Keeping e-mail lists clean

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Most marketers know they should do the equivalent of a big spring cleaning on their e-mail lists, but David Hallerman, senior analyst at research firm eMarketer, and Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, suggest cleaning lists more frequently. They provide the following best practices:

1) Establish an internal advertising calendar. Know when big products or ad campaigns are scheduled to debut, if not a year in advance, then at least six months. Using that information, Goodman said, count back two to four weeks and put one more date on the calendar: the data refresh. “If not that, then at least once a quarter feels right,” Goodman said.

2) Do campaign postmortems. Follow up on every campaign, looking at bounced e-mails. If something is bouncing because an e-mail address is no longer valid, remove that address immediately, Hallerman said. “People change jobs, they move around. It’s a burden, but you need to manually remove those addresses,” he said.

True bounces, which can mean your prospect’s e-mail account is full, are trickier to deal with. You may want to make a list of those e-mails that bounced and compare the list to future mailing results. If an e-mail address bounces three mailings in a row, remove it.

3) Go for the triple opt-in. E-mails that are delivered but not opened present another opportunity for culling your list. Hallerman suggested sending out an e-mail that requires a response. “You can ask people to renew their commitment to your messages. If they don’t, your list might get smaller, but it will be richer since it will contain only the people who are actually interested in your company,” he said.

4) Sort by domain. True duplicate records are often taken care of automatically by an e-mail service provider, but less obvious ones—someone who changed their name or signed up with two e-mail accounts—still need attention. Start by sorting the list by domain and then sorting alphabetically; most e-mail programs and ESPs have features that allow you to do this. Then go through manually and see if there’s anything obvious. Are there two Jane.Smiths receiving your messages? If so, send an e-mail asking if they are indeed the same person and if they would like one address removed, Goodman said.

5) Ask sales representatives to help with cleaning. For instance, request that they go over your list when they make their monthly or quarterly sales calls. “That person is going to know if someone has left the company, or if someone changed jobs and might not be the best person to receive your mailing,” Goodman said. “He or she is also going to be the best person to fill in holes in your list—who are the people who aren’t getting your e-mails that should be?”

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