There are many email performance factors that pay into the overall success of your email marketing initiatives and optimal deliverability. One key, critical factor is the quality of your list. Today we will discuss list maintenance best practices to implement to ensure your get optimal deliverability and performance on your campaigns.

As a marketer, I’m sure you have heard the phrase “quality over quantity” and we have all scuffled, as we know what our bosses are going to say: Something along the lines of “I don’t care what you do or how it is done, you email as many people as you possibly can to meet our forecasts.” Trust me, I’ve had to deal with the same.

Unfortunately, whether we (or our bosses) like to hear it or not, times have changed and we really are now in the “quality over quantity” era. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are especially making the decisions for us. They’ve become ever-more vigilant against poor quality email, and if they see poor hygiene come from your IP or domains, they will hold it against you. This will hurt your overall sending reputation in the email world, and cripple your campaigns with poor deliverability.

Today, right now, let’s help change the way of thinking that has clouded our minds for years – the push for numbers over substance – and start to pay attention to improving list quality and overall performance of our emails. To do this, we need to first understand the importance of list hygiene.

Why is list hygiene important?

Two key components that drive inbox placement (as well as higher ROI on your marketing initiatives) are validation of your email addresses and low spam complaint rates. Properly managing these two components from the very beginning can help improve your deliverability and response rates.

What rates should you aim for?

Hard Bounces – <1.0%

Spam Complaints – <0.1%

How do you do this?

Hard Bounces – These are email addresses that indicate a permanent failure, i.e. the person is no longer at the company, or the address is incorrectly formatted. Here are ways to help reduce hard bounces.

  • List Validation Services. There are several companies that help marketers validate their data before sending to it. The overall process involves these providers bumping your lists up against their databases of known bad email addresses, pinging email servers, and reviewing the makeup of the email addresses. Please note, there is no list validation service that is going to catch everything; that’s impossible. But by using one of these services, you can eliminate as much as possible the risk of harming your email sending reputation. We recommend validating lists quarterly. Companies that provide these services include Webbula, BriteVerify, and FreshAddress.
  • Real-Time Validation. This is preventive medicine. Partnering with a real-time validation company is a great way to eliminate bad addresses getting on your lists before they even come in the door. This will check and confirm the validity of an email address at the time of sign up. It can be used on your website, forms, landing pages – any place you are collecting email addresses. Please note there has recently been an increase in disposable email addresses, which are email addresses created and valid for up to 72 hours, at which point they decommission. Using real-time validation would not necessarily catch these, but if you are actively using a service, e.g., Webbula, regularly, then they would eventually be caught and removed.

Spam Complaints – In most email clients, people can click a “This is Junk” or “Report Spam” button to indicate that a received email message is spam. These spam complaints are noted by ISPs, and can be detrimental to your sending reputation and deliverability. Here are ways in which to minimize spam complaints.

  • Move Your Unsubscribe Link. If I see that a client has a spam complaint higher than 0.1%, one of the first recommendations I provide is to move the unsubscribe link and language to the top of the email versus the bottom. If you find your spam complaint rate is higher than it should be, move the opt-out link to the pre-header of your email. The pre-header is where you see “View this Message in a Browser” language. You can place “Unsubscribe” linked to your opt-out page right after the “View this Message in a Browser” or if you have language like “Add us to your safe sender list” then just place it after that. ISPs like seeing you make your opt-out process more accessible to their customers and addressing an issue they might have already identified with your IP or domain.
  • Relevancy/Frequency of Content. Through the years, I have seen high spam complaints as the result of the recipients receiving emails not relevant to what they expected, or getting too many emails and therefore feel bombarded. It’s become a world of user control. People like to set their own preferences around frequency and types of content they want to receive. As people sign up to receive emails from you, make one of your first emails to them around setting their preferences up front so you can meet their expectations and eliminate bombarding them from the beginning.
  • Subscription Management Centers. Along with having customers set their own preferences from the beginning, it’s also smart to continue to make it easy for recipients to change their preferences throughout their journey with your company. Their needs and desires may change, and they will notice and appreciate it if you make it easy for them to get what they want.

To do this, you can enable a subscription management center. Alongside your opt-out link, offer a “Manage your Preferences” link that takes them to a page with a longer opt-out form that includes options to opt down rather than out of everything, or to opt out of only some communications, while retaining others. This again allows for users to control their preferences regularly, reducing the chances of losing these customers all together.

Overall, good list hygiene is a critical component of email marketing that is too often overlooked. Keeping your email lists clean of email recipients who shouldn’t be on it has benefits that are extremely important to the success of your company’s email deliverability, and so of your marketing initiatives.

The art of successful email marketing depends first and last upon proactive deliverability management. Download, “Best Practices in Email Deliverability,” to learn the tips and tricks that will help you manage the critical factors that affect the deliverability of your email messages.