Email reputation: what is the expiration date of your opt-ins? Assuming that you’re an email marketer with a conscience (and that knows a little about deliverability) you only send emails to people that opted in.

Maybe you even chose to go with a double opt-in system, to be 100% sure that your recipients are actually interested in your emails.

But although you are now complying to the email marketing legislation, these efforts aren’t enough to prevent that you’ll be regarded as a spammer.

An opt-in’s sustainability isn’t endless. Think about your email reputation and ask your recipients to prolong their subscriptions from time to time. 

Interests change

Somebody that signed up for your newsletters might not be interested in your emails anymore. People change, and so do their interests. Maybe they started working in another industry, maybe they started a new hobby a little too enthusiastic or maybe they just lost interest.

There are various reasons why opt-ins expire. And not only is it pointless to keep sending emails to people that lost their interest, in the long run this also has a negative effect on your email reputation.

Expired opt-ins lower your open rates

People that are no longer interested in your emails, don’t always go through the effort of opting out. After a while this’ll result in a lot of emails that get thrown away without so much as even getting a glance.

This in itself is not a great way to improve your email reputation, but it could even get worse: that recipients mark your emails as spam.

Today’s opt-in is tomorrow’s spam trap

To be able to identify spammers, a lot of email providers use so called spam traps. These are email addresses that exist with the sole purpose of ending up on emailings lists that were compiled through harvesting.

In some cases email providers use expired email addresses as spam traps. So when someone opts in for your emails, and later changes email providers or jobs, his email address could be converted into a spam trap.

How to recognize and expired opt-in

There are various ways to recognize expired opt-ins. Probably you already monitor your emailings for things like:

  • Bounces.
  • Spam complaints.
  • Opt outs.

By doing so you can already map a lot of expired opt-ins, but an additional way to recognize them is by closely monitoring your open rates.

Whenever you see that someone hasn’t opened your emails for a while, this can be an indication that an opt-in has expired.

Cleaning up your emailing list

Send recipients that haven’t opened your emails for a while an email asking them if they still want to keep receiving your emails.

Send a reminder if you don’t get a reply.

Still no reaction? Count your losses and consider this address to be an opt out.


As a marketer you want your message to reach as many people as possible. That’s why it might feel a bit unnatural to actively clean up your emailing list.

But don’t forget that it’s better to have one person reading your emails, than ten of them discarding them without even reading them. Or marking them as spam. In the long run this will only improve your email deliverability.  

Michael Linthorst

Published 18 April, 2013 by Michael Linthorst

Michael Linthorst is CEO at Copernica Marketing Software and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Michael on Twitter or Google Plus

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Comments (2)


Stefan Elliott, Managing Director at Six Serving Men

Some very valid points and this topic will become increasingly pertinent with regard to the ongoing debate/discussion regarding the EU Data Protection Directives that are coming down the track.

Applying Engagement metrics e.g. Time since open against email means that you can better measure, monitor and manage the "equity" of your email list.

Valuing your email subscribers as an asset will help move from a "never mind the quality, feel the width" approach. A few years ago the DMA placed a value of £9.11 on each opted in email but this suffers from the "Flaw" of averages and is not really reflective of each company's specific situation.

Calculating your own "value" on a regular consistent basis enables you to manage your portfolio of subscribers e.g. implementing specific campaigns based upon behaviour displayed. However it also means that you may have to change your own behaviour - If I don't open 10,20,30 weekly email's from you what's the best thing to do ? (Answer - Maybe not send another weekly email)

Thanks for post

over 5 years ago

Michael Linthorst

Michael Linthorst, CEO at Copernica Marketing Software

Hello Stefan,

Thank you for the additional advice. I agree that when it comes to the number email opt-ins (or many other things in life) quantity should never prevail over quality.

Same goes for send frequency. When asking your opt-ins that haven't opened your emails for quite some period to renew their subscriptions, it is a good idea to give them the option to tune down the frequency, similar as you would do when using a double opt-out system.

Excellent point!

over 5 years ago

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