Learn how to to maintain email list hygiene for better deliverability

Profile photo of author Alexandra McPeak
Email marketing
November 4th 2021
email list hygiene

Traditionally, you maintain email list hygiene by suppressing emails to recipients who have not opened emails from you. But now with the latest iOS 15 update from Apple, you can’t track whether someone has opened your email or not. And with the trend of institutions listening to consumers’ desires for more data privacy, other providers will likely follow suit. So, how do you maintain email list hygiene without relying on opens?

Track actual engagement by combining metrics like clicks and on-site behavior . And what’s more—you will find that learn more about your customers than you ever did with just opens.

Maintain a clean email list for more effective email marketing

Keeping a clean email list is the process of keeping your subscriber list full of people who actually want to interact with you—and suppressing emails to folks who aren’t active.

It’s the key to building a high-performing email marketing channel.

Build great relationships

Think from your customer’s perspective: Nothing is more annoying than getting dozens of emails from a brand that you’re not engaging with—it just feels like they’re not listening.

A brand that you once loved is now crowding your inbox, sending you emails that you don’t care about, and leaving a bad taste in your mouth. This email frequency might be great for other customers, but not you—you just feel annoyed.

When you send emails to customers who don’t engage, you harm your relationship with them and reduce their interest in your brand. It certainly won’t help you reach your business goals.

Reduce unsubscribes

With that brand that you love, maybe you’re an occasional engager. You’re happy to hear about their seasonal launches—but that relentless content in between? You’re just not interested. But since the brand isn’t segmenting—you’re over it and you hit the unsubscribe button.

No one wants a customer to unsubscribe. But if you send your customers  content that resonates and at a frequency that works for them, you can keep landing in their inboxes.

Improve customer retention

In addition to suppressing inactive subscribers, you can win back fading customers with targeted campaigns—as long as you’re paying attention to email engagement metrics. And that’s not something you can do by blasting your whole email list with the same message.

Increase deliverability

Having inactive subscribers harms your ability to get emails delivered to the rest of your list. The way that people interact with the emails sent from your domain—whether they’re opened or bounced—determine whether or not your messages are categorized as spam. 

So, it’s wise to only send emails to people engaged in your content—and it will make sure that they continue to receive your messages.

Save money

Email marketing platforms—including Klaviyo—base their rate on the number of emails you send. So, don’t waste your resources on people who aren’t paying attention. Clean those email addresses out and focus on your fan base.

Rethink email list engagement

Opens were an unreliable metric, anyway. Now that you can’t track them, it’s time to move on to more effective email marketing metrics to determine subscriber engagement.

Email opens don’t show actual impact on your business goals because they don’t indicate true engagement. People can open an email for a lot of reasons. For example, your subject line might have sparked some curiosity, but the customer became uninterested once they opened the email. Or, the customer could be opening your email to clean out their inbox—or to unsubscribe.

On top of that, opens can be misreported. Tracking opens relies on your subscriber’s inbox recognizing a pixel (which is an image) and reporting it back to your email service provider as delivered and opened. But if the recipient doesn’t have “Always Display Images” on their email settings, their inbox won’t register and report the pixel.

Spam filters can also cause an email to be inaccurately tracked as “opened.” These filters scan an email for potentially spammy content. If that process takes long enough for the inbox to register the pixel, it could be marked as opened on your email platform.

So don’t shed any tears over email opens. It’s time to move on to better metrics.

Keep a clean email list using the right metrics

A clean email list means more than just not sending emails to folks who are unengaged. It means segmenting your email list based on behavior.

You can send more emails to those who want to read them—and fewer emails to on-and-off readers. Send customers more of the content they like. And if you pay attention to who’s fading, you can initiate re-engagement campaigns to keep them active.

Consider these metrics to establish engagement

Instead of opens, build your subscriber segments using other metrics:

Clicks to your website

You were likely already tracking click-through rate (CTR). Now it’s time to prioritize it. CTRs are better than opens because clicks mean customers are actually engaging with your content.

If you have historical data, establish your baseline for success by looking at your CTR as it relates to open rate before the iOS 15 update went live in September 2021.

If you can’t establish your own baseline, Klaviyo data shows that the average email CTR for ecommerce brands is 2.25% based on all businesses that sent at least one email campaign with Klaviyo in 2020. Use this as your baseline to measure success and optimize your email for clicks moving forward.

