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Email List Hygiene: How to Keep Your Marketing Lists Clean

Email marketing can be one of the most effective (and cost-effective) digital marketing activities. But like anything else, email marketing requires constant maintenance. On average, 25-30% of your email list will "churn" every year. That churn means at least a quarter of your subscribers have become disengaged, left their company, changed their email address, or unsubscribed.

What’s even worse than churn is that by sending emails to too many invalid or disengaged email addresses, you risk harming your sending reputation. Or even worse, you can be labeled as a SPAM mailer by many email clients and email firewalls, meaning your emails never reach the inbox.

If you think that sounds pretty awful, we'd agree. The good news is that good email hygiene can keep your email marketing as effective as possible.

What is Email Hygiene?

Email list hygiene is like cleaning out your garage, except instead of dealing with spiderwebs, old tools, and the occasional irritable raccoon, you’re attempting to remove invalid and unengaged email address from your database.

By not performing regular email list hygiene, you risk hurting your deliverability and sender reputation, which both directly reduce the impact of your email marketing efforts. That’s pretty bad, so we’re here to help you figure out when it’s best to clean email lists and how to do so.

Signs You Need to Clean Your Email Lists

While regular maintenance is always a good idea, there are several red flags that can indicate an email marketing list in need of some help. Any of the following signs can signal that it’s time to clean your email lists:

  • Decrease in open rate
  • Decrease in click rate
  • Decrease in engagement (if your open and CTR is decreasing, that indicates decrease in engagement).
  • Decrease in deliverability
  • Increase in unsubscribes
  • Increase in spam complains
  • High bounce rate (monitor both hard bounces and soft bounces)

3 Major Email Hygiene Best Practices You Should Follow

Knowing that your lists need some help is the first step. The next is to roll up your sleeves and start cleaning them. Here are some tips to help you ensure that your email marketing practices and lists remain in tip-top shape.


The quickest path to having subscribers to leave your list is to send them content that they don’t want to see. Simply put, if you're sending everything to every single person on your email list, you're doing it wrong.

Segmentation allows you to break up your email lists into different groups to make sure you’re sending relevant content to your subscribers. This practice will not only help you keep your lists clean, but also make your email subscribers a lot happier and limit the number of people who unsubscribe or send your messages to the spam folder.

When it comes to how to segment your subscribers, there are a couple of approaches to help you maintain clean lists.

Segment by engagement

You want to make sure you’re emailing the most engaged segment of your lists. Email service providers (ESPs) pay attention to the type of engagement you receive from your contacts, whether it’s good, bad, or nonexistent. That engagement level determines the health of your email deliverability.

If you’re emailing to a highly engaged lists, ESPs see that as positive engagement, which in turn helps your emails reach inboxes instead of spam traps. If you’re emailing to a list of unengaged contacts, ESPs will deem your content as unwanted. That’s not ideal, which is why segmenting your lists by engaged and unengaged uses can help you maintain better list hygiene.

While unengaged users can hurt your email list health, that doesn’t mean that they’re beyond saving. You can simply remove them from your master lists and send the unengaged subscribers through a re-engagement campaign. This process will give them a chance to show that they really do care. If they don’t, it’s time to remove them from your lists from good.

Segment by interests or verticals

Another way to break up your lists is to segment your contacts by the types of content they want to see. There are multiple ways that you can divide up people into different lists, including:

  • General interests
  • Industries
  • Type of business (B2B vs. B2C)
  • Location
  • Company size
  • Job titles

No matter how you group these subscribers, the idea is simple – give the people what they want. For example, a user submitting a form to download an ebook about B2B marketing can be safely added to a B2B email list. The exact segmentation you choose will depend on your business and your customers, but it’s important to send each list content that those users want to consume and is relevant to them.

Be proactive with email hygiene

Remember when we told you about how you can spot if your lists need some attention? That doesn’t mean that you should wait for email bounces and other warning signs before you clean your email lists. It’s best to be proactive than reactive when it comes to email hygiene.

