Email list hygiene
At what point is a subscriber gone? Mailchimp experts share their tips
Mailchimp Expert Panel
Keeping your audiences organised and relevant is an important part of email marketing, but how do we know when it’s the right time to remove someone?
Personally I think list hygiene can be a bit over-rated at times, especially for many smaller businesses. If you’ve a small list, I’m not sure how important it is to clean it regularly as it’s likely not having an impact on your deliverability (one of the main reasons for cleaning your list). If you’ve got a big list, then it matters and it’s shocking for some, how much they ignore it.
So….how do we know when a subscriber is really ‘gone’…as in, they are in your audience/list but really shouldn’t be…and actually, perhaps, don’t want to be?
For me it’s all down to the type of business and customer.
For high frequency purchase products it might be worth hanging on to subscribers for a while vs low frequency ones.
Plus, you always have to ask why have they ‘gone’?… Is it because of them, or have you just not been very good in giving engaging content? (And remember, there’s nothing stopping you moving those who you ‘think’ are gone to a different list with less frequent sends…)
A tip – whenever you are segmenting who should stay or go, make sure you only target those who’ve been on your list for a while – it’s easy to do a filter on those who’ve not opened your last 10 emails and forget this will include all those who’ve only just joined!
I’ve spoken to 7 other industry experts to get their tips on audience/list hygiene, specifically at what point do they consider a subscriber is GONE?
It’s all a matter of time
Doug Dennison – CEO & Co-founder of MailNinja
If someone hasn’t opened a single email in about 3-6 months, delete them from your audience. Having disengaged subscribers in your list is costing you money and the chances are they won’t come back to you and start opening any time soon. Instead, try to keep an eye on the subscribers that are losing interest, and entice them back in. Look for drops in your segments and focus your message on specific groups of people. The more relevant your message is to your recipient, the better your email will perform.
Amy Hall – Email Marketing Strategist and Certified Mailchimp Partner and Consultant Amy Hall
If people haven’t opened in the last 50 emails they probably won’t open in the future. It’s better to get rid of this dead weight than keep them in the audience.
Alessandra Farabegoli – Digital Strategist, Co-Founder, Digital Update and Freelancecamp Italia Alessandra Farabegoli
I’m a big fan of list cleaning, a regular habit we should all adopt at least once a year. Relevance and engagement can’t last forever and it’s normal that a portion of our list gradually loses interest in our emails, so it’s better to let them go in order to maintain a satisfying open rate.
How to identify this portion of the list may be tricky: we might have subscribers who don’t open our emails but continue to buy (or because they follow us on other channels, or because our messages act as a reminder for them to navigate directly to our website), people who read our emails without downloading images so their opens don’t get tracked, or because the features we have at our disposal to segment the list are insufficient to correctly identify the inactive segment.
A recent study by Mailup (https://academy.mailup.it/data-lifecycle-engagement/) revealed that the higher the sending frequency, the sooner people can understand whether they are interested in our emails or not, and decide to unsubscribe accordingly; this results in a higher engagement in time for daily and weekly emails when compared to bimonthly or monthly emails, wich may seem counterintuitive. Actually, the more often we write (provided we have something relevant to write), the more data we have to assess the actual engagement of our subscribers.
Try re-engagement first
Adam Q. Holden-Bache – Director of Email Marketing Enventys Partners
I recommend sending re-engagement campaigns to inactive subscribers. These campaigns should be several emails long (I tend to send at least 6-8 emails) with each email being a bit more aggressive in letting the recipient know that they will be removed from the list if they do not engage in some way. These emails will be sent at different times of day on different days of the week to ensure that the recipient has the opportunity to see them in their inbox. If they do not respond after the final message, then removing them is generally a safe option.
Glenn Edley – Director & Email Strategist Spike
List hygiene is one of the key ways to make sure your emails are getting into the inbox. So, it’s important to keep your list up to date. You should run an update your details campaign once or twice a year as a minimum.
The one tip I would give is to have an automated retention plan in place. For example, people receive an email if they haven’t opened your emails for 30 days. If they respond great. If they don’t try again at say 45, 60 or 90 days. If still no response archive them off.
From there you could pull them out and send them your best deals of the year once or twice a year. Again test this to see what works for you. But in this fast-moving world if they haven’t opened anything for 90 days they’re generally gone.
Target your audience and you might not need to remove them
Emily Ryan – Co-Founder and Email Strategist Westfield Creative
Tip: One of the best things you can do for your sender reputation is to send emails only to your most engaged and active subscribers. Instead of sending to your whole list, try sending a few campaigns only to this segment of your top subscribers. Your open and click rates will be a lot higher, which will greatly help improve your “sender score” which ISPs look at to determine if your email should go to the dreaded Spam folder.
In Mailchimp, you can easily create this segment by selecting to send to a “New Group or Segment” and then selecting “Campaign Activity IS DID click on the last 5 emails” (or 10, 20, etc). Or even a segment based on their Mailchimp “star rating” — only sending your email to subscribers with 4 or 5-star ratings in Mailchimp.
Targeting your most active users will ensure you’re only reaching the people who want to be reached and really give your sender score a nice boost.
Never – unless they unsubscribe
MaryAnn Pfeiffer – Digital Marketing Strategist 108 Degrees Digital Marketing
Email list hygiene is something email marketers like to do because it helps us better analyze our list performance with clear data. It’s a lot easier to tell if a piece of creative or a campaign isn’t meeting your goals if you regularly scrub the names that drive those numbers down. From an analytics perspective, maintaining list hygiene is very helpful.
But that doesn’t mean that scrubbing non-performing names is the best thing for your business. For me, a subscriber isn’t gone until they ASK to be removed from the list. A subscriber who isn’t opening emails might not be ready to purchase yet, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to receive your messages.
You should make unsubscribing easy and clear (for GDPR as well as for user experience). Beyond that, disengaged subscribers should be segmented regularly and reached out to with re-engagement campaigns to try to increase their involvement with your brand.
Every business is unique and list hygiene is more important to some than others. What seems clear is the importance of keeping those on your email list engaged by sending relevant emails so that the dilemma of when and who to remove from your list isn’t an issue at all. But of course, even with the best marketing, people move on and don’t want to hear from you any more (and they may not unsubscribe themselves) in which case removing them is appropriate.
Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
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