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Why email hygiene matters plus 4 tips to keeping a clean list

You’ve spent months, maybe years, building your email list. People unsubscribe from time to time, but your list is steadily growing. Why, then, would you willingly scrub your email marketing list in the name of email hygiene?

Practicing email hygiene helps to ensure your emails go to working addresses that belong to active, engaged subscribers so your emails don’t bounce and have higher email open rates and click-throughs.

In this article, we’ll explain the purpose of email list cleaning, how often you should clean your list and share four email hygiene best practices.

Table of Contents


Why do you need to clean your email list?

A clean email list means you’re sending emails to people who have given you permission to contact them and their email addresses are still active. An unclean email list, on the other hand, is full of inactive or invalid email addresses and may include people that did not opt in to receive your email content.

A clean email list results in:

  • Lower bounce rates

  • Less chance of ending up in spam folders

  • Higher open rates

  • Higher email engagement and conversion rates

Let’s explore each in more detail.

Lower bounce rates

There are two kinds of email bounces, or reasons why an email doesn’t make it to the recipient's inbox:

  • Hard bounces. Your email may “hard bounce” if you send it to fake or invalid email addresses, fake domains or strict server filters. Hard bounces mean your email will never get through.

  • Soft bounces. In some cases, emails “soft bounce” if you send them to a full inbox, there’s a temporary server issue with your recipient’s email service provider (ESP) or your message is too large. Assuming action is taken (e.g. emails are deleted from an inbox, the server is fixed, or the message is cut down), soft bounces are temporary and your email could still get through.

Bounce rates impact your domain health and your domain health impacts your emails’ deliverability. Keeping your email list clean helps you send healthy emails that make it to their destination.

Less chance of ending up in spam folders

We often think of spammers as those who use ridiculous offers and email spam words in the subject line, but it’s technically any form of unsolicited email.

Receiving spam complaints or getting your emails marked as spam means three things:

  1. You can never send an email to that person again from that domain

  2. Their ESP now considers your domain bad news

  3. You might not be able to send emails to other subscribers, including those who did give you their email address, if you fall into a spam trap or end up on a blocklist

The best way to prevent these outcomes, and stay out of legal trouble, is to only send emails to people who opted in to your email list.

Higher open, engagement and conversion rates

Beyond bounces, domain health and your sender reputation, accurate reporting tells you what’s working (and not) so you can send better emails that result in higher open, conversion and engagement rates.

Removing disengaged readers will give you a better idea of how your email marketing is performing, which can help better inform your overall email marketing strategy.

For example, say your company has an email list of 5,000 subscribers with the following attributes:

  • 750 inactive (we’ll define this below)

  • 150 hard bounces (average per send)

  • 50 soft bounces (average per send)

  • 1,300 opens (average per send)

  • 500 clicks (average per send)

Here’s what those engagement metrics would look like:

  • Bounce rate: 4%

  • Open rate: 26%

  • Click through rate (CTR): 10%

Now let’s say you clean your list up and get rid of those 750 inactive subscribers, bringing your list down to 4,250.

Here are your new stats, simply from cleaning up your list:

  • Bounce rate: 1%

  • Open rate: 30%

  • CTR: 12%

Not bad from a simple list clean up.

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How and when to clean your email list

Practicing email list hygiene is straightforward, but the key is consistency.

The simplest way to do it is by removing inactive subscribers. An inactive email subscriber is someone who hasn’t opened your emails in 90 days or more.

While it’s important to keep your list full of engaged email subscribers, it also costs more to get new customers than to keep existing ones. Re-engagement campaigns are a more advanced email hygiene tactic that can salvage inactive subscribers and spark new interest.


4 best practices for good email hygiene

In addition to regularly removing inactive subscribers, here are steps you can take to mitigate decreasing the quality of your list in between list scrubbing.

1. Use double opt-ins

Double opt-ins require new subscribers to take an extra step to confirm their email address before they can officially join your email list. In practice, your email service provider (ESP) automatically sends a confirmation email with a CTA (e.g. “click here to confirm your email address”) and, once actioned, they receive another email confirming they are now on the list. This form of validation tells ESPs that you take quality seriously, which increases your trust with them and improves email deliverability rates.

Double opt-in also ensures you are following local privacy laws, like the US CAN-SPAM act and Europe’s GDPR laws. To ensure people complete the double opt-in process, you can add text to your sign-up form letting people know to check their inbox for a confirmation. CAPTCHA forms can also be helpful in preventing bot email list sign-ups.

2. Set clear expectations early

Send new subscribers a welcome email message that explains how often they should expect messages from you and what you’ll be sending to them. Including an initial offer as a thank you can also help email subscribers get familiar with your product or service range..

3. Monitor email bounces

Email marketing automation tools have come a long way, but they don’t catch everything. For example, someone may have entered their address as [email protected] Your ESP sees @gmial.com, which means it’s not getting through, but you know it’s a typo and the person meant @gmail.com. Monitoring bounced emails after each campaign and regularly doing a quick scan of new additions to your list prevents this.

4. Know your audience

Growing your email list is important, but you’ll get more opens and engagement, and fewer unsubscribes or inactive recipients, if your list is composed of people in your target audience. Even better, use segmentation and targeted lists to send relevant content to different groups within your broader audience. This will ensure your recipient’s are excited to read your content, and should work to increase your revenue and reach.


Final thoughts

Think of your email lists like a lawn. You need to mow the lawn regularly, weeding it from time to time, and the same is true of your email list.

Well thought out email marketing campaigns sent to a large list can be positive, but only if your email list is full of working addresses from target audience members and your emails successfully reach their inbox. Email list hygiene helps make that happen.

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