Practice routine email hygiene

We would regularly clean your email lists every four to six months to make sure your marketing campaigns are as healthy as possible. That includes:

  • Removing hard bounces
  • Keeping an eye on soft bounces
  • Removing people who marked your emails as spam
  • Removing all unengaged contacts

Clean new lists

If you recently inherited a list or collected emails from outside sources, it’s best practice to scrub that list by using an email verification platform. This process helps you remove any invalid emails, validate IP addresses, remove hard bounces, remove spam traps, and other “bad” emails that will hurt your deliverability and make it harder to land in your contacts inboxes.

Old lists may also need to be scrubbed clean. If you haven’t emailed a list in a few months, you should consider those emails as cold leads. Make sure to run any cold lists through validating service before you try to revive them. If you don’t, this could take a toll on your deliverability.

It's also important to address purchased email lists. We’d like to start by advising against purchasing lists because they can be full of spam traps. However, if you do end up with a purchased list, it’s best to run them through verification to weed out potential problem emails. Again, we advise against this practice because even list validation services can’t “save” you from all spam traps.

Use email verification services for forms

Email data hygiene extends to more than just your lists. Form submissions are another way for unwanted emails to make their way into your email marketing program. The best way to prevent these bad emails is simple – connect an email verification service to your forms to make sure all form submission emails are legitimate. This process will help weed out spam, inactive emails, fake emails, and other issues.

Remove role accounts

If you spot any role accounts – email addresses like accounts@, info@, and billing@ – are sneaky threats to your email hygiene. Even though these are real email addresses, they are most likely not being monitored. That lack of monitoring means that ESPs will translate sends to those addresses as negative engagement and unwanted emails. As such, it’s best to delete role accounts from your lists.

Practice safe email sending habits

Email list hygiene can be a lot like dental health – if you brush and floss like you’re supposed to, you’re going to be in better shape than people who don’t follow best practices. The following email best practices will go a long way toward keeping your lists healthy.

Establish a comfortable sending cadence

Consistency is quite important in email marketing. Between regular newsletters to maintaining regular sends for other types of email marketing efforts, it’s important to find a cadence that you can stick to over time. Start with a cadence that you can comfortably handle and you can always scale up from there.

Send all new contacts through a welcome campaign

It’s essential to set expectations for new subscribers. As soon as a new email address lands in your email marketing platform, make sure that they receive a welcome email giving them all the info they need. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even add extra emails to your welcome campaign to tailor a new user’s initial experience. Either way, just make sure that you welcome new subscribers and let them know what to expect from your brand in the future.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

If people don’t want to see your content anymore, it’s time to let them go. Don’t make it hard for people to unsubscribe if they want to. Your unsubscribe button should be easy to see and simple to complete, otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of spam complaints and unhappy users.

It’s also important to pay attention to how often people unsubscribe. Some unsubscribes are fine – it really is a self-cleaning tool, after all. Too many means that you’ll need to regroup and figure out why your content isn’t resonating with your audience. According to OptinMonster, a rate below 0.5% is good for an email campaign, so you can use that as a one benchmark for evaluating your email marketing efforts.

Ask your contacts what content they want

If you promote a lot of content via email, it doesn’t hurt to get feedback from your subscribers. Send an email asking the people on your lists what kind of content they’d like to receive from you. These emails can help people identify what topics they’re interested in, whether they’re in the B2B or B2C space, or any other identifying info that can help you tailor your content to them.

If you haven’t already, it’s good to add these types of questions as a checkbox to the form they came in on or as a part of your welcome email sequence. This process is also something that can be sent out every quarter or so to make sure that you’re still fulfilling your subscribers’ needs and that the content you send them is relevant and wanted.

Embrace Email Hygiene for Effective Email Marketing Efforts

Clean email lists can make a major difference for your email marketing campaigns. Of course, it still takes some work to not only keep those lists clean, but also create engaging campaigns that help deliver leads.

Need some help supporting all your digital marketing efforts? Aztek can help. Contact us today to about email marketing services or any other digital marketing needs.