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How to manage your email list right: A step-by-step guide

You’ve probably read a lot about how to grow your email list and used common best practices to build your subscriber database, but what comes next? How do you use this valuable data you have collected? How do you perform email list management?

In this guide, we’ll look at what an email list is and why every business needs one. We’ll also share email list management best practices, including optimizing your sign-up forms, subscription management, implementing and tracking email marketing campaigns and keeping your list clean.

Table of contents

  1. Establish your goal

  2. Improve your sign-up form

  3. Customize your double opt-in form

  4. Create segments within the list

  5. Analyze campaign feedback

  6. Revisit and optimize your email list


Email list management best practices

An email list contains the information of all the people who are signed up to your newsletter. These can be leads, prospects or customers who signed up after landing on your website, through participation in giveaways and competitions, after clicking on an advertisement and filling out a form, to gain access to gated content, after downloading your lead magnet or via another lead generation method.

As your contact list is the foundation of many of your marketing efforts and sales prospecting activities, you need to learn the best way to manage and utilize your subscribers. This process is known as email list management.

Here are seven email subscription management practices that will help you grow and clean your email list to ensure you’re strategically engaging your subscribers and maximizing conversions.


Step 1. Establish your goal

Start by defining what your goals are for your email marketing strategy. Are you looking to increase the number of subscribers? Do you want your target audience to sign up for events like hosted webinars or live discussions? Are you trying to increase trial or paid subscription conversions? Promote and upsell new products?

In order to ensure your marketing results are measurable and improvable, you need to clearly define your goals, the steps needed to get there and how long it will realistically take to achieve them.

For example purposes, we’ll use a hypothetical pet shop owner named Bill throughout each of these steps to demonstrate efficient email list management.

Bill‘s big goal is similar to that of most companies: He wants to grow his profits and expand his business. However, he has several smaller goals that will help him get there.

Bill’s main goal: Increase his online store sales by $10,000 in 3 months. Because he’s audited his site, he knows there is a lot of unrealized potential and is ready to fill the gaps.


Step 2. Improve your sign-up form


During his audit, Bill uncovered that his signup form was not producing many new leads or conversions. Upon further investigation, he learned he wasn’t taking advantage of hidden fields or merge tags.

Hidden fields

Even if you already have an online signup form, revisit it regularly like Bill did to see if there is room for improvement. Make sure your signup form contains the essential fields, like name and email address, as well as custom fields that could give you valuable insight into your audience. However, beware of including too many fields that take a while to get through, as people may lose interest and change their mind about subscribing.

Bill’s original website signup form helped him learn important things about his audience (e.g.the subscriber‘s name, email and type of pet they own). However, he wasn’t taking advantage of hidden fields, which allow you to capture and organize data from forms in order to streamline and organize form information.

For example, if a lead needs to fill out a form to access gated content like a whitepaper, hidden fields can help you associate that download with a specific marketing campaign. This way, you know exactly how you captured that lead or sale, which gives you valuable insight into what marketing and sales activities are working, or not.

During optimization, Bill added several hidden fields, like the city they signed up from and the signup source (e.g. an internal marketing or affiliate campaign). This information will help him further segment his customers and understand his target audience’s preferences and buying behavior.

To make sure that hidden fields like country are detected via an IP address, you will likely need programming experience or help from a developer to code your form. On the other hand, you could use different email marketing tools and popup services that offer to add these parameters to the signup form.

Merge tags

To better understand and navigate hidden fields, you must learn how to use merge tags in your email service platform. Merge tags allow you to further segment your subscriber data so you can glean insights that are invaluable for targeted and personalized outreach.

For example, sending a personalized campaign to different segments from your list based on their interests, location, desires and past purchase behavior.

Add new visible fields to your form

Beyond backend optimization, you may realize you need to capture additional information about your subscribers in order to send them a truly appealing email campaign. If this is the case, you can simply manually add new form fields to your existing form.

For example, if most of your warm sales leads work at medium-to-large enterprises in managerial roles, “job title” and “size of business” may be two new field forms worth adding.

