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It’s a commonly believed myth in email marketing that the more email addresses a sender has on their database, the higher their chance of success.

In fact, this is an inaccurate and detrimental approach and many email marketers don’t consider the consequences of contacting people who aren’t interested in their brand or, worse still, don’t exist.

By regularly scrubbing dirty databases and email lists marketers ensure that they avoid the spam traps that can trigger ISPs’ ever increasing defence mechanisms.

Senders who generate high volumes of bounce backs, unknown users, or even hit just one spam trap, risk having their messages blocked by ISPs, thus damaging their email reputation and inbox placement rates.

So there’s no point in marketers exhausting time and resources on retaining email addresses that could in fact be sullying their sender reputation.

In addition, it is imperative that marketers actively keep their email databases clean and also consider how they add subscribers to their databases.

So much focus is often spent on customer retention strategies, but if those subscribers have been disengaged from the off, due to poor practices during the sign-up or acquisition process, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to realise value from these email addresses.

Here are a few tips to optimise your list growth practices and keep email databases looking spic and span:

Obey the law

It goes without saying that permission is essential for adding a subscriber to an email database.

Depending on the country, the level of opt-in may vary (i.e., opt-out versus opt-in or implicit versus explicit) so marketers must ensure they follow local email marketing legislation.

Set clear expectations  

The more information marketers provide to subscribers during the sign-up process, the better informed they will be when it comes to receiving email messages in their inbox.

This also means they will be more likely to engage and less likely to complain and report marketers’ emails as spam to their ISP.

Beware of incentives

This acquisition approach may work well to increase list quantity, but not so well when it comes to adding quality subscribers to an email database.

Everyone loves freebies, but the subscriber who provided their email address just to take advantage of a free offer will likely be more inclined to ignore marketers’ messaging, tune out, unsubscribe and complain.

Welcome new customers

According to a Return Path study, 50% of UK marketers don’t send new subscribers a welcome message, getting the relationship off to an immediately messy start.

Welcome messages prime subscribers to engage and start the relationship off on the right foot.

Remove bad email addresses

These include unknown users – accounts that no longer exist forcing emails to bounce back to the sender – and spam traps, which are email addresses created or recycled by ISPs specifically for the purpose of catching spam and gathering data on spammers.

Provide a simple and prominent opt-out process

Enable consumers to unsubscribe from emails as easily as they were able to subscribe. Include a visible and accessible opt-out link in all email communications.

This helps to limit the chances of subscribers complaining to their ISP, one of the most common reasons for ISPs blocking marketers’ emails.

Remove inactive subscribers

Reach out to subscribers who haven’t responded recently and check to see if they still 'have a pulse'.

For those persistent non-responders, reduce their frequency or send a re-permission campaign to determine who’s interested in staying on the list and who wants off. Then, remove the dead wood.

Marketers must move away from the flawed concept that a higher volume of recipients delivers greater email channel results.

The reward for a shift in mind-set and implementation of best practices for list hygiene will include an email program that consistently reaches the inbox, generates more responses and revenue, creates stronger customer loyalty and improves email relationships with consumers.

Margaret Farmakis

Published 22 September, 2011 by Margaret Farmakis

Margaret Farmakis is Senior Director of Strategy Consulting at Return Path and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

9 more posts from this author

Comments (1)

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Randy

Great reminder! Amazing how common-sense these tips seem, yet there is still an undercurrent of "Email's cheap, let's blast the entire database!" in the industry.

Just like in the catalog/DM space, a simple recency cut on your database will increase your ROI and keep you from hitting the dreaded spam trap.

almost 5 years ago

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