Right now, right this minute as you’re reading this, something needs cleaning. Some household task needs to be done at my house and yours as well. It might be dishes or laundry or dusting, or maybe it’s outside because the porch needs sweeping or the car needs washing. My own list of cleaning that needs doing is depressingly long…and never-ending! But keeping things clean is part of daily life, and that’s how I know I’m not the only one with such a list.

If only we could leave the cleaning tasks at home and not have to worry about them once at work! But for email marketers, hygiene is part of the work world too. You can’t use email marketing without an email list to send to, but email lists are like our houses: They get dirty and need tending to. We call it email list hygiene and it’s a necessary part of your email marketing effectiveness.

Email List Hygiene Explained

Email list hygiene might sound odd if the concept is new to you. I mean, how do you practice hygiene on a list? Hygiene we understand. As I type this, I see my laptop screen is smudged with fingerprints and I have crumbs on my keyboard. I know how to take care of that. But cleaning something digital like a list of email addresses? That might not make sense unless you think about it this way: We need hygiene because things get dirty and need to be cleaned, like my laptop screen (and house). And email lists get dirty too.  

Email list cleaning doesn’t involve a rag and soap, however. Instead, cleaning your email list means removing bad email addresses from that list. Bad email addresses are the dirt on your list because they don’t work, and that works against you. Bad email addresses are the result of several factors, including:

  • Names added to your email list without the subscriber’s permission
  • Email addresses that bounce (don’t work)
  • Email addresses that weren’t valid in the first place because of a typo
  • Abandoned email addresses because people switched jobs or ISPs
  • Unresponsive email addresses
  • Spam traps

Not one of these addresses is working for you and some are working against you. Those that are invalid or abandoned aren’t getting your messages into anyone’s inbox. Those that are unresponsive are making you look bad in the eyes of the ISPs like Google and Comcast, and the spam traps are proof of sloppy list building practices—which the ISPs also notice.

Going through your list with the mindset of an email list cleaner means removing all of these bad (or “dirty”) email addresses so you’re left with a sparkling clean—and effective—list.

Why Email List Hygiene Matters

You might wonder why this matters, especially when you realize your list is going to shrink in size once you remove the bad addresses. After all, isn’t a bigger list better? It’s only better if it’s a good list, meaning a list made up of valid email addresses and subscribers who want to hear from you. And none of your bad email addresses are getting to anyone anyway. So the size of your list isn’t what matters. Your deliverability rate is. And deliverability is the number one reason for email list hygiene.

The ISPs pay attention to what you’re doing when you send emails. They don’t have to let your emails through to their customers’ inboxes, and they won’t if they think you’re a spammer. That’s why you need to follow deliverability best practices to have a good reputation with the ISPs—so they will let your email on through.

A dirty email list works against your reputation, telling the ISPs that you are sloppy in both the building of and maintenance of your list, and that you might have stooped so low as to buy a list or add names to your list without permission. And they might just block your emails as a result.

Email List Hygiene Best Practices

Now that you know you probably have some bad names on your list, and that cleaning your email list will help your deliverability, let’s talk about how to clean an email list.

The first thing you must do is separate out all the inactive, unresponsive email addresses. These people aren’t opening your emails but instead they’re ignoring them. Decide on a timeframe like 6 or 12 months, and anyone who hasn’t opened an email from you in that time period gets moved to a separate list. This becomes the list you use for your re-engagement campaign, but that’s a different topic. For now, get them off the list of “good” email addresses.

Also find and remove the known spam traps. This is going to take a little more effort, and it helps to understand where these email addresses come from. Start by removing any email addresses with hard bounces because these are obviously bad ones. You’ll also probably remove some when you segment out the inactive subscribers as described above. You won’t be able to spot all the spam traps as such, but you will be able to spot them as bad email addresses, so toss them out.

Next, you’re going to get down and dirty when you get into the manual part of this. You’ve already removed the inactive subscribers and hard bounces from your list (and you hope, spam traps). Now you need to:

  • Get rid of duplicate email addresses.
  • Fix obvious typos in domains, such as @gmal.com or @hahoo.com.
  • Look for fake email addresses such as those that start with spam@ or junk@. If you’re in doubt, email the address.  
  • Do the same for role-based or generic addresses like info@ and webmaster@. Again, if you’re in doubt, send an email.

If this sounds like more work than you want to do or have time for, consider using a list cleaning service. Once this initial purge is done, you shouldn’t have to go through the process manually again if you follow best practices moving forward. Those best practices include:

  • Focus on quality list building.
  • Require email addresses be entered twice, to catch typos.
  • Consider using double opt-in.
  • Use only permission-based lists.
  • Avoid batch-and-blast emails; segment instead.
  • Make sure it’s easy to unsubscribe, with an obvious link and a straightforward process.

My house is a shoes-off house because that helps to cut down on the dirt that gets tracked in. In the same way, following this advice above will decrease your need for an email list cleaner and improve your email deliverability, while keeping your list maintenance needs to a minimum.

Email Marketing Beyond the List

We’ve talked about a few different aspects of email marketing in this post, like list building and re-engagement campaigns. That’s to be predicted because email marketing has plenty of parts to it. To make sure you know all you should about this effective marketing channel, learn more and keep on learning. Simplilearn makes it easy to learn more about advanced email marketing tactics and techniques, with in-depth course content designed with the help of Internet marketing expert Matt Bailey. Topics include working with email service providers, marketing automation, reporting and much more.

You might want to leave the cleaning tasks behind when you leave your house for the morning, and who can blame you? If you practice good email list hygiene, you can!

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