3 levels of email list hygieneIs Your Email List Really Clean?

True email list hygiene looks at the quality of each email addresses in your database. This runs a lot deeper than some marketers realize. Let’s take a look the 3 basic levels of email address quality.

Email List Hygiene Level 1:

The “clean” list: Every address is formatted correctly, corresponds to a valid domain name that accepts email and corresponds to an actual working email address. But this list contains an important and problem-causing subset: Deliverable but Wrong.

These addresses are deliverable but don’t belong to your intended recipients, often because of keystroke errors.

Suppose someone like a phone rep, cashier, convention registrar or some other third party typed “[email protected]” instead of “[email protected].” Both might be deliverable, but John Smith and John Smits are different people, and one of them isn’t your intended recipient.

Even keystroke errors such as mis-typed domain names can create valid addresses. Gmial.com, for example, is a working (but NSFW!) domain name.

Email List Hygiene Level 2:

Reaching the right person: Many deliverable addresses are still problematic because they belong to “role” accounts or because they’re disposable.

Role accounts belong to functions instead of individual people: “info@,” “help@,” or “support@.” People can use them to sign up for email, but they generally aren’t personal accounts. Others might access the inbox associated with that role email and complain. Or, the subscriber leaves the company without unsubscribing. Your messages fall on deaf ears.

Disposable addresses self-destruct shortly after use. People use these one-time-only addresses when they want something from you – a freebie, download, contest entry, whitepaper, etc. – but don’t want your email messages.

Once they get what they want, the address vanishes on their end and turns into a hard bounce (permanently undeliverable) address in your database. You also lose your chance to continue marketing to that person, which is why you offered the incentive in the first place, right?

You probably pay your ESP based on the number of addresses on your list. Sending to junk addresses wastes money, kills your metrics and drags down the effectiveness of your email campaigns and your entire marketing program.

Email List Hygiene Level #3:

Deliverable but potentially dangerous addresses: These are little time bombs scattered throughout your database, which you can inherit when you fire up old lists, rent or buy lists from sketchy sources, or have invalidated data. Sending to valid but unsubscribed addresses is another potential deliverability-killer, too.

Some of these can be spam traps designed to snare spammers. Mailing to them will make you look like a spammer and damage your ability to reach inboxes in the long run.

How to Avoid Bad Addresses

Here are a few quick tips to reduce the chances that you’ll unwittingly allow invalid or problematic addresses onto your list:

  1. Validate at opt-in. Blocking incorrectly formatted or mistyped addresses at point of entry is a start. However, a service like SafeToSend also works to block problematic addresses, too, using a “Check – Correct – Protect” protocol.
  2. Reduce typos. Optimizing your forms for mobile users helps reduce “fat finger syndrome” that often leads to typos. Show the entire data field, too, so that users don’t have to scroll left or right to see that they entered all characters correctly.
  3. Think quality over quantity. Incentives have their place in your marketing program, but they can lead people to use phony or disposable addresses in order to grab a juicy freebie. Focus on building long-term value instead of quick payoffs in order to persuade people to use their genuine addresses.

Keep the Decay at Bay

You just cleaned your list. Time for lunch! When you get back an hour later, whoops!

  • A thousand people just gave you disposable or bogus emails to grab your free download. A thousand inboxes just hit maximum volume and don’t accept messages any longer. Time to start all over again.
  • A portion of your list decays every day. Upwards of 30% of your list can go back in a year. Some deliverability experts say it’s even higher than that depending on how you manage your email program.

Regular and thorough email list hygiene like the methods we described above will keep you ahead of the decay. It’s like washing your car. No matter how shiny-clean and sparkling your car is when you leave the car wash, it’s going to get dirty again soon. Schedule regular washes to keep it looking like new.