Cleaning your email list improves deliverability, open and click rates, and saves you money! Find out why you should clean your email list regularly and how to do it…
How clean is your email list? If your email list is clean you will have high open rates, high click rates, and your subscribers will be highly engaged and active.
However, if you have never cleaned your list, it’s likely you will have low open rates and click rates. Worse still, the lower your open rate, and the higher your bounce rate, the MORE LIKELY it is your subscribers are NOT EVEN SEEING YOUR EMAILS in the first place.
If you have NEVER cleaned your list, you are paying for inactive subscribers and subscribers who are not even seeing your emails – that sounds like money down the drain to me!
Deleting subscribers may sound scary, but a smaller list of highly engaged subscribers is much more valuable to you than a larger list of subscribers who never open your emails.
Ready to get started?
Here’s my guide to why you should clean your email list and how to do it…
What is email list cleaning?
Put simply, email list cleaning is the practice of regularly removing inactive or invalid email addresses from your email list. This is done by removing all the subscribers who have not opened ANY of your emails in a certain period of time – e.g. the last 6 months. These are sometimes called ‘cold’ subscribers.
Why clean your email list?
The idea of proactively removing subscribers from your list might sound crazy to you. However, there are many benefits to regularly cleaning your email list…
Better Open and Click Rates
The first, and most obvious, is that by cleaning your email list, your open and click rates will instantly improve.
Open and click rates are calculated as a percentage of the total number of emails sent.
If you remove all the subscribers from your list who have not opened your emails in a long time, the number of subscribers who do open and click your emails will be a bigger percentage of the total emails sent going forward.
But the benefits are much better than that…
Fewer spam complaints
Cleaning your email list reduces the number of spam complaints. Spam complains are when a subscriber marks your email as spam. Often subscribers do this because they don’t remember signing up, or they get fed up of seeing your emails in their inbox – but feel bad about unsubscribing!
The problem is that email providers like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. keep a record of spam complaints. If you get a lot, they’ll start sending your emails straight to the spam folder or promotions tab.
And not just for the people who reported you – they will send your emails to the spam folder for everyone you send email to. This means people who actually want to read your emails may stop seeing your emails in their inbox.
If you regularly clean your email list the likelihood of getting spam complaints is much lower. Fewer spam complaints means you will have a better ‘sender reputation’. This means more of your emails will reach subscribers’ inboxes, rather than ending up in spam.
Lower bounce rates
Another benefit of cleaning your is a lower bounce rate. Bounces are caused by undeliverable email addresses on your list. Typically, this is because of an email address change, a full inbox, a fake email address or a technical error.
Too many bounces have the same effect as spam complaints: they hurt your sender reputation which results in more of your emails ending up in spam folders.
If you clean your email list, the number of bounces will go down, meaning you will get a better reputation and so more of your emails will end up in inboxes.
Better sender reputation
Spam complaints and bounce rates both affect your sender reputation, but so does the number of people who actually open your emails.
Put simply, if a lot of people on your list never open emails from you, this will negatively affect your sender reputation – meaning more of your emails will end up in people’s junk mail and promotions tabs – even for subscribers who WANT to hear from you!
If you frequently clean your list, your open rates will automatically be higher, which means your sender reputation will be higher, which means your emails are much more likely to end up in actual inboxes, rather than junk!
A clean email list gets better inbox placement, which in turn means EVEN better open rates, and therefore EVEN BETTER sender reputation and so on – it’s a virtuous circle.
It will save you money!
Typically email marketing service providers charge you according to the number of subscribers you have, or sometimes the number or emails you send.
This is a big incentive to clean your email list!
Every cold subscriber you have on your list is costing you money. Removing all cold and non-existent addresses prevents you from unnecessary expense.
Do you really want to pay to email people who aren’t even opening your emails?
How often should you clean your email List?
First and foremost, if you have never cleaned your email list then you should do it now!
After that, it depends on how fast your list grows. The faster your list grows, the more frequently you need to clean it.
I suggest starting by aiming to clean your list once a month – simply add this to the list of things you do at the end of the month (accounts, check broken links etc.).
The more often you clean your list, the less of a BIG JOB it becomes and the more likely you are to experience the positive benefits of having a clean list.
If you have a big, fast-growing list, you may need to clean your list even more often than this – perhaps even once a week.
Should you try a re-engagement campaign first?
One idea is to try a re-engagement campaign BEFORE you clean your list.
