the inactive mark and bring them back to your main list.

Evaluate, optimize and repeat

Every time you perform a list clean, you would find some specific actions work better or worse for you. In order to optimize the processes mentioned above, you would need to keep track of the data. Check open rates, click-through rates and bounce rates – are they better immediately after the clean up or the same? Is there an additional filter in your system that gives you more information regarding your list? Use it next time and track results. To clean your email list is no easy task, but is something everyone has to do. Using the steps above you can optimize your marketing efforts and achieve better results.

photo credit: Alexander Rentsch via photopin cc