5 Steps to Scrubbing Your Email List

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If it’s time to scrub your email subscriber list, identify who your inactive subscribers are, figure out the best way to re-engage them, or remove them from your list and store them for later.

Is it time to clean your email list? If you’re asking yourself that question, this guide is for you. Business owners put a lot of work into marketing emails, so it’s not surprising it gets a little frustrating when emails come back as undeliverable, get reported as spam, or get deleted before even being opened. If that’s happening a lot, you most likely have a lot of inactive subscribers on your email list.

Overview: What is email scrubbing?

Email list scrubbing essentially means you're getting rid of inactive subscribers. You can tell who's inactive by looking at who opens your emails. However, it doesn’t take just one unopened email for a subscriber to become inactive. It happens over time depending on the frequency with which you send emails.

These inactive subscribers make it hard to gauge how well your email marketing efforts are doing, and that can mess up your reporting, so scrubbing them from your email list is beneficial for your business.

Let’s look at those benefits now.

6 benefits of a clean email list

Scrubbing your email list is beneficial for you and for your inactive subscribers. You won’t waste time on subscribers who don’t engage, and your inactive subscribers don’t have to go through the effort of deleting or archiving your emails. Here are six more benefits of cleaning up your email list.

1. Better open rates

Open rate is one of the biggest numbers to track for email marketing. Your open rate should fall between 15% and 25%, so if you’re below that, it might be time for an email list cleanup. There are a few reasons your open rate could be low. Your subscribers get too many emails and just go on a deleting spree, or your subject lines aren’t catching their attention.

2. Higher click rates

Click rate is another important metric to track. When someone clicks on a link or a button you’ve included in your email and is taken to another page, that counts towards your click rate. You should aim for about a 2.5% click rate.

3. Decrease in spam reports

Sometimes, when people don’t remember signing up for emails, they think the ones they’re getting are spam. They won’t open them, mostly out of fear of viruses, and they won’t click on anything in the email if they do open them. If they mark it as spam, each subsequent email you send will go right into their spam folder, and they won’t even see it. If enough people do this, it can harm your numbers and maybe even your brand.

4. Less bounce back

If your emails are getting bounced back to you, it means the address you’ve sent them to can no longer receive emails. Either the account has been closed, or it's just undeliverable. Usually, information in the non-deliverable report will tell you the reason, and you can use that to further tailor your active and inactive email lists.

5. More cost-effective

If you’re using email marketing software to design, manage, and track your marketing emails, you might be paying per email or range of emails sent. You’re wasting money sending emails to subscribers who aren’t adding to your open or click rates. Once you get rid of those inactives, you could pay much less, or spend the money in a better way on active subscribers.

6. Accurate reporting

Having inactive subscribers will mess up your reporting. Mostly everything is done in percentages based on how many emails you send out and how frequently. Your rates might be much better, and you'll have a more accurate representation of your actual progress if you are only sending emails to active subscribers.

How to scrub your email list

The moment you’ve been waiting for: the steps to scrub your email list. Depending on what email marketing software you use, the specifics of each step may vary, but the core ideas are the same across the board.

1. Separate your lists

The first step in email list cleaning is to figure out who the actives are and who the inactives are. All email marketing software will guide you through determining who belongs in which list, so you only have to mark the email addresses as one or the other and get on with the next step.

2. Clean inactive accounts

As mentioned above, there could be a few reasons a subscriber goes inactive, and one of them is they’ve subscribed with two email addresses. They could be active on one, but completely inactive on the other. If they recently got a new email address and wanted to re-subscribe to all their favorite websites, their old email address will now be inactive on your list and negatively affect your analytics.

There are tools you can run your email lists through, such as Mailchimp Cleaned Contacts, that will check for duplicate email accounts, meaning if one person has signed up with more than one email address or if someone signed up twice under the same email somehow. Whichever email scrubber you go with, it will be better than not using one at all.

3. Send re-engagement emails

Once you have your list of inactives worked out, it’s time to create a special email for that list. You can set this up many ways, but here are a few examples of subject line buzzwords to use if you’re trying to re-engage subscribers:

  • Last chance
  • Before you’re removed
  • If this is a mistake
  • Before I go

These might all trigger something in your subscribers and tempt them to open the email. Maybe they don’t actually want to stop receiving your emails, or perhaps they didn’t realize emails they’ve deleted were from you.

4. Reorganize lists

If subscribers have responded positively to your re-engagement emails, they can be moved back to the active list. Give yourself a time limit for responses, and then cut it off. You’re trying to make the most of your email list and the emails you work so hard on, so don’t waste your time waiting on subscribers who don’t care.

5. Remove inactive subscribers

Once you’ve gone through the first four steps, you can take the final step of removing the inactive subscribers from your email list. You don’t have to delete them, though, you can put them into a separate folder to keep for later. They won’t receive any of your emails unless you put them back into an active list, so saving them will impact nothing negatively, and it’s good email list management practice.

3 best practices when email scrubbing

It’s important to remember that even when you’re saying goodbye to inactive subscribers, it doesn’t have to be cold turkey. Give them a chance to come back, and remember, there are many reasons someone becomes inactive. Not only are these approaches the best practices for scrubbing an email list, but they're also good to remember for general email marketing best practices as well.

1. Try to re-engage before removing inactive subscribers

Always give people another chance before removing them from your email list. There could be a dozen reasons subscribers haven’t been engaging with your content, and maybe the thought of not receiving your emails anymore is enough to bring them back to being an active subscriber.

2. Save inactive subscribers for later

Send out an email to those you’ve labeled as inactive. You can implement another re-engagement campaign and include those subscribers you’ve saved for later. You never know, distance can make the heart grow fonder.

3. Don’t take it personally

Think of how often you’ve subscribed to a website, usually around the holidays, to get certain content, a sale, free shipping, etc., and then never interacted with them again. That could be the case for your subscribers too. It’s nothing against you, they were just in the market for something specific at a specific time, and you were offering just the right thing at that moment.

The bottom line

Building your email list as a small business isn’t the easiest task. Maintaining it is even more difficult. There’s the upkeep of subscribers, maintaining different lists and campaigns, and knowing when it’s time to scrub your lists of inactive subscribers. The guide above will get you and your email list back on track so your analytics and reports will accurately show your progress and engagement.

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