The idea is you send an email, with a compelling subject line (e.g. I miss you! Do you still want to be friends?) with the hope of encouraging a few of those people who haven’t opened your emails in a long time to say they still want to receive your emails.
This sounds good in theory, but in reality, there are a few downsides to this idea…
The first is that many of the people who are not opening your emails are not even seeing them because they are ending up in junk folders etc. – so sending them another email they are not going to see is a waste of time.
The second is that even if they do see your email and respond positively (maybe because they don’t want to hurt your feelings), they are unlikely to change their behaviour long term – if they were ignoring your emails before, they are likely to continue to ignore your emails going forward! And so you don’t get the benefits of improved open rates and better sender reputation.
The third – and for me the most compelling – is the fact that having to create a re-engagement campaign BEFORE you can clean your list is likely to cause you not to clean your list at all. Creating a re-engagement campaign is a much bigger job than simply deleting cold subscribers and so it is much more likely to get put off, and then put off again – and again!
Remember, you are only deleting subscribers who have not opened ANY of your emails in a really long time – if they are not opening your emails, the chances are they are not really very interested in what you have to say. And you only want subscribers on your list who are engaged and interested in what you are sending them.
How to clean your mailing list
The first step is to decide what you consider to be a ‘cold subscriber’ – you may, for example, decide that anyone who has not opened your emails for 90 days is a cold subscriber.
Next go into your list of subscribers and create a new segment – make that new segment match your criteria of ‘haven’t opened an email in the last 90 days’.
You also need to ensure you filter OUT subscribers who have only just joined your list – to give them a chance to start engaging with your emails. So for example your segment might consist of people who have not opened an email from you in the last 90 days, but have been a subscriber for more than 30 days.
Once you have created your segment, simply delete all subscribers in that segment.
Scary at first – but once you see the benefits in your open rates, click rates and bounce rates, you’ll want to do it more and more!
How to clean your email list in ConvertKit
If you are with ConvertKit*, cleaning your subscriber list is even easier! Convertkit automatically creates a list of ‘cold subscribers’ for you. Simply go to your list of subscribers, and under the drop-down menu where it says ‘Confirmed Subscribers’ you will find ‘Cold Subscribers’. Select this and then simply delete everyone on that list. It takes ooooh about 10 seconds to do! Just one of the many reasons why I love ConvertKit!
If you do want to run a reactivation campaign, ConvertKit also make this very easy – you can add a ready-made reactivation automation to your account! All you have to do is personalise it and set it running.
How to clean your email list in MailChimp
How to ensure your email list stays clean
Now you have a lovely clean email list you will want to make sure it stays clean! Here are some tips…
Don’t add people to your mailing list without their permission
An obvious one to start with… Don’t add people to your mailing list without their express permission. Not only is this likely to lead to a decrease in your open rates and an increase in spam complaints, it is also illegal in most countries!
Use content upgrades not competitions
Back in the day when I was a newbie blogger, I got told that the ‘best’ way to grow my email list was to run giveaways/competitions and make subscribing to my mailing list one of the entry options. This was terrible advice! Sure, it helped my email list to grow, but not with engaged subscribers!
Instead I got a bunch of email addresses on my list of people who weren’t interested in my emails – they just wanted to win the prize! Worse still, a lot of people have a separate email address they use just for this type of thing – they never even check the emails in their inbox, they just use it for entering comps!
A much better idea for encouraging subscribers is to create free opt-in offers, also known as content upgrades. This is a freebie that people get for subscribing to your email list. For example, my book ‘Blog Smarter Not Harder’.
A free gift is likely to entice THE RIGHT PEOPLE onto your mailing list – people who are interested in what you actually blog about. But make sure you are really clear to your readers that by accepting the free gift, they will be added to your mailing list – or you are likely to end up with an increase in spam complaints! (Not to mention falling foul of anti-spam laws.)
Use double opt-in
Another way to ensure you only get genuine email addresses on your email list is to enable double opt-in. Double opt-in means that once a subscriber has entered their email address, they have to click on a link in an email sent to their inbox in order to actually be subscribed. If they don’t click on the link, they are not subscribed. This ensures all the email addresses on your list are genuine email addresses which actually work. Enabling double opt-in weeds out fake email addresses and typos too (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
Double opt-in also enables you to send a personalised message that makes it clear that by clicking the link in the email, they are giving their permission for you to send them emails and store their email address. This ensures you only get subscribers on your list who genuinely want to be there AND helps to ensure you are compliant with data protection laws.
