The Great Debate: Balancing List Hygiene with Business Needs
Brad Gurley, Senior Director of Deliverability, Real Magnet
There’s been an ongoing debate in the email marketing community about the value of inactive or disengaged recipients. One one side, there are those who advocate regularly purging inactive contacts from your mailing database to maintain optimal list health. At the other extreme are those who believe every recipient is crucial and removal should only occur at the explicit request of the recipient. As with most hot-button issues, parties on both ends of the spectrum passionately defend their stance, often backed by empirical data to support their claims.
As is also common with most most hot-button issues, the truth (and the majority of public opinion) lies somewhere in the middle.
Gutting your list is not a requirement to maintaining good list hygiene. Here are some considerations around list hygiene to help keep your database both clean AND productive.
One of the worst-kept secrets in email is that major ISPs and mailbox providers are using engagement metrics to filter email. Put bluntly, if your recipients don’t open your messages, you’re not likely to see inbox placement. Therefore, monitoring your recipient engagement is a must.
Sure, you can see opens for specific messages, but can you also track which recipients have opened over time? At a minimum, you want to be able to generate a report of recipients who haven’t opened in a specified time frame or number of messages. This reporting will show you how much of your list is truly engaging with your mailings and help you decide how to proceed.
For Real Magnet users, these reports are available as part of Marketing Automation.
Evaluate Your List Sources
How did you acquire the email addresses that you send to?
– Confirmed opt-in?
– Single opt-in with real-time address verification?
– Paper sign-up forms or point-of-sale capture?
The method you use to acquire email addresses will have a big impact on your list hygiene needs. If you use a confirmed opt-in that requires an additional step to verify the recipient, you may not need to consider your list health as often. For less reliable methods of acquisition, like POS or phone transcription, your process should be more aggressive. If you use the standard, single opt-in, you’ll be somewhere in between.
Consider Your Market and Mailing Frequency
Too often, senders are provided with a one-size-fits-all suggestion for list hygiene. While this can form a good baseline, it’s important to tailor the plan to your unique situation. For example: a standard recommendation is to send only to recipients who have opened in the past 12 months. This is a good recommendation, but not right for everyone. What if you send daily? Should someone have to receive 365 messages without opening before they throw up a red flag? Definitely not. The more frequently you send, the shorter your engagement period requirement should be.
The historical responsiveness of your recipient base should also be taken into account. If you are selling big-ticket items that are often bought only once per year, you may want to move your engagement window to 15 or 18 months so that you minimize the impact on potential purchasers.
Identify Any Delivery Issues
Honestly, most senders don’t think about list hygiene until they have a delivery issue. That’s certainly understandable, as you’re most likely to take notice when your mail stops reaching your recipients. Unfortunately, that mindset could be leaving money on the table: around one-quarter of all legitimate marketing emails never reach reach the inbox. Even if you don’t notice a problem, there’s a chance a significant portion of your list isn’t seeing your mailings.
If your mail is being rejected, ending up in spam folders, or is just being ignored, the need to address list hygiene becomes even more pressing, and the tactics you use may need to be more aggressive. So, take a look at your overall open and bounce rates. The percentage of messages that bounce, and the types of bounces that you’re predominantly receiving, will be important factors in detecting deliverability and list health issues.
Once you’ve considered all of these factors, it’s time to act. Using the information you’ve gleaned, you’ll want to decide on 3 things:
What determines an inactive recipient?
Based on historical data, your opt-in method, and any ongoing delivery issues, decide on a threshold for when you will officially consider a recipient to be inactive. Typically you want to stay between a minimum of 90 days (for daily or multiple-daily senders) and a maximum of 2 years (for monthly senders or those with seasonal/annual purchasers). Most senders choose a period between 6 and 18 months.
What re-engagement efforts will you be attempting?
In most cases, you will want to push the non-engaged recipients towards some sort of action, whether it be opening the message, clicking a link, or submitting a form. In most cases, you want to keep the re-engagement efforts targeted and succinct. A campaign of one to three targeted messages, with a strong call-to-action, typically yields the best results.
What happens to those who still don’t engage?
Once the campaign has been sent, you need to decide how to handle those who have still not engaged. Most senders will pull these recipients from the active sending database, and may reach out through other channels such as phone or postal mail.
Ensuring you have the right data and decisions ahead of time can help your re-engagement and list hygiene efforts go smoothly, saving you time and headaches along the way! This will help you make sure you’re reaching as many of your email recipients as possible and maximizing the value of your email list.
If you’re using Real Magnet, you also have access to a feature that can help with the ongoing task of cleaning up non-engaged recipients. Our Auto Non-Engaged Suppression feature will run daily and suppress contacts who have not engaged in a set period of time. That time period can be customized, based on the factors described above. You can use this in conjunction with a Marketing Automation campaign to automate the re-engagement process and suppression for those who don’t respond. If you’re interested, contact your Account Manager or Real Magnet Support to get started.