Start The Year Off Right: Clean Your List


by Jimmy Kim As digital marketers, we know that one of the most important metrics of business is the size of your email list. But hea...


As digital marketers, we know that one of the most important metrics of business is the size of your email list.
But hear this: email marketing is evolving.
As the CEO of Sendlane, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of email marketing data come through our hands (to the tune of over 7 billion emails).
It’s interesting to see the different types of email list sizes and compare the actual activity that comes with them.
And, I’ve come to realize that the question is no longer the “size of your list.”
Now it’s “how active is your list.”
And yes, I’m talking about your open and click-through rates.
Because size doesn’t matter as much anymore… engagement is what we are aiming for, right?
Now, here’s a quick disclaimer: if you read something and worry about it going against what you’ve heard in the past, don’t let that deter you.
This entire article is based on my experience with Sendlane and the data we’ve analyzed over the life of the company.
Basically, the information comes from email marketing that is happening right now in the REAL world!
Now, I want to start off by debunking some MYTHS about “Cleaning Your List” so let’s dive right in!

The Myths

1. You need a service to clean your list

If you built your list the right way and have opted in subscribers (people who actually gave you permission) the idea of a “clean up service” is not the one for you.
Clean up services were created for people who buy data – aka buy email lists.
They will generally clean up known bounces, bad emails, spam traps, and more.
But if your email is permission based (which it should be) this should not be a concern.
So save your money – unless you REALLY want to spend it 🙂

2. They will open my email eventually!

Back when I started in 2009, I remember building my first email list.
I BABIED them.
I was scared to email them.
And when they stopped opening my emails, I started to get worried but I kept trying.
But, inactive subscribers aren’t just waiting for you to send the perfect email before they take action.
Here are the facts – 4 easy reasons why subscribers usually become inactive:
  1. They no longer own or use the email (aka they changed emails)
  2. They ignored enough of your emails (the email algorithm is now placing your messages in their spam).
  3. They marked your email as spam (Ouch! I know, but it’s human nature, either by accident or on purpose).
  4. They are simply no longer interested (and too lazy to unsubscribe).
Look, these are not the ONLY reasons – but these make up MOST of the reasons why a subscriber may no longer be active.

3. It’s my Autoresponder service

If you are blaming your problems on your provider and thinking you have to move your list you might be right.
It’s true – not ALL Email Marketing Services (aka Autoresponders) are created equal.
But any reputable one, with a mass number of customers, will be pretty equal at the end of the day.
So, if you are bouncing back and forth between big providers (Sendlane, MailChimp, ConstantContact, etc.) expecting great results, you are doing yourself (and your marketing) a disservice.
Look, I wish I could sit here and tell you that Sendlane is the absolute best, but that would be a myth…
Your service doesn’t determine your activity.
But I will tell you what does if you keep reading!

Let’s focus on reality now

Now that we’ve gone over those 3 myths, let’s hone in on what is REALLY going on.
And luckily, these are also things you actually have the power to change.
So, here they are – 5 things that really affect your delivery:
  1. Your actual email – simply put, the words that YOU put in your email can cause spam. Avoid the spam and email “curse words.” Really though, just STOP using these words!
  2. Your links – You would be SHOCKED at how many links are blacklisted. Get a tool like ClickPerfect and keep yourself protected.
  3. Your FROM email address – This is something people overlook. Is your domain aged? Does it have a website attached to it? Does it have good reputation? Consider an email address that reflects you professionally.
  4. The TIME you send your email – Simply emailing at different times of the day can EASILY affect your open and click rates.
  5. Your list is INACTIVE – Yes, I said it. If Joe Schmoe from 2011 doesn’t read your emails then it’s time to let them go!
And just as before, these are not the ONLY reasons for your delivery problems, but are 90% of why your emails are most likely not getting delivered.
Now that you’ve heard the 3 myths and their breakdown, let’s jump into the actual logic of properly cleaning your list!

How To Clean Your List (The right way)

It’s time to start talking about the actual task of CLEANING your list, the proper way.
List cleaning is actually much SIMPLER than it sounds – but also scary to a person who may or may not be accustomed to the idea.
If you’re using any email platform (such as Sendlane, MailChimp, Aweber, Get Response, Constant Contact, etc.), you’ll have simple and powerful segmentation tools available to you.
These will help clean your list painlessly.
The cleaning itself is generally done using the “Segmentation” tool.
Using Google, Wiki or a search in your AR tool’s help desk will reveal how simple it is to create a segment for your inactive or active list.
Now before you start, here’s the ONE basic rule of thumb:
“If a person has not OPENED an email from you in the last 120 days (4 months) – It is time to delete them from your list.“
Listen, I know that seems “short” but on the Internet, it is a LONG time.
If in 4 months they haven’t paid attention to your emails, what makes you think they will 121 days later?
Scroll above and read MYTH 2 again 🙂

BUT WAIT – What about “List Re-Engagement?”

The age old question – one that everyone who is CLINGING to their email list asks.
I’m going to give you the hard truth again.
If the person on your list has been IGNORING YOU for 120 days and you send an email saying, I’m going to delete you… and they open that email, does that really make them an active subscriber?
In the day and age where each subscriber costs you money (in the form of the monthly subscription to your autoresponder service) AND each subscriber can affect your overall delivery, why are you looking to re-engage someone who hasn’t OPENED an email in 120 days.
It’s the harsh reality and even if it sounds crazy, it’s time to let them to go.
You only want people on your email list that are ACTIVE and want to listen to you.

What Do I Do With My Old, Inactive Email List Segment?

If you have a segment of your list that hasn’t open an email in ages, there’s still lead potential to be had.
You can upload it into your custom audiences on Facebook or Google and create advertisements for them.
They are a warm lead as they opted in with you AND they were at one point active with your newsletter.
So take advantage of that!
Create a targeted ad and get them to buy or opt in to your list again.

Closing Thoughts and the Truth About Cleaning Your List

This is one of those articles people will either love or hate.
Those that love it will understand the importance AND benefits of cleaning your list.
Those who hate it, only hate it because they know what they NEED to do and the thought of removing people from your list is very scary.
But here are the 3 things you will achieve with a proper list cleaning:
  1. You’ll have a more active and engaged list, one that will want to hear from you more often, buy from you, and respond to you.
  2. You’ll save money. Each subscriber adds another tick mark to your list size. That list size determines how much you pay monthly. Don’t pay for dead weight.
  3. Your OPEN and CLICK rates will increase. This happens for people every time I recommend it, and even in regard to my own list. Because you’re delivering LESS email and it’s getting HIGHER engagement, the ISP (like Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, etc.) will favor your emails for the engagement and push it into the inbox.
So today is the perfect day to start!
In the comments below, let me know which one of my tips were your favorite and if YOU plan to clean your list after reading my article!




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#DIGITAL: Start The Year Off Right: Clean Your List
Start The Year Off Right: Clean Your List
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