This way, you can filter cold leads into different audience segments and focus more of your attention on the types of leads that are statistically more likely to close. Now, you’re learning valuable information about new leads upfront, rather than needing to capture it down the line (after you’ve potentially wasted time and resources).

Besides manually adding new form fields to capture information, you can also use email surveys. You can synchronize the survey questions with your list so it will get updated automatically without the need for additional manual admin.

In Bill’s case, it‘s more useful for him to know what kind of animals his leads have, rather than how many, because this will help to create more personalized offers around the right products later on.


Step 3. Customize your double opt-in form

A double opt-in form is a step where your new subscribers confirm their signup and manage their email preferences. We strongly suggest using this instead of a single opt-in process, as it will improve your subscriber engagement levels over time and you‘ll see fewer bounces and unsubscribes. It also ensures you remain GDPR compliant in countries with strict rules about how marketers source and use personal data.

You can adjust the double opt-in process to match your business needs and branding (the form itself, opt-in and confirmation email, thank you page, etc.). This is where you can afford to ask a few more questions to find out your new subscriber‘s preferences by adding a link to a survey form.

For example, Bill could ask the subscriber to indicate topics of interest (pet food, toys, accessories, health products) and to specify their frequency preference for receiving newsletters and special offers.


Set subscription permission reminder

The permission reminder is the text underneath the email template that states the name of the company or brand, website (example.com) or event where the person has subscribed. This message needs to be visible to the subscribers, as adding an accurate and detailed permission reminder will minimize a chance for confusion and reduce spam complaints.

Believe it or not, one of the most common causes for people unsubscribing and complaining is that they don‘t remember that they actually signed up for your emails in the first place!


Step 4. Create segments within the list

Once you have established your goal, collected valuable subscriber data in your signup form and imported it into your email marketing provider, creating segments is easy. Always write a clear and descriptive name for your segment to remember what it’s for.

You can use two types of segmentation and add several conditions to each filter.

Segment from a list

  • A subscriber-based filter enables you to segment by name, registration date, loyalty status, language or any other fieldset in your list

  • An activity-based filter enables you to select only those email subscribers who opened, clicked or opted-in on a specific date or date range

Segment based on a single campaign‘s results

  • With a subscriber-based filter, you can segment the recipients of the campaign by any necessary subscriber data

  • With an activity-based filter, you can select not only the people that opened and clicked through your campaigns but also filter emails that bounced and send a special campaign for them

One list to rule them all

To avoid mistakes and manage your subscribers more easily, we suggest working with different segments from one list, instead of creating many lists and juggling between them.

For example, if you have one list, you cannot accidentally add a subscriber who is already on that list. However, duplicate emails are often not indicated between lists. Also, if someone unsubscribes from a list they might still stay on another list and keep receiving your emails and feel annoyed. For these reasons, managing several segments within one list is a more neat and convenient strategy.

There is one caveat to this recommendation: Making separate lists is a good idea when you are managing more than one independent brand or project.


Step 5. Analyze campaign feedback

Let‘s take a few steps back. Remember the clear goal that you specified in step one? Keep it in mind when you segment your list and prepare your email campaigns. In email marketing, one size rarely fits all so use the power of segmentation to create targeted emails and personalized campaigns.

For example, Bill never sends information about cat products to dog owners. Instead, he uses the data he has gathered and keeps his goal top of mind. As he wants to increase sales for his online store, he creates a discount coupon that only works in his e-shop and sends it to his subscribers. He segments them according to the pet they own and sends a personalized coupon to each segment.

Email marketing automation is a powerful tool if you follow a strategy similar to Bill‘s. For example, Bill could set an automatic trigger that would send this coupon out in the welcome email every time a new subscriber joins his list or is added to the respective segment. Furthermore, Bill can automatically set up different follow-up emails and drip campaigns for those who didn‘t open the first email or opened it and didn‘t click on the coupon offer.

Email list management software allows small business owners and large enterprises alike to boost newsletter subscriptions and increase customer engagement by way of powerful segmentation and automation tools.

