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Email list hygiene: Why it matters for your eCommerce business

You’ve carefully crafted an eCommerce email marketing campaign and have sent it out, waiting confidently for sales to start rolling in. But what you get is the opposite: crickets! Complete radio silence.

Before you panic, know that this happens to everyone in email marketing. At some point, fewer people open your emails, fewer people click, and you get the sense that your subscribers feel kind of “meh” when your emails land in their inboxes. In fact, email lists go through a natural attrition, degrading at about 22.5 percent a year

One way to solve this is to take a long, hard look at your eCommerce email marketing strategy, and see what you can improve. But there’s also another option: Practice good email list hygiene.

What is email list hygiene?

Email list hygiene is simply cleaning up your email list to remove inactive and unengaged subscribers. Cleaning your email list ensures you stop marketing to people who don’t care about your emails, resulting in a more engaged subscriber base. That saves you time and money, and improves email marketing ROI.

This guide outlines the key signs that it’s time to clean your email list, plus the benefits of doing so. And it includes a step-by-step guide to email list hygiene for more effective eCommerce email marketing.

Which email list should you clean?

As an eCommerce business you’ll likely have a bunch of different contacts. For example, your contact database may include:

  • Visitors to your site who want to learn more about your business
  • Leads (people who are likely to become customers)
  • Existing customers
  • Past customers

That means you’ll also have several email lists, like:

  • A customer email list, to which you’ll send automated emails based on behavior and purchase history (for example, abandoned cart emails)
  • A marketing email list, with people who you hope will become customers
  • An email list for those who have opted out of marketing emails, but still need transactional emails about their account, orders, purchases and shipments 

So, which email list should you clean? All of them can benefit from a cleanup, but your most active and important email list is a good place to start. After all, that’s the list that’s going to result in the most leads and sales.

Before you start the list hygiene process, you’ll want to make sure it’s the right time to clean your list, which we cover in the next section.

You’ll also want to be sure that there’s absolutely no chance of re-engaging dormant subscribers. We’ll look at that later in this guide as well. 

5 signs that it’s time to clean your email list

When does eCommerce email list hygiene make sense? There are five important warning signs to look out for. 

1. Falling open and click rates

One of the most obvious is a decline in open and click rates. Every email marketing service provides stats on what percentage (and how many) of your subscribers opened your emails and clicked on the links. 

Email open rate benchmarks vary by industry, but from your perspective what’s most important is whether email open rates are static, improving, or decreasing.

Via: Super Office.

If there’s a downward trend, that’s not good news. But you can’t look at open and click rates alone. 

2. Rising unsubscribe rates

Another sign that people don’t want your emails is an increase in the number of unsubscribes.

We’ve all unsubscribed from an email list at some point, so seeing people drop off your list is pretty normal. The thing to look for here is the unsubscribe rate. For most email lists, the average unsubscribe rate is between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent per email sent, so if yours is in this range, there’s no cause for concern. But if your unsubscribe rate is above 0.5 percent, you’ll definitely want to look at cleaning your list to get back into the normal range.

Yes, either way you lose subscribers, but it’s better to drop them before they can drop you.

3. A high bounce rate

Check out the bounce report in your email marketing software. That’s where emails aren’t delivered because the email address was wrong, the mailbox was full, or a host of other technical reasons. 

If your bounce rate is increasing, it means you’ve got a high percentage of bad email addresses, and that will affect your open and click rates, too. Ultimately, high bounce rates can hurt your overall email deliverability.

4. More spam complaints

It’s worth looking out for spam complaints. Your email service provider will alert you to these, and you want to keep them low (we’ll tell you why in a minute).

Note that more spam complaints doesn’t always mean that subscribers see you as a spammer.

People have trouble finding how to unsubscribe.
Via: Litmus.

It’s simply that many will do the easiest thing when they get an email they don’t really want—and clicking the “Spam” button in Gmail is easier than scrolling to the bottom of the email, finding the unsubscribe link, clicking through to your website, and completing the unsubscribe process. According to Litmus, 43 percent of subscribers do this. That has an impact on the final reason why email list hygiene matters: email deliverability.

5. Poor deliverability

Email deliverability is about the ability to get your emails into people’s inboxes. (For this purpose, the spam box also counts as an inbox, because an email in the spam box has reached the recipient. ) 

When too many people mark your emails as spam, email providers will reject your emails before they reach the recipients. Ideally, you want deliverability to be over 90 percent. If it isn’t, you have a problem.

5 benefits of cleaning your email list

Luckily, email list hygiene will remedy these issues, because it will help you send your emails to a more engaged, receptive list. If most of the people on your list actually want to get your emails, then your eCommerce business will get the following benefits:

1. Fewer spam complaints and better deliverability

A more engaged, active email list means fewer spam complaints. That, in turn, means deliverability increases, so more of your emails reach your subscribers. And when they get those emails, there are other benefits…

2. Improved open and click rates

Since open and click rates are a percentage of the total number of subscribers, removing subscribers who don’t want your emails results in an immediate improvement in open and click rates. 

