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I’m not into horror movies… not one little bit

Ever since staying up to late when I was a kid and catching The Exorcist, I’ve not been into them.

…but I’m still a huge movie fan… so I’ve taken to finding out about a new movie, and then hunting for the plot online so I know what’s going to happen (I still won’t go to see it, but I feel i’ve participated in some way!!… strange eh?)

I started this a few years ago when I heard about a new movie that had come out in the States called “The Purge”.

The plot is centred in a “new world” which has draconian punishments for any breaking of the law… but for one day of the year, all laws are suspended and you can do pretty much what you want.

Mayhem ensues… blood is spilled… hero’s are made… people come back from the dead… you know the score.

The central plot point is that by allowing people to “purge” themselves once a year, they won’t give in to their impulses on the other 364 days of the year.

With the recent implementation of the GDPR in the EU on May 25th… and the way many have treated their email list… I was very much reminded of this movie…  as in “The Email Purge”…

For me, the impact of GDPR on my lists over the last month has been quite substantial… and lots of people have left my email database.

I decided that it was time for a purge of my email list and rather then using Legitimate Interest for everyone, that I wanted just to keep those who were engaged in my list – and over 50% of my list stayed, which I’m taking as a positive thing.

Of course, as well as all those people who either requested to be unsubscribed, or even deleted (and who’s request was immediately granted), there’s all those people who are currently still on my list, but for who I don’t have any legal grounds to communicate with.

Let’s take a brief step back and look at the bigger picture first to understand the central GDPR view.

On May 25th, GDPR kicked in, and with it the fact that anyone I communicated with via email (and thus had personal information on) needed to have a legal basis for said communication.  GDPR gave us 6 to choose from and I used Legitimate Interest for my existing customers and Consent for prospects.

What this meant was going back to my list and essentially asking them for their consent again (because I decided I didn’t have any before), but making sure it was GDPR compliant consent…  so essentially starting from scratch for those people.  The only difference between them and people I didn’t know at all was that I had an email address to make the request for consent to.

As such, on May 25th, I was left with 2 groups of people.  Those which I had a legal basis for communicating to, and those who I didn’t.

…so as I’m contemplating my future strategy when it comes to email, and of course how this will be actually done in MailChimp, what should I do?

Should I delete them?

Should I unsubscribe them?

Should I keep them in a dark hole, hidden away in my MailChimp account never to be heard from again?

…and I’m guessing you’re in the same situation if your still reading this!

Well stay tuned for how I worked out what I needed to do and how it can help you make the same decision.

Let’s interrupt this blog post for a public service announcement.

Before we go into the options for your list, one thing I regularly see in the MailChimp Answers Facebook Group is a discussion about cleaned, deleted, unsubscribed and what it all means in MailChimp.

  • Non-subscribed means that they’re on your list, but haven’t completed a Double Opt In and so you can’t email them… yet.
  • Unsubscribed means that MailChimp keeps the information on their system and you can see them, but doesn’t remove anything – people can “resubscribe” by completing a form to be re-added to your list.
  • Deleted means that MailChimp removes them from your system… but may (depending on the type of delete) keep some tracking information about them in the system.
  • Cleaned means that MailChimp has tried to contact the email given, but it’s either hard bounced or soft bounced too many times – and as such puts a block on it.

In the past you may have had issues deleting an unsubscribe, but it appears that’s no longer the case – but MailChimp WILL keep that they unsubscribed on the system so that if you try and add them back onto your list directly, it’ll stop you.

Also, you can’t remove a cleaned email from your list – it’s MailChimp’s way of knowing not to send anything to that address.

MailChimp only charge you for those emails that are “live”, so even though you may see non-subscribed, unsubscribed and cleaned in your list – you aren’t being charged for them.

Finally, MailChimp doesn’t like it when you try and delete someone who’s received a campaign from you in the past 7 days.  This is to protect themselves in case someone tries to unsubscribe but they’ve already been deleted.

Hope that clears up some of the principles of MailChimp on the delete/unsubscribe side of things.

Right back to GDPR…

Now normally, the decision of what to do with those you want to be rid of wouldn’t be a problem, but because of the way that MailChimp works, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, from a purely legal point of view, as you don’t have a legal basis to process their data (aka have their email), you should probably be deleting them.

…and this isn’t a biggie if your MailChimp Account is set up in a particular way.

However, for some of us it won’t be that easy, and as such, we might find that unsubscribing them would be the better option – which although legally may not be 100% on the nose, would still have the net effect of meaning you can’t email them… and as such, chances are no one would be any the wiser.

So what should you do?

Well, here’s a few questions that will allow you to navigate and find the right solution for you. Leaving you with a nice list of people you know you’ve got a legal basis to communicate with.

The first question is very simple.

How do you identify those who you’ve got permission to speak to from those you haven’t.

There are 3 main answers:

  1. You created a new list and people who were “legal” were added to it.
  2. You used the MailChimp GDPR form option and the associated tick boxes.
  3. You created a group in your existing list and used that as a way to know who was “legal” (and if they weren’t in that group, they weren’t “legal”.

If your answer is 1 – then it’s simple, bin the old list and move forward with the new one…. just make sure that any automations you may have linked to the old list are reconnected to the new list.  This is one of the reasons I didn’t follow this route myself… I didn’t want to go through all my automations (trust me, as the “MailChimp Guy”… I have a lot!) and redo them all.

If you answered 2 or 3, you’re pretty much in the same boat.  You’ve got people on your list that using either segments or groups, you can identify as either in or out.

I used 3 as I didn’t want to get bogged down in MailChimp’s GDPR forms for the future (in my world, forms are the key to success… but that’s another blog post!).

Either way, we’re now on to the next question:

How many people do you have which you need to remove from your list moving forward?

This question matters as it’s actually not that hard to delete a couple of hundred records (which as stated earlier is the more appropriate “legal” (as I understand it) approach).

If you’ve got a few hundred, then watch this video where I show how to delete all those people from your list (but remember the 7 day rule).


However, if you’ve a few thousand you need to get rid of, it’s time for another question…

Will moving the “legal” people to a new list be a problem?

I.e. do you have automations or history that you need to keep, in which case moving them all to a new list would be a problem.

If you’ve no automations or things you want to keep, then just export the good people , add them to a new list and then delete the old one (with all the people who are not ‘good’).

But what about if you’ve got a lot of emails that you want to remove, but can’t create a new list.

That’s where MailChimp makes it difficult, because if you’ve got a few thousand to “bin”… MailChimp doesn’t make it easy to do this (and trust me, I’ve hunted high and low for an answer).

Bottom line is that there is no easy way to delete a large number of subscribers from your list…

…but you can unsubscribe them.

And this is where, although some would argue that they should actually be deleted, unsubscribing them will probably cause you zero hassle down the line – and so this is what I’m doing on some of the lists I manage.

Also, unlike if they actually unsubscribe themselves, you won’t be penalised as it would be an “admin” action.

(As ever, this is not “legal advice”, I’m just giving you the options for you to make an educated choice for your own data)

Here’s a short video showing how to do this…


So there you have it… hopefully this will be the only “purge” of data you’ll need to do and as long as you are sure about who’s in or out on your list, you know the options available.

It may not be as easy as clicking a button, especially if there’s complications… but at least you can make a clean break from all those who didn’t make the cut.

…and complete your own little Purge.

Robin Adams

Robin Adams

The MailChimp Guy

The main man behind and the MailChimp Answers Facebook Group. What this man doesn't know about MailChimp...

Proficient in all things MailChimp, Marketing and Systems


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