Cut the Naughty, Keep the Nice and Trim Your Email Marketing List

Also, don't forget to 'check it twice.'

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By Matt Walker

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I get it: Cleaning that musty crawl space under the porch feels more appealing than cleaning your email list. Still, the payoff at the end -- increased opens, click throughs and conversions -- will more than make up for the effort.

Related: 7 Statistics That Prove Email Marketing Isn't Dead

This is doubly true during the holidays, when email marketing efforts ramp up and everyone starts receiving more promotional material in their inboxes. Your holiday email marketing plan could actually be wasted effort if your list is not in tip-top shape.

Instead, you should be targeting those who are actually interested in your product or service, and have active accounts. So, the best way to ensure your emails are going to the right accounts is to clean your list.

You're bound to see some good results: Marketing industry giants have reported that email marketing lists degrade naturally by 20 to 30 percent per year. These scary statistics have an upside, however: You learn how email lists for all businesses grow, shrink and change over the years. It's nothing that you are doing wrong. People are just fickle; and nothing bears that out more than the fluidity of an email subscriber list.

Keeping that wisdom in mind, consider the following ideas to reinvigorate your email list for the holidays and on into 2016.

Seven sure signs that your email list needs a refresh

If you've been having a sneaking suspicion that your email list is fraying at the edges, these signs may confirm it.

  • Subscribers complain via email or social media: Their most common complaint is that the email isn't relevant to them. Have you segmented your list recently?
  • Steady decline or dip in "open" rates: Use your email service provider to chart the trajectory of your open rates.
  • Your open rates are below the industry averages: Each year, Constant Contact publishes the average email newsletter open rates for scores of industries. These range from 10 percent for civic organizations and clubs to 38 percent for religious organizations. Childcare services enjoy an understandable 40 percent open rate, and insurers get only 6 percent of their subscribers to open. If your numbers are far below average, start work on cleaning that email list.
  • Steady decline or dip in click-through rates: Waning click-through rates could mean your list isn't segmented narrowly enough or that your offer doesn't speak to audience needs and pain points.
  • Increase in spam reports: Beware of these, as they can get you in trouble with your email provider and even the federal government.
  • Your unsubscriber numbers seem to be rising: Getting a few unsubscribes every email you send is completely normal. Your readers may unsubscribe for reasons completely unrelated to you (too busy, a move, a life change). At the same time, consistently rising unsubscribe numbers could signal trouble.
  • High bounce rate. Too many bounces prompt Internet service providers to block your messages. If you see a higher than average bounce rate, check to see if the bounces are "hard" or "soft." Soft bounces are those that hit a full email inbox. Hard bounces occur when someone has provided an invalid email or the email address is shut down.

Related: Alive and Kicking: Why Email Marketing Is Still a Huge Tool for Business

Four steps to cleaning your email list

Follow these steps to make sure all of your contacts want to hear from you and are likely to open your email campaigns.

  • Look over yourlist for mistakes in spelling or missing punctuation. Manual entry of emails can result in addresses that look like these: or Also, eliminate distribution email addresses like or
  • Find subscribers who haven't opened or clicked for six months, but don't give up on them yet. Typically, after you send each campaign, your email provider will create a "did not open" list. Download this list each month and watch it. At the end of six months, send a "special" email asking subscribers who haven't opened recently if they want to unsubscribe or take advantage of a special offer just for them. If your special outreach effort is also left unopened by these subscribers, delete them. The numbers they add may put you over certain payment tiers anyway.
  • Email your list at least once a month. One of the biggest benefits to email marketing is that it gives your brand top of mind awareness. This means that your customers will be thinking about you, and will remember who you are. The next time they are looking to make a purchase, they may think of you first. But watch out -- you can easily lose this advantage if you don't send emails to your list regularly. A general rule of thumb is to send emails to your subscribers at least once a month, but be sure that the content is creative and relevant to their interests, so they don't unsubscribe.
  • Reconfirm your list. If your list is in really bad shape, you should consider reconfirming subscriptions to your list. Send an opt-in confirmation to your whole subscription list, and use only email addresses that have actively opted-in to this reconfirmation going forward. You may see a large dip in numbers, but you will know that each subscriber on your new list is interested in what you have to say and cares about your brand.

Related: 4 Common Email Marketing Misconceptions . . . Demystified

Matt Walker

CEO and Founder of Main Path, Inc.

Matt Walker is the CEO and founder of Main Path, Inc. Walker leads the company's day-to-day operations and focuses his efforts on providing a best-in-class digital-marketing solution for Main Path's clients. Walker enjoys spending time with his family, golfing and networking with fellow entrepreneurs.

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