Find an email marketing software that easily integrates with your CRM and marketing platform for smooth email communication, functionality and seamless workflows that aid the efforts of your sales, digital marketing, social media and other marketing teams.

Track your results

After you’ve sent out your campaign, dive deep into its report to see what worked well and what didn‘t. If you see a lower open rate for one or several campaigns, rewrite your subject line to make it more relevant and appealing, for example. If the open rate is good, but the click-through rate is low, think about how relevant this message is to your audience. Could the offer be more enticing? Was the timing good? Maybe you need to adjust the way you communicate with this segment?

Most email providers let you examine not only a specific campaign‘s report but also list growth and activity, average open and click rate, what devices and email providers your subscribers are using and where they are located. You can also investigate an individual subscriber profile, track engagement, see activity history and even save notes.

A/B split testing

If you have doubts about anything in your campaign, there is a simple solution: A/B split testing. You can test practically anything, from the sending time and subject line up to the color and placement of your CTA button and landing pages.

Remember, each subscriber segment is different so don‘t apply the results of one test to your entire list. In order to know exactly what works and what doesn‘t, make A/B testing part of your routine.


Step 6. Revisit and optimize your email list

While you‘re busy sending out email newsletters and campaigns, your list may live a life of its own. Subscriber lists and segments are similar to living organisms, they constantly change, evolve and deteriorate.

If you want to conduct top-notch email marketing and maintain a good brand reputation, you can‘t be sloppy when it comes to your list hygiene.

Keep an eye on these factors to be sure your email list is still performing well:

  • Make sure your email provider automatically removes invalid email addresses (hard bounces) from your list. This will help keep your reports accurate.

  • Keep track of the soft bounces and unengaged subscribers. You can then figure out a way to increase interest in your offerings and reach out again.

  • Keep an eye on long-term engagement. If lately, you have seen significantly lower open rates, you may be sending emails to inactive email addresses, or the recipients may no longer recognize you as a sender.

  • Watch out for high unsubscribe rates. This metric speaks for itself: Your subscribers are no longer interested or are even annoyed by the content you send. Maybe it‘s even irrelevant to what people have subscribed for.

  • Be wary of high bounce rate, or a lot of spam and abuse reports. It’s possible that your list contains many inactive addresses, or people who have not subscribed to your list in the first place.

Your sender reputation and email deliverability are reduced by non-activity or low engagement from your users. Main webmail providers like Gmail use engagement data to decide if they should deliver your emails to an inbox or spam folder. If 50% of your list are inactive readers, Gmail thinks your message is not important and moves it to the junk file. Here’s how to avoid this fate.

How to keep your email list fresh

First, make sure your database is free from non-existing addresses. Remember, it’s is better to create a shorter list with an engaged audience than to keep a long list of subscribers, who will not open your campaigns and lower the deliverability of your emails.

Next, go through your list reports and analyze which part of your email campaigns should be improved. For example, try changing your subject lines to more attractive and relevant ones. Set A/B tests for your sender‘s name and sending time. Update your email content and make sure it looks great on mobile devices.

Furthermore, you can set a condition that subscribers who haven‘t opened your emails automatically drop into a segment named ‘Inactive 6 months‘. It is easy to create this segment using segmentation by campaign activity.

Create an enticing re-engagement campaign for this segment, offering them true value, (e.g. free educational materials, early access to your new product line, free shipping, or a discount). You can also use this tactic in any other situation where you feel uncertain about the mailing list and the subscribers’‘ willingness to receive marketing emails from your organization.

Lastly, know when it’s time to say “goodbye”. If certain contacts are no longer interested in what you send, let them go. Your emails should also have a visible “unsubscribe” button or link in line with GDPR guidelines.

This is the essence of email subscription management and it will help you keep an engaged audience and a higher open-rate percentage.


Final thoughts

Start following these steps today and you are likely to see your engagement rates and overall email marketing success increase.

Make sure you experiment to find the best method to talk to your audience. When your list is in order, start segmenting and sending irresistible offers to your subscribers.

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