What Is an Email Marketing Database?

Melanie Balke
March 13, 2024
A blurred document. “The Basics: What Is an Email Database?”

Like most things, email marketing has concepts with different names. Sometimes, one idea can have multiple names. Today, I’ll be focusing on such a beast.

More specifically, I want to address the issue of email marketing lists. Also known as an email marketing database, your list is the culmination of your marketing efforts. It contains the contact details of every subscriber and should be treated with the utmost care. After all, it’s the only way for your marketing campaigns to reach their mark!

The Dangers of Purchased Email Lists

I’ll start with a warning.

Never purchase an email marketing database.

Sellers may promise you endless wealth or infinite growth. They may claim their pre-populated lists are filled with paying customers. None of it is true!

On the contrary, using such data is a one-way ticket to marketing failure. If not outright banned under your local laws, purchased email lists are filled with spam traps, and they’re as nefarious as they sound! These addresses may seem legitimate, but they’re purpose-built honeypots. Most fall into one of three categories:

  • Dead addresses are inactive and defunct emails. These may have once been part of a business or organization, but the owner has since vacated their role.
  • Inactive addresses are formerly legitimate email addresses. However, email service providers have since appropriated them as incognito spam flags.
  • Pristine traps are purpose-built incognito “email subscribers.” Everything about them seems legitimate. However, they have a singular function. They’re not interested in your marketing campaigns; they’re reporting you for spam!

These spam traps (and many more) come from data scraping, wherein unscrupulous parties comb websites for contact data. This information is then compiled as mailing lists and sold to unsuspecting business owners.

The Right Way to Build a List for Your Marketing Campaigns

So, how do you find new customers if you can’t purchase a legitimate email marketing database?

Well, you’re looking at an example right now! Websites and signup forms are a cost-effective way to nurture your brand’s growth.

You’re already leveraging that content for SEO, so why not incorporate it into your purchase journey?

In many cases, sign-ups are simple. Users only need to enter their names and email addresses to subscribe to relevant content. However, this simplicity leaves room for error. Mistyped email addresses are a liability. At best, they burn through funds and reject your marketing content. In some cases, they may be spam traps!

The Double Opt-In

The most common way to combat this issue is a double opt-in form. Unlike a stock email sign-up form, this variant requires additional action after that initial subscription. It’s not much! Once a user provides an email address, they’re asked to check their inbox. They’ll find a cordial greeting with a link attached, and clicking that link completes the subscription process.

Now, you may notice that this requires slightly more enthusiasm than your average opt-in form.

Don’t be surprised to see a small dip in subscriber activity if you implement double opt-in forms. This is normal and — by some marketers’ estimations — expected. Some subscribers just aren’t that interested. You’ll lose a few leads to this apathy.

However, you gain a higher-quality email list.

How to Attract Attention to Your Opt-In Forms

Stamps. “List Building: How to Grow Your Email Database.”

Regardless of the specifics, your email campaigns need enthusiastic subscribers. A healthy email marketing database should be consistent, engaging, and flexible. Every byte of email data is a pathway to potential customers. Those data points are your ticket to more sales.

But how do you gain leads?

Use That Web Page

Your website should be your first source of email subscribers.

It may seem like a silly thing to say, but many business owners forget that their website is a powerful tool. All that SEO and optimization has created the perfect environment to capture leads. Your audience is already interested enough to visit your site, so take advantage of their presence!

Most businesses utilize pop-up messages. Once seen as gauche, these automatic windows have become a mainstay in modern web design. As you probably guessed by their name, pop-up forms occur whenever a new website visitor hits a relevant landing page.

Leverage Your Social Media Channels

You can also promote your email subscription via social media.

Again, I often get confused looks when I mention this. “Well,” people often say, ”Of course, I can use my social media platforms for lead generation!” However, many companies often forget this fact! They focus so much on those pesky pop-ups that they forget their present and active community.

Think of it this way: Your social media platforms are filled with intrigued followers. These users have an active and salient interest in your brand. They’re relevant leads, yet you’re so busy catering to each platform that you often forget they’re the perfect addition to a healthy email list.

Be Vocal at In-Person Events

And what about in-person events?

You don’t need a strong CTA to attract interest at professional networking events and conventions. Moreover, like social media followers, attendees of such affairs have shown themselves to be part of your target audience.

Turn that interest into sales. Use old-fashioned pen and paper or a special sign-up landing page to collect email addresses!

Just remember to set up a unique flow for these new subscribers. Unlike web-based leads, these users may forget their affiliation with your business. You don’t need to recount your entire life story, but you should certainly remind subscribers of how they were added to your email list.

Ideally, you should include this in your first welcome email. Something simple will do. Say something like, “It’s Melanie! Remember Business Con? You gave me your email address. I’m just following up to let you know you’re part of the email list!”

Use a Lead Magnet

Finally, you can use lead magnets.

These enticing offers promise content in exchange for an email address. Retail marketers often use coupons, but B2B enterprises require more effort. Professional lead magnets are often professional publications or studies. They may be as simple as bundling a few tips into a shiny pamphlet or as complex as an academic research paper.

Regardless of the specifics, lead magnets have exemplary conversion rates. Many large brands have even leveraged their expertise through periodic lead magnet publications. For example, our partner, Klaviyo, publishes regular research updates and statistics. Aside from being a perennial source of leads, these publications are the perfect way to establish an upstanding reputation in your industry.

