How to Maintain Good Email List Hygiene

Melanie Balke
January 23, 2023

It’s one of those terms that float around the marketing sphere like an annoying speck of dust.

Email list hygiene.

For anyone familiar with behind-the-scenes data work, it’s a self-explanatory thing. For everyone else, it’s a strange mash-up of words. You might even be tempted to assume some poorly-trained AI spat it out on command! However, email list hygiene is a real thing, and it’s an essential part of a successful email campaign.

In my long quest to demystify email marketing, I’m dedicating today’s post to the important practice of email hygiene. In addition to defining this strange phrase, I’ll also be covering some email hygiene best practices, all of which will improve your brand’s email deliverability.

If you’re ready to amplify your brand’s marketing power, reduce your inactive subscribers count, and avoid falling prey to a spam trap, keep scrolling!

What Is Email List Hygiene?

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Email list hygiene is the process of cleaning, maintaining, and checking a business’s email list. When performing such maintenance, businesses generally look for invalid email addresses and disengaged subscribers. These recipients are subsequently removed from the list, and they will not receive marketing messages in the future.

A brand with a tiny subscriber list may not need the bells and whistles of fully equipped email list hygiene services. In this context, brands may manually maintain good email hygiene through a spreadsheet. However, as a list grows, businesses must invest in more robust tracking services.

While the steps of list hygiene can be performed in any order, the dance is always the same. During list maintenance, brands must strive to complete five goals:

  1. Delete wrong addresses
  2. Delete probable spam traps
  3. Remove inactive subscribers
  4. Verify accurate data
  5. Verify segments

There may also be some unique smaller goals, too. Some brands try to re-engage inactive email subscribers before removing them. Others may use the time spent cleaning the email list to update information and analyze the effectiveness of certain segments.

However, these secondary goals are a bit more information than is necessary for this particular post! In fact, win-backs and re-engagement emails are extensive enough topics to warrant their own blog post.

Why Should Businesses Care About Email List Hygiene?

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If you think maintaining a clean list sounds difficult, then you’re correct!

Without the proper tools, a brand’s maintenance costs can easily exceed its customer acquisition expenditure.

So, why should businesses bother with it?

Improve Customer Engagement and Metrics

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First and foremost, data hygiene ensures that marketing emails reach the right customer.

If a brand is too busy creating content to fix its email list, it will eventually find itself sending irrelevant material to uninterested consumers. This leads to high unsubscribe rates and low returns.

To avoid this outcome, businesses must maintain a clean and accurate list. Each email address should have a place, and that place should be verified regularly. This makes it easier for brands to send personalized subject lines and targeted emails, but it also has a few more perks, such as…

Increase Customer Satisfaction

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The statistics speak for themselves.

People prefer personalized content, and that information can only be obtained with a clean email list.

While the ability to identify disengaged subscribers is a practical boon, brands often find that list hygiene also improves deliverability and engagement. Moreover, by reaching more subscribers’ inboxes, brands guarantee increased exposure and improved customer relationships.

Reduce Spam Complaints and Lost Subscribers

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By now, you should see a theme emerging.

For all its practical benefits, maintaining proper email health practices ultimately boosts a brand’s ability to deliver consistently valuable material.

Over time, these supporters can become critical influencers for your brand. A strategic email program can convert this target audience into brand ambassadors. In some cases, skilled marketing experts can even reclaim inactive subscribers with precisely targeted emails.

Re-engaging subscribers and maintaining interest ultimately reduces spam complaints, improving a brand’s sender reputation.

Because Email Service Providers Care

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Above all else, a clean list is a practical list.

Assume that you’re one of the many email service providers. If one of your clients is garnering constant spam complaints, you don’t want to be associated with them! Moreover, these uncaring senders often bend the rules of email marketing, resulting in plenty of behind-the-scenes technological challenges for your team.

By maintaining a clean email list, your business becomes an upstanding member of its email service provider’s portfolio, securing its place as a valid and trusted sender.

Best Practices for Maintaining Email List Hygiene

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Now that we’ve established the importance of regular email list cleaning, it’s time to dive into the practical ways to improve your list hygiene.

These tips have many uses, and most of them will help your brand reach its target audience. With some clever subject lines, you can turn anyone into an avid supporter. All you need is a list of valid email addresses and a talented marketing team.

1. Avoid Purchasing Lists

A piggy bank. "Save Your Money: Why to Avoid Buying Lists and How They Can Land You in a Spam Trap."

I’ve said this again and again, but I’m repeating myself here: Never, ever purchase a subscriber list!

In addition to the legal challenges posed by this decision, you’ll also find that these lists aren’t worth the price tag. The many personal accounts you reach will mean nothing, as these individuals are entirely uninterested in your products.

Aside from landing in spam folders, your marketing campaigns will likely tangle with plenty of spam traps along the way to their purchased destination. These accounts report your nefarious marketing practices to prominent blacklists (i.e., Spamhaus and Google), dramatically lowering your brand’s sender reputation.

