How to Clean an Old Email List


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Anyone who has started a company knows that that initial growth isn’t as linear as one would think. Not only is the road to product-market fit full of sidesteps, twists, and turns. It’s also full of adhoc marketing activities as part of the process of discovering the right marketing channels.

This journey has a huge impact on your email marketing.

Because of the way it was created, your email list becomes a collection of personal contacts, people you met at that conference that one time, business emails for companies your subscribers no longer work at… and so on and so forth. Several years in, your email list isn’t as clean as one would hope. Plus, if you haven’t kept up with your email marketing and haven’t sent anything to this list in a while, people may have even forgotten they subscribed. List cleaning can help resolved these issues, though, and put you on the right track to email marketing success.

Why List Cleaning Matters

Regular list cleaning is a good practice in any email marketing program to avoid unsubscribes and spam fines. I’ll address these two points separately:

Avoiding Unsubscribes: At first thought, you may not think that unsubscribes are that  bad of a result. It’s almost like the list is cleaning itself, right? True, but a high unsubscribe rate can send off smoke signals to spam filters and prevent your messages from hitting your recipients inbox. Plus, you don’t want to deteriorate your brand by annoying people with messages they don’t want.

Finally, many email service providers charge by list size. Why would you pay for contacts that are bad email addresses or don’t want to get your emails?

Avoiding Spam:

This should be obvious, but in case it’s not, getting too many spam complaints can have serious consequences. Your email service provider may shut down your email marketing program and you could incur fines from the government up to $16,000 for violating the CAN-SPAM act.

If you don’t have an extra $16,000 burning a hole in your pocket, read on.

How to Clean Your List

1) BriteVerify

Run your list through BriteVerify to check for bad emails. It’s simple to use. All you have to do is upload a CSV of your contacts and BriteVerify will check for bad email addresses (such as fake ones or company emails for places people no longer work). Eliminate every email that isn’t “valid” according to BriteVerify. If you do nothing else, even just this step alone will give you a much cleaner list.

2) CRM Retargeting

Using a product like Retargeter, you can retarget these old contacts with display ads about your brand and offering. This product matches email addresses to online databases and shows your ads to contacts wherever they are browsing online. This could be a great way to get your company top of mind again for people you haven’t reached out to in a while.

3) Twitter and Facebook Ads

With Twitter or Facebook, you can create a custom audience based on the email list. Similar to CRM Retargeting across the web, this approach will show your company’s ads to old subscribers and get you top of mind again. Just instead of the ads showing up on Buzzfeed or whatever site your audience reads, you’ll show ads on Twitter or Facebook. This is especially beneficial if there’s a mobile component to your business, since there are no cookies in mobile browsing so effective retargeting is tougher to come by.

4) Warm Them Up Before They Unsubscribe

Consider a “win-back” campaign for those who haven’t unsubscribed or clicked the spam report button, but haven’t been as engaged as you’d like them to be. Create a separate email list just of the people who haven’t opened your emails in a while. Create a win-back campaign that proactively asks them if they still want your content, or, offer a discount to get them re-engaged.

Main Takeaways

It’s natural for your list to become outdated, but it’s important that you proactively make time to get it up to date. Make list cleaning at least a yearly practice to make sure you’re staying compliant with CAN-SPAM laws. BriteVerify will do the trick as a minimum first step, but don’t forget the other options available to you through retargeting and win-back campaigns to warm your list up again.

What list cleaning tips do you have? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Great article, thank you for sharing.

    As an extension, I wrote a blog post with seven tips how to clean an old subscriber’s list to avoid filtering and blocking issues during email delivery.

    I think it might be a great addition and might be interesting to the readers of this post. I hope it is fine to share a link here

    Will appreciate any feedback.

  • Comments are closed.