List hygiene matters: Get started on spring cleaning

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As email marketers, it's easy to remain focused on the next campaign, forgetting that the success of it and of subsequent efforts rests significantly on the quality of subscriber lists. "In a perfect world, we would all constantly clean our lists of inactive subscribers and bad email addresses; but it seems to be one of those things that falls by the wayside," said Stacy Hayes, business development director at email service provider GraphicMail. "The problem is, if you don't maintain your list, you're working hard instead of smart—jeopardizing your relationship with the ISPs and lowering your deliverability." Hayes suggested these tips to help you get started with a spring cleaning of your email marketing list:
  1. Be careful about who cleans your lists. If you do opt for an outside service, read your agreements very carefully, Hayes said. You may be signing away more than just bad email addresses. "There are a lot of companies that offer list-scrubbing services—from "some guy' in his basement to giant corporations," she explained. "Be mindful of who you share your data with. They might be utilizing your data for their own mailings." And don't overlook any ESP list-scrubbing tools, which are often free and easy to use, she said.
  2. Ask for unsubscribes. It may seem counterintuitive, but marketers may want to try sending out an email asking people if they'd like to opt out of email marketing, Hayes said. If someone isn't opening or engaging with your messages, let them take themselves off your list, she said.
  3. Make unsubscribing easy for recipients. Again, marketers should be thinking quality rather than quantity. Put opt-out information prominently into any messaging, she said. "Losing a subscriber is better than gaining a complaint. This will save you money on not only mailings but any potential list cleanup," Hayes said.
  4. Look at the numbers. Once you've scrubbed your list, take a look at the metrics, Hayes said. If you've deleted more than 25% of your subscribers, you need to reconsider your signup or list acquisition process. There's probably something flawed with it, she said.
  5. Put it on the calendar. Once your list has been cleaned, budget the time and money to keep up with the process on a regular basis. That may be weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on the size and complexity of your list. "After you've made the initial investment, try to keep on top of your list, so that you don't have to continually outlay money that you could be using for better things," Hayes said.
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