Make it easy to unsubscribe
Finally, make sure it is very easy to unsubscribe from your emails. You don’t want people on your email list who do not want to be receiving your emails. So make sure every email you send has a clear unsubscribe link that is easy to use (again this is also a legal requirement in most countries).
The worst thing you can do is make the unsubscribe link difficult to find or make the process of unsubscribing time-consuming or confusing. If a subscriber feels like they can’t leave, they will most likely mark your emails as spam instead, which will negatively affect your sender reputation.
And besides – you only want to have subscribers on your list who genuinely want to be there, and who will positively engage with your content… and if you’re offering great email content, then you have nothing to fear!
What next? How to grow and engage Your cleaned email list…
After you’ve cleaned your list, it’s time to create a strategy to get more ‘good’ subscribers onto your list and maximise your open and click rates.
Begin by creating a compelling offer
If you want to attract the right kind of subscribers – the sort that will open your emails and click on your links, you need to create a compelling offer. Simply having a ‘subscribe for free updates’ box in your sidebar will not cut the mustard!
Create a really good opt-in offer that will be attractive to your target audience, and put signup boxes everywhere: home page, sidebar, announcement bar, in content, after content, landing pages, footer, popup etc. etc.
Better still, create several highly targeted opt-in offers (often know as content upgrades) and place them in your most relevant content (see my Goal Setting For Bloggers post for an example).
Always send welcome emails to your new subscribers
A brand new subscriber is most receptive to receiving your emails. Take advantage of this honeymoon phase by sending welcome emails that make your new subscribers feel welcome and special – make them feel like they’ve made a brilliant decision by joining your list and like they are now part of an exclusive club.
Give your new subscribers something of real worth in their first few emails and they will know that they need to always open your emails, as there is likely to be something of real benefit to them.
You could even go one step further and invite your new subscriber to reply to your email and engage with you on social media.
Getting your welcome sequence right can make an enormous difference to the level of subscriber engagement going forward.
Write great emails that deliver real value to your subscribers
Just like your blog posts, your emails should deliver real value to your subscribers. Don’t just send links to your blog posts or, worse, constant sales emails.
People are much more likely to open and read your emails if they believe there might be real value in them. Delight them with information that will genuinely benefit them, linking to your blog for extra information and help, and they will reward you with high open and click rates.
Always remember to put yourself in the shoes of your subscribers and think ‘what’s in it for them?’
Stuck for what to write? Then check out my list of 11 different types of email newsletter for ideas.
Make your email subject line compelling
The best email subject lines compel your subscribers to open your emails. Make them exciting and enticing – leave your subscribers no choice but to open them!
Avoid using generic language like ‘my latest newsletter’ or ‘this week’s news’. Instead use hints, teasers, questions and intriguing language to encourage your subscribers to open your email. Make them curious or give them FOMO!
But don’t go over the top – don’t mislead or use clickbaity subject lines like ‘I nearly died…’ (and your email says ‘of laughing’.) And make sure you deliver what your subject line promises in your email.
CoSchedule has a great FREE email subject line tester which really helps you create great email subject lines. It’s also worth trying some A/B testing to see what kind of email subject line works with your audience.
Wrapping It All Up
Cleaning your email list will generate immediate positive results and even greater returns in the long term. A clean email list will result in higher open and click rates and a better return on your investment.
Make sure you use email marketing best practice, such as double opt-in and clear unsubscribe links to ensure your email list stays clean, and make sure you regularly re-clean your list to see the most benefit.
To grow and maintain a clean list, create great opt-ins, ensure new subscribers are properly welcomed, deliver real value with your emails and write compelling subject lines.
Remember: the success of your email marketing should not be measured by the number of subscribers you have on your list. Rather, it should be measured by the quality of the subscribers and the actions they take as a result of your email!
For more tips on how to clean up the rest of your blog, check out my 21 ways to spring clean your blog >>
Want to know more about email marketing?
If you’ve enjoyed this post you might like to read more about email marketing. Here are some of my most popular posts on this topic…
- Why every blogger NEEDS an email list
- How to get started with email marketing and get your first subscribers
- A beginner’s guide to ConvertKit
- ConvertKit vs MailChimp – which is best for your blog?
I’d love to help if you have any questions about this topic – or if you’d like to tell me about another email marketing service you really rate! Let me know in the comments below or over in the Productive Blogging Community.
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*This blog post contains affiliate links, this means if you click on a link and go on to buy the product I recommend, I will get a small commission, but you will not be charged a penny more – thanks in advance!