How to Successfully Manage Your Email List

Updated November 29, 2019

List building is, in many ways, very much like growing a garden.

You select the site carefully (like you would your opt-in form or email management platform), prepare the soil (website and content), choose the seeds (determine your target audience’s buyer persona), and nurture the plants (subscribers) until they’re ready for harvest.

Email list management covers the nurturing part of the process.

When caring for a garden, you need to show up regularly to check for pests and weeds. You remove diseased or dying leaves, water the plants, and give them a healthy dose of fertilizer and sunshine. Without regular upkeep, your garden will wither and die.

Managing an email list requires similar attention and care to keep your subscribers happy and thriving.

In this guide, we will discuss why email list management is a critical component of email marketing, cover six list management best practices you can adopt right away, and go over the benefits of using the best email marketing software for your list management needs.

At a glance: How to successfully manage your email list

  • Make a positive first impression
  • Keep your email list clean
  • Understand what explicit permission is
  • Let your audience manage their subscriptions
  • Reengage inactive subscribers
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe

Why do you need to manage your email list?

If the money is in the list, it only makes sense that you keep a high-value list.

Think about it: What good will a list with thousands of subscribers do for you if more than half of them don’t even open your email newsletter campaigns?

Or worse, what if subscribers send your emails straight to the spam or trash folder? That’s similar to offering someone a gift, but instead of accepting it, they throw it over the fence without bothering to look at it.

The goal of email list management is to help you achieve the results you want from your email blast and direct marketing efforts. Managing your lists ensures you’re spending valuable time and resources on the right subscribers at the right time.

Email list management best practices

From sending your first email to saying goodbye to a subscriber, below are six list management best practices, as well as timely digital marketing tips, that you can start implementing today.

1. Make a positive first impression

A welcome email is the first email a subscriber receives from your company, and it sets the stage for future communications.

How that email makes readers feel influences their level of engagement with your brand — meaning, a positive experience can make them more receptive to your campaigns.

  • Greet the subscriber by name. People want to be addressed by name, and if you’ve captured your subscribers’ names at opt-in, now is the time to start personalizing your emails by using their first names.
  • Include next-step instructions. Welcome emails are the perfect starting point for educating your subscribers about the benefits of your product or service. If you’re selling a business app, your welcome email can include step-by-step instructions on how to install the app on their computer or smartphone.
  • Offer a welcome gift. Make your subscribers feel extra special by including a gift. A 25% discount coupon, for example, can motivate them to make a purchase.
  • Ask them to whitelist your company’s email address. Remind your subscribers to add your email address to their approved sender's list. This way, your emails don’t get trapped in the junk folder, and recipients don’t miss out on promos and important updates.
  • Ask them to follow you on social media. Provide the links to your social media accounts so subscribers can follow your updates on the social platforms they often use, as well as reach out to your customer service team for any concerns.
  • Ask how you can help them. Your goal, ultimately, is to provide value to your subscribers through helpful, actionable content. Asking them right off the bat what you can do for them conveys the message that you care.

Pro tip: According to a study by GetResponse, the average open rate for welcome emails is 82%. Maximize this potential by incorporating some (or all) of the above tips when welcoming new subscribers.

2. Keep your email list clean

Regular email scrubbing keeps "bad" subscribers away. There are several reasons why you should do this:

  • Reduce email bounce rate. A bounce happens when a recipient’s email server rejects your email. Bounces can be categorized as either a hard bounce or a soft bounce. A hard bounce occurs when an email address is invalid. Either the subscriber entered an incorrect email address, the recipient changed jobs, or the email address is no longer active. A soft bounce, on the other hand, is a temporary bounce resulting from the message being too large, a full mailbox, or the recipient’s email server being down.
  • Maintain a healthy email deliverability standing. A high bounce rate can negatively affect your email deliverability. Email service providers monitor IP addresses with high bounce rates and blacklist repeat offenders.
  • Avoid the spam folder. The lower your deliverability rates, the higher the chance of your emails being relegated to the junk folder. Get rid of invalid email addresses to reduce bounce rates or unsubscribe inactive subscribers to keep your reputation intact and prevent the service providers from blacklisting your IP address.
  • Reduce sending costs. Most email marketing services operate on a pay-what-you-need model. The bigger your email list, the more you’ll be spending to reach your subscribers. Make sure to constantly check your list for subscribers who only bloat your subscriber numbers but don’t provide much in terms of value.

Pro tip: Spring-clean your email list as often as you can. Protect your brand’s name. Not only will a damaged brand reputation affect your email deliverability rates, but it will also affect other aspects of the business, including sales.

3. Understand what explicit permission means

Here’s a little marketing 101 reminder: Email marketing is permission marketing, which means you must obtain the permission of the recipient in order to send them relevant messages.

There are two ways subscribers can join your list: single opt-in and double opt-in.

Both require the subscriber to enter their email address in the sign-up form on your website. The key difference is that single opt-in doesn’t need any form of verification, while double opt-in does. With double opt-in’s two-step process, each subscriber must verify their email address and confirm that they’ve willingly asked to join your email database before their names are added to the list.

