A Clean List Is Key to Email Deliverability


Rules of online conduct seems to change daily as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) labor over an ever-growing plague of spam. One of the ISPs’ new rules for deliverability involves gauging which senders’ messages get opened and clicked on vs. those whose messages get deleted without opening, reported as spam, or allowed to simply collect in the inbox unread.

Having a large portion of your emails going to inactive or unresponsive subscribers can hurt your sender reputation, which many ISPs consider currently when deciding whether to deliver your messages to the inbox or junk mail folder or block altogether. Continuing to mail to inactive or abandoned email addresses poses a more menacing threat.

Ignoring these inactive subscribers can trigger ISP filtering or blocking if this segment of your list gets too large. Should this become reality, your reputation, your deliverability, and ultimately the health of your email program would be in jeopardy. What does this mean to you? You can no longer afford to ignore your unengaged recipients.

List Hygiene: Remove Bounces and Inactives

Many marketers balk at suggestions to remove good email addresses from their mailing lists, arguing that if the address doesn’t bounce or generate a spam complaint, it’s okay to keep it on the list. After all, the next email message just could be the one that triggers the big sale.

What these marketers aren’t seeing is the damage that can happen when they send messages to addresses that never click or respond. This trepidation is understandable — especially among retailers who worry that they will remove the names of good customers of their brick-and-mortar establishments. It is critical to define “True Inactives” with great care:

Determine your metrics. Based on your sales or replacement cycle, determine the appropriate time to allow for inactivity. If most of your business occurs around Christmas, perhaps one or two years of inactivity would be appropriate before cutting that recipient from your list. On the flip side, you if market an item that requires monthly refills, your timeline would be considerably shorter to start whittling.

Know your metrics. Open rate is a flawed metric… when images are “turned off” in an email program, opens don’t get registered as an “open”. Conversions and click-throughs are more reliable indicators as are non-email metrics like website activity, purchases, and page visits.

Test, test, test. Test your inactivity criteria before doing something you’ll regret. Separate a segment of your mailing list and add any address to it that meets your criteria. Send your next couple of messages as usual, but track action on your new segment. Move anyone who acts on the message back to your original list.

Launch a Re-engagement Campaign

Re-engaging a dormant recipient will likely require a series of emails, each with a different message. For example:

Email 1:Create an alternate version of your regular email message in which you ask your inactives to return (perhaps with an incentive), to update their preferences, or to unsubscribe. Use a subject line that mentions their inactivity (e.g., “We miss you”). Track activity on this message and return anyone who acts on your offer back to your active list.

Email 2:Send a special email to your inactives with instructions on how to unsubscribe or to change an address or frequency preference. Promote your other communication mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, or catalogs that might appeal to this audience.

Email 3:If Emails 1 & 2 have been ignored, this should be your final email in which you note that you will remove their email address from your active database and no longer send email. Include links and an offer to reactivate their email address just in case. Anyone who hasn’t replied by now can safely be moved to a permanent do-not-email list.

Expunging “good” email addresses may seem counterintuitive, but dealing with inactives will boost deliverability and revenue – metrics that really matter.

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