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Email List Cleaning – Give Your Email Marketing a Fresh Start

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Karolina Petraškienė
Content Marketing Manager
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Sending out an email to your list of subscribers can feel like a little adventure.

You carefully select the subject line, brainstorm the content, and work hard to make your call to action as appealing as possible.

But then, the numbers roll in, and … it’s not what you expected. The email goes to spam for much of your audience, banished to a folder that rarely sees the light of day. Your amazing offer disappears forever.

For email marketers, maintaining a healthy email list dramatically lowers the possibility that your email goes to junk. But how do ecommerce brands maintain a clean email list? Stay tuned to learn how to:

  • Scrub your email list and why you should do it in the first place
  • Remove invalid and hard bounce email addresses from your database
  • Avoid the most common pitfalls of maintaining a clean email list
  • How to grow a healthy and engaged subscriber list

Email List Cleaning: What is It and Why Should You Do It?

Email list cleaning is the act of updating, or “cleaning,” your email marketing subscriber list. You do so by removing unengaged and outdated contacts, as well as honoring unsubscribe requests.

Regular email list cleaning helps to keep email from going to spam by tackling two common issues:

  1. Sending emails to inactive email addresses
  2. Possessing a poor email deliverability rate and sender reputation. This prevents emails from landing in customer inboxes

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

1. Email addresses tend to become inactive

The veracity of email lists naturally declines with time. Some studies show that within 28 days, 4.5% of your subscribers can become unresponsive.

Your list may also contain spam traps (stale emails turn into these) and fake emails generated by bots. It is easy to imagine how this can quickly snowball and turn a profitable email list into one that even marketing pro Neil Patel can’t resurrect.

2. Poor list management ruins deliverability and sender reputation

Maintaining a clean email list helps you keep a positive sender reputation.

Deliverability is a complex topic and consists of many components, like the sender’s reputation and domain reputation. Every domain has its own reputation. When you send an email from your domain, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of your recipient acts as a bouncer. It has one job and one job only: let in the acceptable emails and throw out those smelling of trouble.

It’s important to understand the fundamentals. You can find details in our full guide to email deliverability.

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What is an ISP and Why Does My Email Go to Spam?

An ISP (Internet Service Provider) is an organization that provides services for accessing, using, or participating in the internet. There are many different kinds, but those most important to this discussion are email service providers such as Google, Yahoo, and Outlook. People who use them want one very simple thing: zero spam emails. So, it’s critical that their filters allow no spam emails through.

To decipher the good from the potentially bad emails, the filters survey the sender’s domain reputation. A good domain reputation, no problems. A poor domain reputation bans your message.

Domain reputation fluctuates, and a variety of factors affect your ever-changing reputation:

  • How many subscribers open your emails.
  • How many subscribers click on your links.
  • The number of emails that hard bounce.
  • The number of deleted emails.
  • How often your emails are labeled as spam.

This last factor is one you should strive to avoid the most.

How Do You Keep Email from Going to Spam?

There are many ways to improve your email marketing to prevent email from landing in the spam folder. However, maintaining email list hygiene should be a top priority.

This is especially true for merchants that have been amassing contacts over many years. These contacts will be prime for an email list cleaner, so don’t be afraid to put resources into cleaning these email lists.

Removing old, fake, and spam trap email addresses will improve your sender reputation. This will increase the chances of receiving an invite to the inbox.

Great subject lines matter—but not if they get lost among the spam heap. Clean your email list first!

When Should You Scrub Your Email List?

Always complete email list cleaning before changing your email service provider (ESP). You should do so for several reasons:

  • You won’t transfer bad contacts
  • It helps to keep your reputation intact (very important during the warm-up process with the new ESP)
  • You’ll speed up your warmup process
  • You only pay for active subscribers and not fake, bad, or inactive email addresses

If switching ESPs is not in your future, we recommend cleaning your email subscriber list at least once per quarter. Or, alternatively, bust out the email list clear and verification services whenever you notice a sudden drop in open rates.

Additionally, you should aim for monthly checks. They are ideal when rapidly increasing new subscribers.

