Time to Prune Your Email Marketing Lists

Email marketers need to exercise a green thumb when it comes to managing their subscriber lists. Regular list maintenance is crucial to maintaining high deliverability. Simple steps like removing certain departmental email addresses, removing email addresses that continually soft bounce, and not sending to lists that produce a high percentage of complaints can keep email campaigns blossoming all year long.

The first step is to ensure that your current email system is correctly processing unsubscribe requests and invalid email addresses. Once an email address is identified as being invalid, the status of that address should be changed so it is never mailed to again, and any list member that chooses to unsubscribe from your mailings should also have their status changed. These addresses should never be outright deleted from the database because this can lead to the address being re-added. Resending to either of these will cause reputation issues.

Many email lists contain email addresses that they shouldn’t. These addresses are often times departmental addresses like sales@, info@, abuse@, hr@, webmaster@ or postmaster@. These addresses are often pulled directly from websites and should never be emailed to. Sending to email addresses that go to a group such as all@, everyone@, and people@ is also inappropriate. To be safe, all forms of departmental and group addresses should not be mailed to, and if possible set to a non-active status.

Soft bounce is a delivery category that refers to messages that cannot be delivered due to temporary problems such as a full mailbox, domain connection issue, or “out of office” notice. But sometimes hard bounces (permanent problems such as invalid address or non existing domain) are wrongly classified as soft bounces.

Spending a little time analyzing delivery reports and changing the delivery status of undeliverable soft bounces can greatly reduce potential problems with the ISPs. It is also a good idea to check your mail system’s soft bounce tolerance setting. This is the number of consecutive soft bounces an address receives before being set to inactive. Slightly lowering the soft bounce tolerance can help reduce the number of addresses that will never get delivered. A soft bounce tolerance of 15 to 20 is a good conservative number.

High complaints are still the biggest reason messages do not get delivered or they get routed to the bulk folder. Most reputable email systems will utilize a protocol know as a Feedback Loop to remove list members that hit the ‘Spam’ button, but being proactive and removing lists that tend to generate high complaints will help prevent future complaints that can cause deliverability problems. The old adage “One bad apple…” definitely holds true with email lists.

The best way to build a healthy subscriber base is to prune the deadwood and remove the weeds. Removing email addresses that bounce, or have a higher likelihood of complaints will help keep email lists growing and productive for many seasons to come.

Louis Chatoff is the Email Deliverability Manager for the StreamSend Email Marketing service. In addition to his other duties, Louis conducts a weekly webinar on how to optimize email delivery to the inbox.

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