In some cases, your brand may even find itself an enemy of internet service providers. This worst-case scenario means that every email marketing campaign you send will be flagged as spam. Depending on the recipient, your messaging will be funneled into their spam folder or deleted altogether. In either case, you won’t be reaching your recipient’s inbox, and the number of emails delivered by your brand will plummet.

2. Don’t Neglect Your Basics

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While a single-person venture may be able to use personal email accounts for correspondence, all small businesses should have a professional email address of some sort. This ensures that your brand can send emails en masse without being flagged as spam. More importantly, it shows your customers that you’re a trustworthy enterprise.

If this tip sounds trivial, don’t start scoffing!

In the excitement of starting a business, I’ve seen many companies forget their email marketing basics. These ABCs may seem unimportant, but they form the base of your future email marketing campaigns, and without a solid foundation, even the best email marketing strategy crumbles!

Before launching a single campaign, brands must review the basics of email marketing. Some of the critical points to double-check include the following:

  1. Avoid collecting invalid addresses
  2. Avoid using too many exclamation points in a subject line
  3. Double-check copy for common spam words
  4. Maintain a regular sending schedule
  5. Regularly check email deliverability

Don’t forget to nail your sender name, too! It may be a single line of text, but a clear from line can be the difference between dozens of email subscribers and dozens of spam complaints.

Remember: Your email subscribers want to hear from you! If you’re sending emails from a strange address, they’ll be more than a little confused.

3. Have a Re-Engagement Email Ready

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When you start, you’ll want to have some messages prepared.

Most brands focus on welcome flows and drip campaigns, but you’ll also want to draft a re-engagement campaign for the future. These messages help brands find and remove inactive subscribers. (Alternatively, a particularly skilled team may be able to re-engage inactive subscribers.)

Regardless of the outcome, the goal remains the same.

By removing inactive subscribers, brands improve their metrics and — by extension — the accuracy of their email campaigns. The remaining engaged subscribers become essential recipients for future email campaigns and A/B tests, further improving a brand’s marketing potential.

4. Maintain a Good Sender Reputation

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I know I’ve said that proper email list hygiene improves your sender reputation, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore it! There are other ways to annoy your subscribers, and ignoring standard etiquette can quickly impact a brand’s email delivery stats.

Many of the best practices for maintaining a high sender reputation (also known as a sender score) have been covered as basics.

However, a bit of care goes a long way. Digital marketing often lacks the “personal” element of other channels (i.e., direct mail or SMS). This means that small gestures have a huge impact, and including some careful finishing touches to each correspondence can amplify the power of your email marketing.

Some “little-known” secrets to email marketing include the following:

  • Language Love: If your audience is multilingual, language-based segments can be used to deliver messages in each segment’s native tongue.
  • Loyalty Rewards: More advanced techniques allow brands to reward active subscribers with personalized links and additional discounts.
  • Personal Reminders: It may sound difficult, but modern marketing automation allows email senders to distribute personal messages for major events (i.e., birthdays or anniversaries).

While none of these tips are technically entries on the list of email hygiene best practices, they ultimately increase your retention. This makes them amazing tools for reducing the amount of work necessary to maintain good email list hygiene. Moreover, as brands perform their regular email list cleaning, these tips can improve the likelihood of re-engaging formerly lost subscribers.

5. Plan Your Sign-Up Funnel

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Many brands have learned the hard way that it’s easier to maintain proper email list hygiene than it is to fix a messy list.

You can avoid this fate by making list hygiene an active requirement.

When you’re building your lists, take a step back. Look a the funnel and pinpoint places where marketing automation can organize subscribers. For example, subscribing to receive a popular lead magnet can automatically sort the user into a unique segment. (And, for both deliverability and practical purposes, it already should!)

This setup reasonably assumes that two customers are likely to have different interests. Look at our website! If you’re reading this post, you’re probably interested in learning more about email marketing, right? However, the person browsing our testimonials is likely more interested in acquiring professional email marketing services.

Separating these users from the outset improves our brand’s ability to communicate with each customer, and it makes email list cleaning a simple process.

Some companies will also include a feature known as double opt-in, where a form submission prompts a confirmation request. This additional step catches and removes invalid emails, although it poses an additional hurdle for customers.

Though ubiquitous, it’s worth remembering that web forms with double opt-in features do present an additional obstacle for consumers. While senders reduce the need for an email list cleaning service, they may also scare off less engaged customers, so weigh the pros and cons of this idea carefully!

6. Enlist the Experts

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Frankly, maintaining a clean email list is hard. Brands without the proper tools can spend weeks organizing their spreadsheets, and they’ll likely see decreased email engagement in the meantime.

That’s why I founded The Email Marketers. My hand-picked team of marketing experts can help you maintain the gold standard of email list hygiene, and you won’t need to do a thing. We handle it all, and we’ll also manage your marketing emails.

The time you spent wondering if that one account was a spam trap can now be spent improving your business!

If you’re ready to lessen your burdens and see what a professional email marketing team can do, then it’s time to get in touch with me. During your free consultation session, I’ll formulate a plan for your brand and discuss the unique touches necessary for your brand’s growth.

You can also learn more about email marketing by browsing the rest of my blog.