Guide to Email List Hygiene


Good email list hygiene is essential. Simply put, list hygiene is the practice of keeping your email lists clean and making sure subscribers are active. By removing invalid and duplicate email addresses, and setting unresponsive contacts so they no longer receive emails, you will improve your chances of successfully reaching the inbox. We recommend that you clean your data on a quarterly basis. Data errors can creep into your mailing lists at any stage during a list-building campaign.

Some factors that cause dirty data are:

  • Duplicate records,
  • Stale or incomplete data, and
  • Improper data collection methods.

Email service providers calculate how many of your subscribers open and click links within your emails, unsubscribe, or are inactive. Constantly sending to contacts who don't want to receive your email, or to stale inboxes, can result in your sender reputation decreasing to the point where your emails are automatically marked as junk. In the worst case, you may even be blacklisted by the email service providers.

A thorough, consistent list hygiene practice will find the following in your lists:

  • Sender reputation threats (e.g. spam traps, honey pots, etc.)
  • Inbox delivery threats (e.g. bots, spammers, spelling errors, etc.)
  • Customer conversion threats (e.g. false usernames, profanity, etc.)

Now that we've covered the importance of good list hygiene, let's take a close look at how to maintain a clean list.

List Hygiene Best Practices

There are a few simple steps you can take to make sure that your email list is clean from when you collect email addresses, and keep it clean.

1. Don't Ever Buy an Email List From a Third Party

This is a one-way ticket to being marked as spam, or blacklisted. It's illegal to send unsolicited email in many countries, and South Africa has specific laws prohibiting this practice. Don't do it. Not even once.

Learn more about what spam is, and what the law says about spam in South Africa.

2. Clean Up Your Email Collection Process

Depending on where you collect contact details from your subscribers, you may be faced by a variety of email list hygiene issues. For example, hand-written contact cards must be captured into the database, and this opens the door to spelling errors. Such errors can lead to many lost opportunities for your business.

We recommend that you set up a validation process, including email domain checking at the point of collection, and sending confirmation emails to your new contacts to remind them of who you are and why they subscribed to your list.

Everlytic's subscription forms can be hosted on almost any device, and have automatic email domain verification built in. We also send you notification emails after importing a list of contacts to inform you if any failed (this would typically be because of an invalid email domain). We can send verification emails to your new contacts when they are loaded into the system to make double-certain that they want to receive your emails.

When importing contacts, remove role accounts (e.g. help@, info@, etc.). These addresses often aren't maintained by a single person, and it is bad practice to send marketing emails to them.

3. Scrub Out Bouncing Email Addresses

Bounce backs are an important signal that something has gone wrong in the email process. They let you know when an error has occurred with your contact's email address.

Learn more about why emails bounce.

Most email marketing programs have pre-determined methods for automatically dealing with bounced emails. These systems handle soft and hard bounces differently:

  • The system may try to re-send an email which has been soft bounced. Usually there's a bounce limit set, based on number of bounces or a period of time during which the mail consistently fails. Once the bounce limit has been reached, the system will stop sending mails to the bouncing email address.
  • Most email marketing systems will automatically suspend an email address that returns a hard bounce. This is to avoid developing a bad reputation with the ISPs and possibly being marked as a source of spam.

We recommend against deleting contacts who have been set to inactive status due to bounces. If you do so, you run the risk of re-importing them at a later date and sending to them again.

4. Segment Your Email List Based on Contact Engagement

During your list hygiene process you can file active contacts, those who are opening and clicking on your emails, into the clean part of the list straight away.

The second segment is made up of contacts who haven't interacted with your emails in 6 - 12 months. We recommend creating a re-engagement campaign to try and get these people interested in your brand again.

Thirdly, send all contacts who haven't engaged with your emails in 1 - 2 years a re-confirmation email, asking them to opt into your mailing list again. If they do not, their status should be set to "off" so that you don't accidentally send them emails they don't want.

Finally, choose a cut-off point for those contacts who haven't opened or clicked in emails in more than 2 years. They are clearly not interested and should be set to "off" so that you don't risk spam reports and low rankings by email service providers.

 What to Do When Merging Lists

Merging lists creates an opportunity to ruin your carefully cleaned mailing list. You risk importing duplicates, role accounts, and possibly re-importing someone who has opted-out of your mailing lists.

Everlytic has an advanced tool that allows you to merge separate lists into one database.

When you merge two different lists, the old list will automatically be deleted. No duplicates will be created and contacts will only exist in the final list, so there's no need to worry about duplicates or missing contacts.

List Hygiene Tasks That Everlytic Does For You

We understand how important good list hygiene is, and Everlytic has a variety of built-in tools which automatically take care of some list hygiene tasks for you.

  • Everlytic doesn't import duplicate contacts.
  • The system deactivates unsubscribed and permanently bounced email addresses.
  • The optional SMS on bounce feature sends notification SMSes to bounced contacts (if their mobile number is in the system) to ask for a new email address. If the contact replies, the system automatically updates their records with the new address.
  • Everlytic doesn't import role-based accounts.
  • Everlytic doesn't import incorrectly formatted email addresses. When importing contacts Everlytic automatically checks that the email addresses are in a valid email format, e.g. email@example.comor Anything other than the accepted format is not imported. This is one way of rooting out invalid email addresses.

Proper list hygiene can be time consuming if your list is in a bad state, but it is absolutely worth it in the long run. Clean email lists perform better, giving you higher open and read rates, and a better ROI than lists where you're sending to many uninterested, or non-existent contacts.

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