Email List Cleaning Services: Why and How?

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A clean email list is critical for success in email marketing. If you fail to remove inactive subscribers and addresses that continually “bounce” back your emails, you risk your campaigns getting sent straight to the spam box, or worse, your sender address will be blocked altogether.

Let’s be clear – there are two situations regularly cleaning your list can help you to avoid, and they both have to do with your reputation, whether with people or email spam filters:

  1. List cleaning helps you to avoid recipients marking you as spam (which, in turn, can contribute to your emails getting blocked by some providers) – if you are sending to people who aren’t interested, you are doing more harm than good.
  2. List cleaning helps you to avoid damaging your “sender score” (a measure that signals to email providers the trustworthiness of an outgoing email address) – if you damage your sender score by getting too many bounces you can get blocked by email providers.

Your reputation with both your audience and email service providers (ESPs) directly contributes to your emails either getting to the inbox or not. If you fail to clean your lists, your email sender reputation, as well as your deliverability, can be seriously undermined.

Once your sender score goes “into the red” it is difficult to get it back. Start regularly cleaning your email list today. Don’t lose valuable opportunities because your emails aren’t getting through.

In this guide, we tell you the symptoms of an unclean list, the types of “bad” email addresses to purge, and how to do it.

Signs You Need to Clean Your Email List

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(Source: stock.adobe.com)

Though we recommend cleaning your list on a six-monthly basis, this will differ depending on its size and the volume of emails you send. You may also find that you need to complete an extra clean of your list after, or before you roll out a campaign. But how do you know? Here are some common symptoms of an unclean list:

  • Bounces are higher than usual or growing at an unusual rate
  • Open-rates are lower than usual or decreasing at an unusual rate
  • Spam complaints are higher than usual or increasing at an unusual rate

By looking at the delivery reports for individual campaigns, you may be able to work out when your statistics began to go downhill. If you have multiple lists, the one with the worst deliverability figures is a good one to start with, as it is likely to contain your “problem” contact or contacts.

DIY or List-Cleaning Service?

Every six months or so you should complete a process called list-cleaning, also known as “email scrubbing,” to ensure that you are only sending your emails to active subscribers and leads. You can either clean your list yourself or use a list-cleaning service such as those recommended further on in this post. There are benefits to each method, though we advise using both in combination for the best mailing list hygiene, as neither is 100% sure to get rid of every unwanted address.

Benefits of DIY List Cleaning

  • High attention-to-detail: You care about your email reputation and you care about your subscribers. No one will work as hard as you to optimize your list.
  • You know your list and your track record: You know how well your emails have been doing, your open-rates, click-through rates, and bounces. You know why you need to clean your list, so have a better idea of what to lookout for.

Benefits of List-Cleaning Services

  • Precise at finding duplicates and invalid addresses: The precision with which list-cleaning services can weed out certain bad addresses is high.
  • Faster and easier: List-cleaning services are a “plug-in-and-play” kind of deal. They will clean your list within just a few minutes at the click of a button.

Each list-cleaning method has its particular strengths and weaknesses. Even our sophisticated DirectIQ list-cleaner can sometimes miss things. Use a service and then check your list yourself to be sure you will only be sending your emails to the most promising leads.

What to Watch Out For

There are multiple reasons you might want to remove an email address from your list. As you start to delve deeper into your contacts, keep an eye out for the following types of “bad” address:

Duplicates: Repeatedly sending two identical emails to a subscriber would annoy anyone. Remove any duplicate email addresses from your list.

Aliases: Email aliases associated with a particular domain, such as me@mycompany.com or sales@mycompany.com are particularly troublesome for email providers as not all aliases under a particular domain will have opted to receive your emails. As these are typically company email addresses, they probably won’t want to either.