Recent orders

Tracking recent orders tells you how engaged a subscriber is with your brand beyond direct email engagement.

Just because a customer clicked on your launch email for a line of $200 cashmere sweaters doesn’t mean that they’re inclined to buy them. If all the customer’s sweater purchases have been for your budget-conscious cotton line, that should factor into your segmentation.

With this information, you can send customers the right emails based on what they’ve actually purchased.

On-site behavior

Clicks alone don’t offer a complete picture of a subscriber’s engagement. Knowing how a customer is interacting with your website can add a missing piece of the puzzle.

After a customer has clicked in your email, what are they doing on your website? Are they browsing products? Adding to their cart? Exploring your blog?

Connecting the dots can help you build a complete customer profile. Then, you can send the content that results in meaningful actions on your website—and skip those that don’t.

Recency of sign-up

Don’t suppress new subscribers too early. Give them a chance to show that they’re engaged with your brand. Keep sending emails to those who joined in the last six months—regardless of engagement.

And remember: First impressions are crucial. Send new subscribers a welcome series to establish their relationship with your brand and ensure future engagement.

Email recency

Your emails should work cooperatively. If you have several active campaigns going out to customers, you don’t want them to overlap. Otherwise, customers will feel overwhelmed and engage with fewer emails. Keep your engagement rate high by accounting for how recently someone received an email before sending them another one.

Your customers’ behaviors and preferences enable you to personalize your communications for better acquisition and retention, ultimately creating a more loyal customer base.

Use this engagement data to inform email suppression

In the past, email marketers grouped subscribers by how many recent emails a person had opened. But we’re past the batch-and-blast, so your segmentation needs to reflect that. You don’t want to send all your active users the same emails, so segmenting by email engagement alone doesn’t make sense.

Use your engagement data to segment by behavior. Send your fans emails based on how they’ve interacted with you in the past. Then email cadence and content are tailored to the individual subscriber, allowing you to build lots of healthy, personalized relationships with customers.

The less engaged a customer is, the fewer emails you should send them. As a user fades, initiate a re-engagement campaign to try to win them back.

If customers become inactive based on the metrics you’ve established after re-engagement attempts, suppress future emails to them until their behavior changes. One example of this is when a customer returns to visit your website.

Suppress subscribers who are hurting your list

Some subscribers are doing more harm than just being inactive, so be sure to suppress these email addresses on your list:

Spam complainers

Even if you’re getting consent to add people to your email list, some folks may have forgotten that they signed up for your emails and mark you as spam. Stay out of spam folders and get rid of these subscribers. Avoid spam complaints by making sure that your unsubscribe button is easy to find at the bottom of every email you send.

Bounced addresses

Bounce back emails hurt your domain’s reputation. For hard bounces, delete those email addresses from your list. It’s a bad email address that’s either been deactivated or doesn’t exist.

Email providers are more lenient for soft bounces. These happen due to temporary issues like a recipient’s inbox being full. Suppress these addresses after getting a few soft bounces from the same email address. Klaviyo automatically suppresses email addresses after 7 consecutive soft bounces, but you can be more proactive about this if you like.

Removing subscribers that are harming your list will save you money—and keep you out of the spam folder. 

Optimize your email content to encourage engagement

Now that you know how to keep a squeaky-clean email list, you’ll also want to perfect your emails so that they’re highly engaging.

Without open rates, your emails need to encourage subscribers to interact with your content. It can’t just be a nice email to read. If an email isn’t clicked, that subscriber will appear unengaged. Optimize for CTR so that subscribers are engaging with your email beyond just opening it.

Test everything about your emails to optimize engagement: Your templates, CTAs, the images you use and how you use them—and of course, the written content itself.

Want to learn more? Here are eight tips to improve your email click-through rates.

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Alexandra McPeak
Alexandra McPeak
Content strategist
Alex McPeak is a Content Strategist at Klaviyo. She helps entrepreneurs and small businesses grow. Before joining Klaviyo in 2020, Alex spent several years writing, editing, and podcasting throughout the Boston tech scene. Alex graduated from Emmanuel College. Outside of work, Alex enjoys traveling to warmer places, reading mystery novels, and eating sushi.