The Importance of Good Email Hygiene

email hygiene

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’ve used my time at home during quarantine to clean the s#*t out of my house. I’ve deep cleaned my pantry. I organized my garage. I Marie Kondo’d my closet.

What does this have to do with marketing emails, you may be asking?

Well, just like it’s a great time to clean your house, now is a great time to clean your email marketing lists. Good email hygiene is beneficial for a number of reasons – having a clean, healthy list of email addresses can result in better open and click rates. It can also result in fewer spam complaints, which can improve your reputation with email service providers.

What is Email List Hygiene?

Good email list hygiene is essentially identifying unengaged email subscribers and removing them from your list. You’re basically optimizing your list of contacts to ensure you’re only sending emails to engaged subscribers.

Why is a Clean Email List Important?

Have you seen those “strip cleaning” videos? The ones where you “strip” your clothes of all the deeply embedded dirt, sweat and grease? Basically, you toss your clothes into a bathtub with a magical mixture of cleaning materials and let them soak for a bit. The bath water turns black and disgusting, even though the clothes you tossed in were seemingly clean. Turns out, they weren’t as clean as you thought they were.

In this analogy, your email list is your clothing. It may seem nice and clean, but the truth is, there are probably some bad emails in there that are hurting your engagement and your reputation.

1. Reduce Spam Complaints

If subscribers mark your emails as spam (even if they did sign up to receive them), it can seriously impact your email deliverability. Mailbox providers note those complaints and can start sending your emails straight to spam folders – for everyone, not just users who marked your email as spam. The same goes for bounces – too many email bounces can hurt your reputation and impact your deliverability. Cleaning your email lists regularly can help reduce the number of spam reports you receive by ensuring you’re sending emails to users who want them.

2. Reduce Cost, Potentially

If you’re using an email marketing service or CRM that charges based on the number of contacts you have or the number of emails you send, cleaning your list might save you a buck!

3. Better Data

Bad emails can make it hard to tell if your email marketing strategy is working. They can skew your deliverability stats and open/engagement rates, so you might not be getting the full picture.

How Do I Clean My Email List?

In concept, cleaning up your email list is pretty straightforward. Remove spam emails and email addresses that bounced. But what about users who are receiving emails and just not engaging with them? You’ve worked hard to build these lists, and you want to make sure that you’re not removing users who might still be interested in your products, after all. We’ll talk about how to make sure you’re not unnecessarily removing users from your list, but first, let’s talk about how often you should deep clean.

How Often Should I Clean My Email List?

Spring cleaning your email lists probably won’t cut it. Preferably, you’re cleaning your lists every six months.

You’ll know it’s time to clean your list up by taking a look at your email analytics. If you’re seeing declining open and click rates, it might be time to scrub your list. If you’re seeing an increase in spam complaints, unsubscribes, or increased bounce rates, it’s definitely time to get scrubbing.

It can be helpful to compare your stats to industry benchmarks as well. If you’re well below industry standards, you should consider revisiting your email marketing strategy once you’ve given your lists a good wipe down.

Should I Delete Bounced Emails?

…..maybe. It depends.

It’s helpful if you can determine why an email bounced first. Most email services will let you know if bounces are “hard bounces” or “soft bounces”. A hard bounce indicates that there’s a permanent error, while a soft bounce is an email that couldn’t be delivered due to a temporary issue.

You should remove hard bounces from your email list. Soft bounces should be given a second chance. However, worth noting that if soft bounces happen regularly, they’ll become hard bounces. So keep an eye on any email addresses you notice soft bouncing more than once.

Email List Hygiene Best Practices

Snap those rubber gloves on and find a good podcast tune into. It’s time to get scrubbing.

Try to Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers

This is arguably the most overlooked and most valuable step to take before cleaning an email list. It’s possible some users who are considered “inactive” are still interested in your products or services and just haven’t engaged with your emails. Run a re-engagement campaign to see if they’re still interested!
Most email services will allow you to segment users or set conditions that will send emails to users who haven’t opened emails from you in the last month, 6 months, or year (some services go by the number of emails… you get the idea). Craft an email designed to capture users’ attention and ask if they’d like to continue receiving emails from you. There are a lot of good ways to re-engage email subscribers:

  • Send a survey asking them why they signed up and what kinds of content they’d like to receive.
  • Send an offer or incentive like a free brochure or eBook.
  • Ask if they’d like to continue receiving emails from you but simply update their preferences.

Whatever you end up sending, remind recipients that they opted-in, make sure your email is personalized, provide value, and for the love of god make sure you give them something to do (read: include a CTA).

If They’re Still Not Engaging, Get Rid of Them

If the inactive users that you sent re-engagement emails to still don’t open your emails, remove them from your list. It’s kind of like that backward hanger trick to get rid of clothes you never wear. If your emails don’t bring them joy, then it’s time to part ways.

Remove Hard Bounces, but Check Your Typos First

Sometimes hard bounces happen because of typos in email addresses. Check for common typos like misspelling the name of the mail provider (like “Gmial” instead of “Gmail”) or the name of a company if it’s a work email. These are typically easy to spot. If it’s an obvious typo, it’s worth correcting to see if your next email gets delivered.

Double-Check Duplicate Contacts

Duplicate contacts can be tricky. Sometimes, users will use their personal and work email addresses because they want to have your emails in both inboxes. Maybe you have duplicate email addresses for the same person because they changed jobs and one is their old work email. It’s worth spending some time looking at your duplicate contacts to see which ones are engaged and which ones appear to be out of date.

Get Rid of Spam Email Addresses and Unsubscribers

Hopefully, you automatically remove unsubscribers from your email lists (see: CAN-SPAM and the California Consumer Privacy Act), but if you haven’t, now’s the time to do it. Spam email addresses are usually pretty easy to spot – they typically have an odd combination of characters.

Should I Use an Email List Cleaning Service?

There are plenty of email scrubbing services out there – they work well for companies that have large email lists and big budgets. But, if you don’t have the time to handle it in-house and have the budget, an email verification service can be totally worth it. Just make sure you’re going with a trustworthy company and are only cleaning/updating the emails you already have. Do not purchase email lists. Which leads me to my next topic…

Maintaining Good Email Hygiene

Now that you have a nice clean list of engaged subscribers, let’s try to keep it that way. Here are some tips for maintaining a clean email list:

  • Continue to try to improve the quality of your new email signups. Refine targeting with your paid efforts and optimize your content marketing so that you’re reaching the right audience for your business.
  • Don’t buy email lists. Just don’t do it. Stop it. I can’t emphasize this enough. Not only is this bad practice, but it can also be a legal issue depending on your location.
  • Consider adding a reCaptcha to your form or a double opt-in process to help verify emails and reduce the amount of spam addresses you receive.
  • Immediately engage new subscribers by sending an automated welcome or thank you email.
  • Give subscribers more control over their email settings. Allow them to reduce the number of emails they receive instead of only giving them the option to opt-in or out. It’s possible they like your content and are just receiving too much of it.
  • Test, test, test. Never stop experimenting. Try different types of content to see what your audience engages with the most and what they might want more of. Play with subject lines and run A/B tests to see what performs best.
  • Don’t be shy to ask for help. As a HubSpot Certified Agency Partner, Noble Studios can help your business leverage the power of email marketing.