Both of these options have their pros and cons. Single opt-in involves less friction and can be useful if you’re looking to grow your email list faster. Double opt-in, on the other hand, requires an extra step and can be a turnoff for some people.

As far as permission goes, double opt-in is the only option that obtains the subscriber’s explicit permission. It signals that the subscriber intends to join your list, has not made a mistake when entering their information, and no one has signed them up without their permission.

Pro tip: In certain jurisdictions, explicit consent is a legal requirement — so do your due diligence when working with bought data from third parties.

4. Let your audience manage their subscriptions

In email marketing, too much visibility can be harmful. According to data collated by HubSpot, 69% of email users in the U.S. unsubscribe from email lists because the sender sends way too many emails.

What’s the optimum sending frequency, then?

There is no hard-and-fast rule. Although Campaign Monitor pegs every two weeks as the sweet spot, you will have to find the number that works for you on your own, which will require some trial and error. While you figure that out, one strategy you can put to good use to prevent subscriber burnout is subscription preferences.

They’re extremely useful for situations such as:

  • The recipient has a new email address
  • They want fewer emails
  • They prefer not to receive emails on a certain topic
  • They don’t know which type of emails they signed up for

Pro tip: A subscription preference center is a feature supported by most email marketing automation software, such as ActiveCampaign, Constant Contact, and MailChimp.

5. Reengage inactive subscribers

Disengaged. Unengaged. Inactive. Dead.

These are the different ways marketing professionals refer to email subscribers who don’t engage with their emails. They don’t open your emails, let alone click on a link. They simply choose to ignore you. What should you do?

Design re-engagement strategies to reignite their interest. Examples include:

  • Make your subject lines more compelling. No matter what type of email you’re sending, provide a clear and engaging subject line. It’s the single line of text subscribers see when your email reaches their inbox, so the bigger the impact, the better.
  • Personalize your campaigns. Properly segment your lists, and customize your campaigns based on those segments.
  • Ask for assistance. You want to help your subscribers, but you can’t do that if you don’t know how. Ask them how you can help.
  • Offer them something interesting, such as a giveaway or a discount coupon.
  • Let them know you’re about to unsubscribe them if they don’t respond within a certain timeframe. Some won’t care, but others will ask that you keep them subscribed.

Pro Tip: Before you cut certain subscribers loose, make sure you’ve done everything you can to get them to reconnect.

6. Make it easy to unsubscribe

People unsubscribe from mailing lists for a variety of reasons, including:

  • The content is irrelevant. They’re not getting the content they signed up for.
  • Too many emails. For certain niches, like a news website, for example, several emails a day is okay. But other industry verticals may need to email their subscribers only once or twice a month. Find the frequency that works for your organization. What works for some companies may not for yours.
  • Emails look spammy. Your subject lines look spammy, are riddled with exclamation points, or use overly salesy language.
  • Recipients don’t know you. You may have obtained email campaign lists from suspicious sources and people don’t remember subscribing through your website.

Just as you want the subscription process to be as seamless as possible, unsubscribing should be as fuss-free as possible, too. The last thing you want when growing an email list is to make subscribers feel trapped. If there’s no easy way out, they’ll simply chuck all your emails into the spam folder to avoid hearing from you again.

Pro tip: Don’t make readers jump through hoops by hiding the unsubscribe button. You don’t want your emails being tagged as spam. That would impact your bounce rate, email deliverability, and reputation.

Should you use email marketing software for your email list management?

When lists are small, a spreadsheet to manage them will do.

But as they grow bigger, automation software becomes a must-have product instead of a nice-to-have feature. Manually segmenting thousands, even hundreds, of email addresses will take time, and so will sending emails tailored to readers’ needs.

Email marketing software tools are a powerful marketing solution that can help businesses achieve their marketing targets through:

  • Personalization. You can send emails tailored to recipients’ specific needs or personalities, such as content based on their gender, geographic location, or stage in the buying cycle. Segmentation is key to delivering personalized content, and email software like ConvertKit allows users to create segments using as many conditions as they deem necessary.
  • Reporting and analysis. With data tracking and analysis, plus customizable graphs and visual templates, you know right away where you stand in terms of metrics such as email bounce, link clicks, open rates, etc. For example, AWeber provides insights into how your campaigns are performing and recommends action items based on that data.
  • Automation. You can also automate your campaigns to respond to specific behavior or transactions, such as a welcome email for someone who has completed the sign-up form, a password-reset email with links and instructions, or email receipts for a customer who has just made a purchase. If you only need basic email automation, such as sending emails at a timed interval, VerticalResponse is worth checking out.
  • Email templates. With email marketing software, you don’t have to start an email from scratch. For example, you can replace certain fields in templates to address recipients by name. Zoho Campaigns has numerous fully designed templates you can customize and reuse.

Keeping your lists healthy with email management

Managing your email lists is an absolute must-do for businesses.

Doing so gives you an organized database for easy segmentation, which, in turn, lets you create engaging, personalized email marketing campaigns tailored to your readers’ needs. Keeping your database clean also improves email deliverability, protects your reputation, and saves you valuable time and money.