Unsubscribes: If someone unsubscribes from your opt-in emails, they are politely telling you they are no longer interested. Your ESP will often do this automatically (as with DirectIQ), but it is crucial to be certain as continuing to send marketing emails after someone has unsubscribed is against the law. We call them “opt-in” emails for a reason.

Strangers: When you first started out, you may have been unaware that purchasing lists of subscribers or sending emails to addresses you found on the internet is one of the most risky things you can do. It can quickly get you blacklisted. If you have anyone on your list that did not explicitly agree to receive promotional material from your company, including contacts you purchased from third-parties, take them off.

Bounces: There are two types of bounces: hard and soft. And neither are as fun as they sound. Hard bounces are permanent. They include blocked email addresses and invalid ones. Soft bounces are typically temporary, and include autoresponders (used typically if somebody is on holiday) and mailboxes that are too full to receive new mail. DirectIQ removes all emails that return a hard bounce automatically. Soft bounces should be monitored closely – remove them after six months if they are still inactive.

Disengaged Email Recipients: Someone who has stopped opening and clicking through to your emails is a prime candidate for future removal. They shouldn’t be removed from your list straight away though. They should be removed from your main list and put on a separate one so you can send all your inactive subscribers a re-engagement campaign to see if they are interested before you delete them for good.

Cleaning Your List With DirectIQ

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With DirectIQ you don’t have to go anywhere else to get your subscriber list sanitized, as we offer a fantastic list-cleaning service you can use without leaving your email browser-app. What’s more – come to us for your list-cleaning and it’ll only cost you $5 per 1,000 emails. Opening the service will also generate a price quote and analyze your list to give you an idea of how dirty it is and whether you need to clean your list at all, for free. Here’s how:

1. Open the list-cleaning interface. You can find it in Home > Contact Lists > My Lists > List Cleaning.

2. Click on Upload Files.

3. Select the email list you need cleaned, in text (TXT) or Microsoft Excel (XLS) format. A brief progress box will appear during the upload.

4. Match the columns in the pop-up window to the data they contain using the drop-down menus marked Please select. Click continue.

5. After processing, your list data will appear on the main list-cleaning page, along with a Bounce Estimate and Email Count, with options to Start the list-cleaning process or Delete it.

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(Source: directiq.com)

6. To purge any suspect email addresses, click Start. A List Cleaning Payment window will open showing the number of contacts on your list and the cost to clean it. Click Start Cleaning to begin the process.

7. When the list-cleaning process reaches 100% you can either download your list or create a new list in DirectIQ with only your cleanest contacts.

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(Source: directiq.com)

Cleaning Lists Yourself

Cleaning your subscriber list by eye is important if you want to catch more than just potential bounces, duplicates, and invalid addresses. The list-cleaner doesn’t know if your subscribers aren’t engaging with your campaigns, if you haven’t obtained permission to contact them, or if an email address is a company alias or not. You must double-check for these issues yourself. Here’s how with DirectIQ:

1. Open the list-management interface. Go to Contact Lists > My Lists.

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2. Click the title of the list you would like to clean to open it and view its contents. The list will be displayed in your browser window.

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(Source: Author screenshot)

3. You can filter and sort your subscribers using the column headings at the top, just as you would within an app like Microsoft Excel. Sort it in a way that makes sense. For example, if you have looked at your deliverability data and figured out that your problems began in a specific month, sort your subscribers by when you initially added them so you can hone in on the contacts who were added in that month first.

4. When you do uncover an address you want to delete from your list, just click the button next to their information in the last column of the table that reads X – DELETE.

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(Source: Author screenshot)

Keep it up!

Now you are aware of the importance of regularly cleaning your mailing lists, you should establish a regular biannual cleaning cycle. Keep this up, and you won’t ever have to worry about getting blacklisted by ESPs for sending your campaigns to “bad” addresses.

And remember, always double-check freshly cleaned lists by eye, even if you use a list-cleaning service. This rigorous two-step process may take longer, but it will ensure that you are only sending your emails to healthy leads.