Clean Email Lists = Improved Deliverability

February 5th, 2010 | By Marla Chupack | No Comments

Prior to sending an email campaign it’s always a good idea to clean the lists you plan to upload or use for delivery. By doing so, you’ll manage forecasting expectations and provide an accurate basis for campaign planning.  Cleaning your lists on a regular basis prevents mail servers from blocking your sender from email address and/or your server IP address because of the repeated sending of  messages to email addresses that don’t exist.

Over time your email lists will include bad or invalid addresses. Various sources report that 20 to 35 percent of Internet users change their email address each year. Subscribers may have also entered their email addresses incorrectly in an opt-in form or may have left the email address they originally provided.

Here are several list cleaning guidelines you can follow to keep clean lists:

  1. If an email has hard-bounced three or more times, remove it from your list. The address has proven itself non-existent or invalid, the email account is closed or the recipient’s mail server is blocking your messages.  You may even want to consider removing records after one or two hard-bounces (figure out what works best for you).  Repeatedly sending to invalid addresses will hurt your reputation and thus your deliverability.
  2. Check your lists for malformed email addresses (i.e.- using .co instead of .com, those without an “@” symbol and those that use instead of an email address). Running some simple searches will likely reveal most of these errors.
  3. Scan for illegal characters.  Domain names can only include the 26 letters, numbers 0-9 and a hyphen.
  4. Search and remove email addresses which appear to be aliases to larger lists such as info@, webmaster@, sales@ and support@.
  5. Evaluate your opt-in methods. Is there one method that is attracting more erroneous emails than the others? You may need to add a captcha to your opt-in forms if you get lots of bot-subscriptions.
  6. If your list is small, run a manual screen to check for honeypot or obviously fake email addresses.  These usually look abnormal or impersonal as they sometime include lots of random letters/numbers.  If you collect first and last names, also screen for identical names in both fields and spam bots sometimes duplicate that data when auto-submitting fake email addresses to web forms.
  7. Consider an Email Change of Address (ECOA) service.  A company like Fresh Address can help you match your old/invalid email addresses with the current address so you can reconnect with your customer or prospect.
  8. Remove inactive addresses from your list.  These are addresses which have not bounced, but also have not performed any action with your messages (i.e. opens or clicks).  You should identify these addresses and send them one final email alerting them they will be dropped from the subscription.  This will help your reputation as many email service providers are now identifying abandoned email accounts and analyzing the unread messages sitting there.

Email churn is unavoidable- people are always trying to get away from SPAM and changing ISPs. However, if you follow the above guidelines you can learn your best method for keeping clean lists and ensuring the deliverability of your email campaign.

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