How to Clean Your Email List of Bad Subscribers

Inactive contacts spoil a fair amount. They hurt your overall metrics, decrease deliverability, and unnecessarily burn through mailing credits.

Ridding your list of idle addresses involves two primary actions:

Unsubscribing (not deleting or removing) inactive customers by way of creating a segment

Email subscribers stop opening emails for a variety of reasons. If you’re not actively monitoring your level of unengaged contacts, you run the risk of hurting your inbox deliverability.

Isolating and unsubscribing these unengaged contacts is a good start. But creating a long-term plan is essential to a healthy list.

Ecommerce brands should implement an automated re-engagement series, sometimes called a win-back series.

This message series addresses email subscribers who have not opened an email after a set period of time.

If the subscriber continues to stay dormant, they are automatically removed—leaving you a form of automated list cleaning.

Here at Omnisend, we recommend cleaning lists quarterly. Setting up specific segmentation and campaigns to be sent to customers that haven’t engaged for a while helps with this.

‘Inactive contacts’, customers who haven’t responded to any marketing emails for a while, rarely provide any value to your business. With this in mind, there’s more to be gained from encouraging them to unsubscribe than there is to keep fruitlessly sending them emails.

As aforementioned, using email verification services prevents sending emails to addresses that are virtually guaranteed to bounce. Or email addresses that will inevitably unsubscribe—whether it’s by choice or your own email list cleaner efforts.

Luckily, with Omnisend it’s simple to use the segmentation tools to seek out these inactive contacts. 

You can use filters, such as ‘not opened email campaign’ or ‘been sent email campaign’ without engagement for however long you consider too long. For example, not engaging with your email campaigns for over six months to a year. Once you’ve filtered your contacts this way, you’ll have your list of inactive customers. 

Utilizing an email list cleaning service for detecting spam traps and fake emails

There are a number of email list cleaners from which to choose. Omnisend offers one of the best comprehensive email list cleaning services in the industry. Our email list scrubber applies artificial intelligence for constant email validation and includes custom grammar checks for Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail emails.

With our email list cleaning service, you upload contacts and can check for:

  • ‘Bad’ email addresses.
  • Inactive accounts.
  • Email address typos.
  • Other nuances that might bounce or damage the sender’s reputation.

The nature of Omnisend’s cleaning process arrives at the true status of a particular email address, as close as possible. This process not only checks the email address status at the moment of validation, but scans historic data across a database of billions of email addresses.

It’s important to note that list cleaning does not identify all bad emails or inactive Yahoo email addresses.

Both steps are vital when scrubbing your email list. Mail list cleaning services are generally affordable and provide great accuracy. If you’re an Omnisend customer interested in list cleaning services, contact your Customer Success Manager or support representative.

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Attract and Maintain the Right Kind of Subscribers

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so keep your list free of bad subscribers in the first place.

Grow your list of subscribers organically. You can do so through well-placed sign-up forms, pop-ups, and landing pages.

These elements attract the right kind of subscriber—those who have a clear interest in your brand. These customers are much more inclined to engage with your emails.

Interactive forms, such as the Wheel of Fortune, drastically increase engagement. Our data shows they drive a 12.74% sign-up rate. Compare that with the 1.28% rate affiliated with standard, static sign-up boxes.

Wheel of Fortune Maintaining a healthy email subscriber list

For extra vigilance, verify that new subscribers truly intend to join your mailing list by adopting a double opt-in for your email program. A double opt-in can help mitigate common typos in email addresses.

No longer will you have to worry about “Hoymail” and “Gnail” email addresses ruining your deliverability.

Ongoing contact management is essential. Allow subscribers to manage their own preferences, so they can decide exactly what kind of content interests them.

A good email marketing platform incorporates a “preference center” for your subscribers. Ideally, this will be easily accessible from any email you send.

updating email preferences: keeping your subscriber list clean

Finally, make it easy to unsubscribe from your email program. As painful as it is to lose subscribers, those who are clearly uninterested are better left behind. Develop a straightforward unsubscribe button for a built-in email list cleaning mechanism.

