Digital Marketing

3 Challenges and Tips to Keep Your Email Subscriber List Clean

Written by Karen Van Ert
Any organization trying to improve marketing ROI and overall customer engagement should be looking at optimizing their email channel. Why? Studies show that email marketing’s ROI typically is at least equal to SEO and at least two times greater than all other online channels – and when done correctly can account for 15% of overall online revenue.
I don’t want to call email formulaic, by any stretch, but there are five main components to a solid email program:

  1. Acquiring emails
  2. Onboarding new subscribers
  3. Ongoing engagement
  4. Win-back attempts
  5. Keeping your subscriber list clean

For those of us running email programs, there’s huge support for components 1 through 4 from upper management as well as many fantastic articles available that can help companies develop great programs. But typically there’s a lot of heartburn when it comes to #5, and not much information available regarding the pros and cons of a systematic and ongoing list cleanse process.
There’s a lot of fear associated with list hygiene. No one wants to reduce their number of eligible email recipients despite the fact that doing so has proven to not only save money but increase revenue generated from the channel.
How does reducing the number of people I send emails to generate more revenue? A simple example for those not already familiar: If you’re sending to 10,000 subscribers and only 1,000 of them are interested in hearing from you, there’s a very good chance a handful of the other 9,000 subscribers are going to hit the complaint or spam button. If that happens too often, you get blocked from the 1,000 subscribers who DO want to hear from you.  Since most of you already know this, why don’t more of us have clean subscriber lists?
There are three potential challenges. The first is getting buy-in from upper management, the second is having the necessary data available to make smart decisions, and the third is determining what method and frequency is best for your company to employ, because it’s not something that can or should use a cookie-cutter approach.
Challenge #1
Let’s tackle challenge #1 first: Thinking through the situation logically, why would I want to email customers who do not have any interest in hearing from me? If I have proof that an email recipient has not interacted (opened) an email of mine in the past year, it would suggest I’m wasting time and money, (most email service providers charge by the number of emails sent) by continuing to keep them in our active file. Management should care about smart cost savings initiatives, so this is a good angle to take when pitching a list cleanse program.
Test after test shows that open rates and click-to-open rates will increase in a campaign with a clean, targeted list, which leads to increased incremental revenue. Your own increase will depend upon how dirty your list is currently and how often you’re emailing your customer base.
Challenge #2
I strongly suggest you have access to 12 months of open and click data. Do what you need to in order to find out if this is standard through your email provider because in my experience, it’s often not. If it’s not, work with your ESP or IT team to find out what you need to do to make it standard. If your organization has a centralized data warehouse, bring open and click data in on a regular basis so you’re in control and can potentially infuse it with order data.
For example, you might be emailing a customer regularly, and they may not open or click through your emails, but they might still be influenced from seeing your emails and remembering you when they need something from your company. If you can, it makes sense to test whether or not they’re being influenced by email before you put them through a list cleanse series.
Challenge #3
Think through your customer order cycle. If you’re a Q4 business (holiday gifting), you probably want to do your major list cleanse in January following gift giving season. That way, the likelihood is that if they haven’t purchased in the past 12 months, and your top three months have just passed, that subscriber may no longer be interested in hearing from you. Or, if your customers are subscription based buyers, you’re better off with a rolling 12 month review of their activities. If they always sign up for lawn treatment in April (or May, or June) and they haven’t done so this year, you might no longer be relevant.
Only you will know what makes sense and it’s worth spending a little time looking at customer order data to figure it out.
Once you’ve handled the challenges, what’s the strategy?
Easy things first – validate domains and de-dup your emails. Search for any email addressing containing the word “spam,” “abuse,” “root,” and “webmaster” and remove them. If you want to be really thorough, use a service to run an email change of address (which will cost money) but will typically update at least 5% of your file with new email addresses.
After you’ve done what you can on your own, you need to implement your “list cleanse program.” I’d suggest you create a three part email series targeted to the subscribers whose interest level is in question. You should clearly let them know that unless they act (by clicking a button), they’ll no longer receive updates on new products, be notified first of special offers, etc.  You need to provide them with all the great reasons they signed up in the first place!
Some of the subscribers will act, but it’s likely to be a small percentage. Make sure you flag those who do not engage in any of the three emails as unsubscribed or, if you want to reserve the right to email them for really special purposes in the future, as a different subscription type.
Once you have a program in place, keep it going. Look back to your customer buying cycle to know how often your list cleanse program should run. If you’re extremely seasonal, it might only be once a year, immediately following your busy season. If you’re not, and your revenues are somewhat regular, you should consider doing it monthly. The cleaner your list, the better your results.

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