3. Fewer unsubscribes and bounces

Similarly, when you prune your list, you’re sending emails to people who actually want them. That means they’re less likely to unsubscribe. Plus, when more emails reach the subscribers who want them, it’s more likely that they’ll act on them. 

4. Better email marketing statistics

Remove the bloat from your email list and your email marketing statistics will be more reliable. That gives you the chance to plan your email marketing strategy and gauge the effectiveness of different campaigns based on real numbers, rather than including data from people who aren’t actively engaged with your brand. 

5. Improved ROI for eCommerce email marketing

Finally, let’s talk about the cost of email marketing. Most providers (including Jilt) charge based on the number of contacts on your list. That means if you’ve got 1,000 people on your list who aren’t engaged, you’re still paying the provider to email them, even if you’re not getting a response. Trim your list and you can trim your costs, giving you an improved ROI for your email marketing.

What to do before you clean your email list

There’s one more thing to do before you start cleaning your email list. Since it’s easier to win sales from existing customers than to entice new ones, try to re-engage dormant subscribers before you remove them.

You can easily do this with a win-back or re-engagement campaign, or multiple campaigns depending on your email list segments. For example, you might send different campaigns to people who haven’t purchased at all and people who haven’t purchased in the last few months. Jilt, for example, offers a built-in win-back campaign for people who haven’t bought anything within 90 days. 

The great thing about running a win-back campaign is that if you get your subscribers to engage, they’ll likely keep engaging long after the end of the campaign. Learn more in our guide to the fundamentals of an effective email marketing win-back campaign.

eCommerce email list hygiene step-by-step

Once you’ve completed your win-back campaign, you’re ready to proceed with the email list hygiene process. Here’s how you’d do this yourself, though we’ll give you an option at the end for businesses with large email lists. 

Step 1: Check that you’re not the problem

One of the first things to do is check that you don’t have a deliverability problem. As we said, if your emails aren’t getting delivered, then people can’t act on them. A good way to do this is to use an email deliverability checker. 

Test the deliverability of your emails.

Some common email deliverability checkers include:

Other email testing tools, like Litmus, also include deliverability checks.

Most deliverability testing tools work the same way. First, create your email as normal. Then, send it to the email address supplied by the testing tool. Finally, check out the deliverability report.

Another deliverability test.

It will include a list of some of the issues that affect deliverability, like:

  • Email authentication
  • Whether your sender email address has been blacklisted
  • Whether there are emails from purchased email lists (that’s a no-no)
  • If there’s a problem with your sender IP address

Find and fix those issues then check your email again. 

Step 2: Remove inactive subscribers

Remember that win-back campaign? Once it’s over, you’ll have a clearer picture of which subscribers really aren’t interested and you can remove them from your list.

Step 3: Check your bounces

All email marketing services provide stats on bounced emails. Sometimes you can improve your list simply by looking at those stats. It’s really easy to mistype an email address, which means people who want your emails might not get them. 

You can fix this. If there are transposed letters in the email domain (like gmail.com or yahoo.com), edit them manually. That also works if it’s obvious that a person is using a version of their name in the email address and there’s a clear typo. 

Your email service provider will also help maintain a tidy list. That’s because hard bounces are automatically cleaned, and soft bounces (where there’s a temporary deliverability issue) become hard bounces if they happen repeatedly.

Step 4: Remove unwanted contacts

You know what makes subscribers submit spam reports? When they get the same email from you multiple times. It might not even be your fault, because sometimes people subscribe with different email addresses. 

The best way to remove repeated contacts is to export your list into Excel or Google Sheets and use their tools to find and remove duplicates.

Other unwanted contacts include disposable email addresses (people use these to grab your offer without revealing their real email), purchased email addresses, and any obvious spam emails. Your email service provider will usually catch these, but it can’t hurt to check. 

Have a huge list? Use an email verification service

The tips above will work well if you have a relatively small list. But if you have a huge list, it’s not practical to do this all yourself. In that case, you’ll want to use an email verification service like BriteVerify or QuickEmailVerification to:

  • Validate and verify your list
  • Identify and block fake email addresses
  • Remove disposable email addresses
  • Fix email address typos
Brite Verify screenshot for checking large email lists.

With some providers, you’ll have to export your email ist, and reimport it when it’s been cleaned. But, if you’re lucky, you’ll find an email list cleaner that integrates with your email software to make the process seamless.

Once you’ve cleaned your email list, you’ll want to repeat the process every few months, so you have an engaged eCommerce email list that brings you leads and sales.

Sharon Hurley Hall
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. She's written for publications as varied as IBM, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, Search Engine People, and Unbounce. In her previous life Sharon was also a journalist and university lecturer (teaching journalism, of course!) You can learn more about Sharon at sharonhh.com.

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