The Importance of Email List Hygiene

A valley lake. “Hygiene: Maintaining Your Email Database.”

Of course, nothing can stand forever without some TLC. (And I’m not talking about the television channel!)

Think of your email marketing database as a plant. It’s an amazing, cheerful little thing. It brightens the office and brings joy (and revenue) to your office. However, it needs more than water. As much as it may pain you to do so, you must prune it. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a sad, brown mass of disinterest and unengaged subscribers.

From an individual perspective, this pruning saves money.

Fewer email subscribers may seem like a problem, but it can be beneficial. Like dead or diseased leaves, inactive subscribers do little more than suck nutrients from your blossoming email marketing strategy. Those users are no longer interested in your services, yet they continue to leech from your soil. Removing them lowers overhead costs and ensures engaged users a more active and relevant experience.

Cleaning your email marketing database also endears you to service providers. After all, that useless data is on their dime!

Preventing List Hygiene Problems

List hygiene is an admittedly dense topic. It’s packed with minute details and plenty of caveats. However, it can be broken into two major concepts: prevention and maintenance.

The first step of hygiene is prevention.

Think back to the plant analogy. It’s better to use the right soil the first time. Otherwise, you’ll quickly find yourself the owner of a sad, ailing plant. Your email list is no different. You want to take those first steps before diving headfirst into the deep end.

Every email campaign costs money, regardless of how cost-effective the channel may be. So, take your time. Think. As you build your email marketing strategy, ask yourself these questions:

  • How will I manage lapsed subscribers? Nobody wants to think about it, but it’s always a possibility. People change. Interests shift. How will you handle those subscribers? Make plans for re-engagement and win-back email flows before you build an email marketing database.
  • How will I validate data? Anyone can sit on their mobile devices and maliciously enter bad email addresses into a website’s opt-in forms. Double opt-in helps, but how else will you manage your database?
  • Who handles my data? Most email marketing platforms automatically handle your customers’ data. However, it never hurts to be aware. Investigate your security measures and get ahead of legal troubles by locking down your customer data.
  • Who is my target audience? Cater your website to these customer personas. Make the landing page a strong voice for your brand. Your blog may be free content, but it doesn’t have to and should not feel that way.

Maintaining Your Email Marketing Database

Next, think of your maintenance.

For plants, you change the soil and add water. You may even talk to them! (Don’t worry; I do, too.) Of course, you can’t put a server room in a garden plot. Sources indicate that soil and rain are bad for computers. Fortunately, there are other ways to create the perfect environment for a healthy email list.

These are your maintenance tasks.

Cleaning Your Email List

The most obvious entry on your checklist is list cleaning. Businesses should evaluate and empty that email marketing database at least once per year. Otherwise, you’ll accumulate unnecessary data. However, in order to properly manage your list, you need an evaluation process.

Look at your metrics and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is an active subscriber? It seems silly, but everyone has a different definition of “active.” Businesses with long customer lifecycles (e.g., automotive dealerships, mattress sales, and real estate agents) don’t need weekly engagement. Conversely, most consumer retail brands crave near-constant engagement.
  • What is my definition of success? Every business has different goals. Maybe your conversion rates matter more than your churn. It’s your job to determine the criteria for an ideal customer.
  • When will I clean my email list? Ideally, you should have a set date for email cleaning. Think of it as your spring break cleanup. Companies with scheduled maintenance often fare better and are more consistent than those with “as needed” list management.

Maintaining Interest

However, you don’t want to be too hasty. Many lapsed subscribers can be recovered. You don’t have to toss all the information collected after a few weeks of disinterest.

Your list maintenance should also include regular re-evaluation.

It’s a gargantuan task, but you can ease the stress by breaking things into smaller, bite-sized questions:

  • Are my landing pages generating traffic? A blog post is a great start, but you need more than one! Don’t settle for a static lead magnet or partner website. Update your content regularly to ensure your services shine!
  • Do my email campaigns work? It’s a silly question, but — as a famous philosopher and singer once said — “everyone makes mistakes.” Make a “test” email and subscribe to your own content. Double-check everything. Aside from functionality, you’ll want to pay close attention to how your emails look on mobile devices.
  • Is my content getting flagged as spam? Sometimes, you lose the content lottery. Your messages are reported or erroneously classified as spam. When this happens, you’ll want to re-evaluate your language and tone. Look for potential copy issues and contact your email service providers.
  • Is my content still relevant? Low engagement often signals disinterest. Consider your brand’s status and create newer campaigns to entice more engagement.
  • Is my sign-up form a turn-off? This is a big one, and many companies forget it! People don’t want to write a novel to get an email. Don’t overload that opt-in form. Aside from its off-putting first impressions, a massive opt-in form will discourage website visitors from joining your email database. The best forms require little more than a user’s name and email address.

The Easy Way to Grow Your Email Marketing Database

Okay. I can already hear some comments.

“Oh, no! This is a lot of information.”

It is, indeed, a dense topic. Your email database is as much a treasure as a curse.

But I have good news. There’s an easier way to manage that information. You don’t have to manage your business alone.

My company, The Email Marketers, is dedicated to bringing your services to the world. My hand-picked experts understand the specifics and technicalities of modern digital marketing. We know how to create content that delights subscribers. And, of course, we know how to grow and nurture your email database.

Schedule a free strategy session to learn more. I’ll show you how a personalized plan can take your email marketing database to the next level.