List Hygiene Matters Even More Today
Managing ISP inbox filters continues to be a leading issue for marketers, and it seems to get tougher everyday as ISPs add more and more factors to their screening algorithms. Whether it’s your content, sending practices, user engagement factors, or improper data hygiene, sometimes it can seem almost impossible to navigate the deliverability waters. And even the best marketing program will drown in a sea of failures if you can’t reach your subscribers’ inboxes or, worse yet, you get blocked overall.
Two newer concerns should put list hygiene at the top of your investment list:
1. COVID-era surge in bad addresses. We witnessed a jump in problematic email registrations in 2020 as we worked on client files, mainly from two causes:
- Many companies dove into the deepest recesses of their files to re-engage with as many subscribers as possible. To no one's surprise, many of those addresses bounced, had turned into spamtraps, or ran afoul of ISP policies. For marketers who neglected to perform hygiene on these file segments before their deployments, the damage was clear: an increase in junk box rates, lower open rates, and fewer click throughs, all of which led to weaker sales.
- Over 10 million jobs evaporated in 2020 when workplaces shut down or eliminated large sections of their workforces. Even if only half of those lost jobs had email addresses associated with them, that's a lot of people to lose touch with.
2. Apple's move to disable the tracking pixel. This development, announced in early June, can hurt your ability to gauge subscriber activity accurately. The move means you won't be able to tally opens on emails viewed in Apple's native Mail platform on an iPhone, iPad or desktop/laptop computer by users who have opted into Apple's new policy.
If Google or Microsoft were to follow suit, that could end the open rate's value as a proxy for subscriber engagement. Undercounting user engagement could needlessly consign active addresses to a reactivation program or suppression file.
We'll be the first to acknowledge that doing a comprehensive email database cleanup can seem daunting, especially with the number of hygiene companies that have sprung up in recent years. But a successful solution can be simple and seamless if you are working with the right provider.
You should also take this as an opportunity to set up an ongoing cleaning process to ensure your new registrations are clean before entering them into your marketing database, thereby keeping your reputation pristine and your emails always delivered.
A Quick Fix Isn’t The Answer
When you decide it's time to do a full list cleanse, your first instinct might be to reach out to an inexpensive list-pinging service that tests each address to determine whether it's valid. But, like removing undeliverable addresses every time you send a campaign, a simple email ping is not enough to keep your database healthy.
List pinging, although comparatively inexpensive, can uncover undeliverable addresses that your regular maintenance should have removed already – and that's a conversation you'll want to have with your data team. But pinging cannot identify deliverable-but-problematic addresses, which are much more damaging.
These include spamtraps and honeypots, set up to detect spamming. They also include role accounts ("help@XYZ.com," "info@XYZ.com"). These are attached to job roles and often result in excessive spam complaints from the recipients who never signed up for your emails in the first place.
Another issue is disposable or one-time email addresses. People use these emails when they have to give an email address to get something – contest entry, freebie, game download – but they don't want your marketing emails. It's a valid address, so a simple ping won't cause it to fail. But the email you send to it likely will never get read. It's another major money-waster because you aren’t reaching your target. And then there are the inadvertent typo traps, set up by some of the leading spam-filtering organizations to catch marketers who don’t live by double opt-in policies.
The bottom line – removing bounces is helpful to increase your overall engagement metrics but deliverable-but-problematic addresses can sink your marketing programs the moment you strike them.
How To Get A Skeptical Executive On Your Side
Execs who aren't down in the weeds of day-to-day email might not understand the damage that messaging a dirty database can inflict on your email program and therefore they might refuse to provide the funding you need for a thorough list cleaning.
While a technical discussion on the impact of blocklists on sender reputation might not move the needle, showing them just how much potential revenue is lost every time a campaign is sent should get their attention.
The Numbers You Will Need To Make Your Case
- Inbox placement (not just total deliverables), and how it’s been trending over the last 6 months to a year, depending on your sending frequency.
- What percentage of your database is undeliverable, inactive or otherwise low-value. Work with a full-service list hygiene vendor that can scan your database quickly to estimate how much of it is inactive, undeliverable or deliverable but problematic. Some vendors will provide a overall snapshot of your file for free to determine the extent of cleansing your list needs.
- Potential lost revenue. Determine your revenue per email (average or median revenue per campaign divided by total number of inbox emails) and then multiply by the number of failed or problematic emails that your high-level list check revealed. If your RPE is $1, and you send to 100,000 addresses with every broadcast campaign that won’t get seen due to junk boxing or blocking, that's $100,000 you just let slip through your fingers. Showing the lost revenue might help you win the budget needed to fund an ongoing cleanse process.
- Added acquisition expense. Acquiring a new customer or subscriber costs much more than retaining and reaching the ones you’ve already paid for so go for the low-hanging fruit that’s already in your database.
5 Quick Tips To Keep You Files Clean
Removing problem addresses immediately will preserve your sender reputation, protect your ability to hit your subscribers' inboxes every time, and reduce wasted marketing costs.
These steps should be part of your maintenance program. Not only do they help remove bad email addresses, they will enable you to optimize your overall deliverability and maximize the ROI of your marketing programs:
- Add real-time email validation at opt-in. It can check and correct misspellings and malformed addresses and detect deliverable-but-problematic addresses like spamtraps, role accounts, disposables, frequent spam complainers, and addresses on your internal suppression lists.
- Never buy, rent or trade lists. These addresses represent massive potential problems. They can be old, inactive, inaccurate or fake. Even if the address is legitimate and active, the owner didn't ask to receive your emails. At best, they won't respond. At worst, they will click the spam button and that will hurt your sender reputation and your ability to send.
- Track all acquisition sources to spot sources of potential problem addresses.
- Verify that your automated list hygiene is working properly to remove undeliverables, frequent spam complainers, and traps, correct inadvertent hygiene errors, and validate the deliverability of all those addresses that survive the first two screens.
- Ensure every deployment is first scrubbed against your suppression files while making sure these files are kept up-to-date, preferably in real-time.
At some point, no matter how careful you are about adding only deliverable, high-quality addresses, the time will come when you must do a full list cleaning, especially if your database has addresses that are more than a year old.
The steps outlined here will help you decide whether that time has come, how to ask for budget and time to cover the cost, and what you need to do after the cleaning to create an ongoing process and keep hitting inboxes every time you send.
Follow these practices and you’ll experience smooth sailing and unparalleled marketing profits from hereon out!