How Using An Old Email List Can Be Hurting Your Email Marketing Success


You followed all of the email marketing commandments. You worked extremely hard at building your list. You left no stone unturned. However, before you launch your next campaign, there is one more thing you should consider, and that is ‘email list hygiene’.

What is Email List Hygiene?

It simply has to do with keeping your email list clean. I like to think of it as a weeding out process. You’re basically removing old inactive subscribers from your email list. This is how you determine who your true friends are so-to-speak.

When you have a clean list of subscribers, you can increase your chances of converting subscribers into  paying customers because your metrics are meaningful. As a result, you experience more sales and increased revenue. However, if you send out emails to an old list, then you could hurt your email success.

Here are a few steps I recommend to help clean up your list and get your email marketing campaign back on track:

1. Avoid Low Email Engagement

Email providers are known for determining a person’s engagement by the amount of unsubscribes, clicks, opens, spam, non-spam and abuse complaints you receive. If a vast number of people label your email as spam, then email providers will automatically assume that your subscribers do not want to receive your email. This can present a problem because it affects your email deliverability which can be costly as it can cause your marketing campaign to get blocked by ISPs. As a result, your active members who really want to receive your emails will never receive them.

That’s right, you can have the best email campaign in place, but it will never see the light of day if it ends up in your recipient’s spam folder. In more extreme cases, the email provider will completely stop delivering your emails. This is why cleaning your list is so important. Otherwise, you’re losing revenue.

When you practice good email hygiene, providers will notice you have high engagement with your audience. They will  list your emails as high priority, and your subscribers will receive your emails. This automatically increases the chances of people opening your email.

2. Email Marketing Metrics – Are Your Metrics Accurate?

Cleaning your list involves getting rid of subscribers that have been on your list for six months or more and have never opened an email. Thanks to email marketing metrics, measuring email engagement is possible. You can increase sales when you review stats based on actual numbers.

Most email marketing solutions allow you to generate reports to view all your opens, unsubscribes, clicks and bounces. For example, with MailChimp, you can view abuse complaints from people who sent your email to spam. This information comes in very handy when it comes to cleaning out your mailing list.

For example, I once had a client with a list she started 5 years ago. When I looked at the stats, I discovered that 35% of her subscribers have not opened her emails in the last 18 months.  I removed those inactive people then sent out a campaign to the new clean list.  After three campaigns her open rate went up and the bounce rate went down. We began to review the email marketing metrics and craft the emails accordingly – it helps when you have real stats. The end result was an increase in sales. One email garnered 17 new consulting clients. She would have never been able to accomplish these results with her outdated list.

3. Improving Your Email Engagement

There are a variety of ways to improve your email engagement. One option is to resend emails to people who haven’t opened your email. Try sending your email on a different day of the week. You may even want to change up the subject line to help increase your open rate. This option gives them one last chance. After you have sent out your email, measure the results.

If your email marketing metrics report shows that your subscribers are still not opening your emails, then it’s time to remove them from your list.

Finally, when your email list is clean, you are good to go. Here are a few more tips on how to improve your email engagement:

  • Don’t send out emails to old (or stale) contacts. In other words, avoid sending out emails to people who haven’t been opening your emails for months.
  • Avoid sending emails out too frequently. If you send out emails too often, this can cause your audience to lose interest. Remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • In contrast, if you’re not consistent with sending out emails and you only send them out once in a blue moon,  people will ask, “…And you are?” This can result in people unsubscribing or sending your email to spam.
  • Avoid writing email content like a boiler room salesperson. An example of this would be using salesy clichés within your email copy, such as: “CLICK HERE – BUY NOW!!!” or  “ON SALE FOR $19.99 FOR A LIMITED TIME!!!” Using spammy content will not only increase a person’s chances of opting out of a list, most spam filters penalize users for using spammy content.

The bottom line is, you have worked too hard at developing your email marketing campaign to have your emails end up in spam. Sending out newsletters or sales letters to people who never open your emails defeats the purpose of email marketing – not to mention, a waste of valuable time. Having a clean list allows you to send out emails to people who appreciate being a part of your online community.


About Gina Nieves

Gina Nieves is an expert at getting increased sales through websites. Since founding MarkNet Group, she has overseen the design of 500 websites and $30 million in sales. She writes about how to increase sales through your website. You can follow her at Google+ or Twitter.

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  1. James says:
    05/16/13 at 8:06 am

    I had no idea the email companies are checking engagement to decide the importance of an email. That may explain why my Yahoo users say they don’t get me email.

    • Hi James. Thanks for commenting. Yes, it is actually more prevalent today.

    • Great post. Thank you for the tips. So many times I sign up for an email subscription only to be bombarded by emails twice a day. Just as you stated, I lose interest and quickly unsubscribe. If you are not giving your subscribers anything of interest, you will quickly lose them.

  2. Can you switch the address the email comes from ?

    • That would be a band aide but not the solution. Assuming you are using your business domain as your from email address and not a generic one like gmail, yahoo the email companies are looking at the domain as well. For example, if I am using [email protected] then decide to change the from to [email protected] I still have xyz in the from so it does not help.

  3. It’s as though you’re in my head. I was just thinking about this and adding it to my to do list: “If your email marketing metrics report shows that your subscribers are still not opening your emails, then it’s time to remove them from your list.”

    I have a question, when you say don’t email frequently and absence makes the heart grow fonder, what time frame are you speaking about? Once a week, bi-weekly, monthly?

    Thank you Gina, I appreciate the tips.

    • Hi Regina. Thanks for commenting. We are on the same page. I just cleaned up my list last week which inspired me to write this post. To answer your question it depends on the type of blog. For example, if people opt in to your daily tips then they are expecting daily tips so frequent emailing is fine. I found that on average when my clients email their list more than 1x week their open rates begin to go down. This is not true for all of my clients…just on average. Test with your list to see what frequency is best.

      I’d love to be on your list. How do I subscribe?

  4. Janice says:
    05/21/13 at 1:54 pm

    Great ideas Gina. I enjoy your blog a lot.

  5. Hi there everybody, here every person is sharing these kinds
    of know-how, therefore it’s nice to read this weblog, and I used to pay a visit this blog everyday.

  6. Great article! Can you provide an example of the campaign you sent out to clean up the list? Were you very direct about your intention in the email? What did you say in each of the three campaigns you sent? How long did you give the subscriber before you opted them out of the list? Thanks so much for sharing!

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