In the world of email marketing, prevailing wisdom is that bigger is better — at least when it comes to the size of your subscription list. The more people who receive your messages, the better, right?
While there is a certain amount of truth to that statement, a list with thousands of subscribers isn’t going to do you much good if 90 percent of them aren’t engaged.
The fact is email lists are living things. They are in a constant state of flux, with new subscribers being added and others leaving all the time. Recipients’ interests and preferences change over time as well, and if you aren’t keeping up, you could be unintentionally derailing your own marketing efforts.
The Ugly Truth About Outdated Email Lists
As a marketer, you have probably spent a great deal of time cultivating your lists. Even if you have purchased lists, you’ve carefully chosen the parameters of that list to ensure you’re reaching the most likely prospects for your product or service.
However, ask yourself this question: Is my business the same today as it was one, five, 10 years ago? Smart marketers understand the changes in their industries and respond to them, adjusting their messaging, adding and discontinuing products, and making changes to their branding and positioning. It only makes sense, then, that your customers are doing the same thing, and the sad truth is that they may not have a need or desire for your messages any longer.
How can you tell if your customers have disengaged? Reduced response rate to your messages are an obvious indicator, but your email analytics can provide more subtle clues. Most email programs allow you to see how many of your emails were opened, how many bounced back, and overall engagement. If you notice that the open rate is steadily declining — meaning that more people are just ignoring or deleting the messages without opening them — and that no one is clicking through to your website or forwarding the message, then there could be a problem with your list. Another important indicator is the number of emails that bounce back or are otherwise undeliverable. You emails may not even be reaching subscribers’ mailboxes for some reason, and an outdated list could be the problem.
Outdated lists do more than just waste your time. When emails go unopened, or are reported as junk or spam, it can hurt your reputation as a sender. If too many of your emails are reported, it could get you locked by email providers or even in hot water with the government if you are violating the CAN-SPAM Act. And while most mailing services automatically take care of unsubscribe or remove requests, failing to do, even inadvertently, can seriously harm your reputation.
Cleaning Up Your Act
With all of that in mind, keeping your email list clean and up-to-date is vital — even if it seems counterintuitive to make it smaller. Some of the ways that you can clean your list include:
- Checking for unsubscribe requests and acting on them. If anyone has asked to be removed and has not been, immediately delete them from the list.
- Remove subscribers who aren’t receiving your mail. If an address has experienced more than one “hard bounce,” meaning it’s permanently undeliverable, take it off the list.
- Remove subscribers who have role-based email addresses. These include addresses such as “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org.” In the majority of cases, these emails are not reaching actual people.
- Remove subscribers who have never opened an email from you.
- Segment your list based on engagement. For example, lists dedicated for those who open every email, who open occasionally, and who open rarely. Tailoring your content for each audience can boost engagement.
- Try to re-engage with the low or no engagement subscribers. For those who have not opened an email in a long time, send a message asking them to reconfirm their desire to stay on the list. You may want to tie that confirmation to a special offer or discount. Remove those who do not respond from the list.
- Improve your lists from the start. Keep the spambots out by requiring a double opt-in.
The result of this cleanup is likely to be that your list will be much smaller, but much more successful — and you’ll stay out of trouble with Internet Service Providers and the government. Do it every few months to keep your list fresh and your subscribers engaged.