The alternative is an unhappy subscriber who marks your messages as spam.

Email Hygiene Best Practices & Essential Email List Cleaner Tips

We’ve explored how to clean an email list by using email checkers for bad subscribers. We’ve even explored how to avoid hard bounces and lower your bounce rate by cleaning your list.

But there’s still plenty that you can do to make sure your campaigns are more successful. By following these essential tips, you can ensure that your emails reach your most important customers.

Confirm You Have Permission

It seems like an obvious first step, but it’s one worth noting. This is particularly true if you receive email addresses offline. For example, with physical sign-up forms during conferences and events.

Make sure your list is good to use before you start adding them to bulk email campaigns—it can become more and more difficult to clean your list the longer it’s used, after all.

With this in mind, it’s important to ensure you properly gather contacts—both online and offline. Omnisend strictly does not allow lists that do not have proper opt-in confirmation.

This helps prevent issues, but if you gathered your list offline, you’ll need to make up for this with documented proof of the signup.

Remember that when gathering emails offline, people might provide invalid email addresses. This can lead to high bounce rates, so be sure to make use of email verification services.

Stay Clear of Third-party Lists

Clearly, email validation and confirming a contact’s permission is important. How, then, would you confirm a contact’s permission if you weren’t even the one to gain their information?

Omnisend is a permission-based email delivery service. This means that lists gained from third parties and rented/purchased lists are a no-go.

Our Terms of Use specifically state that these lists aren’t permitted—but this isn’t even the greatest deterrent to using them. Picture it this way, if you sell special products or unique services that appeal to your niche audience—why would you expect success with a random assortment of customers?

Let’s say that a merchant sells vegan snacks. They gain their list of contacts organically, by engaging with audiences interested in their products—namely vegan consumers.

A rented list may potentially feature some vegan customers. But it’s entirely likely that the list will feature significantly more omnivorous customers than strictly vegan buyers.

In this example, even the best-case scenario would likely see a fraction of the list engage with emails. In this scenario, the majority of the other contacts will likely list the emails as spam. This sets the merchant up for a higher bounce rate with frequent hard bounces.

Only Send Relevant Email Content

This ties into the golden rule of content—you need to strive to offer customers the most relevant content. Personalized product recommendations are a perfect example of this—giving customers tailored product recommendations that are more likely to resonate with them.

Naturally, it’s difficult to always hit the bullseye with this content. As a merchant, you can only create a perceived image of a customer. Combining purchase history and on-site behavior provides an insight into a customer, but not a complete picture.

This is why sending relevant content in email campaigns can take the form of educated guesses rather than in-depth knowledge.

However, the more a customer engages with you, the clearer the image becomes—and the less guesswork you’ll need to make. As you get a greater idea of what’s seen as valuable to a customer, you’ll be much more likely to see them engage with your business.

This is just as important as handling stale emails. There is no point in sending emails to uninterested parties or stale email addresses.

Just let them go. Once your list is free of ghosts, you can focus on improving communication with your audience.

Wrap Up

The main points to take away are the following:

  • Poor list hygiene can result in poor email deliverability, costing you sales. Check your lists regularly.
  • If you are about to switch your ESP, consider email list cleaning to protect yourself from spoiling your sender reputation.
  • Regularly (once per quarter) verify your email list and unsubscribe unengaged subscribers who have not opened your email for three or more months.
  • Use email cleaning tools to remove spam traps, inactive email addresses, and ones with typos.
  • Keep email engagement high by applying email segmentation and marketing automation.

There are a multitude of reasons that your emails might be going to junk. One of the easiest and most effective fixes for keeping your emails away from spam is to access quality email scrubber software and follow the email list cleaning best practices described above.

Avoid the vast majority of spam traps with regular list cleaning and email verification. Make sure your carefully crafted emails reach the people who value them most—your subscribers!

Want an easy way to maintain email list hygiene and maintain great deliverability? Try Omnisend for free.

Karolina Petraškienė

Karolina is a writer, content marketer, and email enthusiast at Omnisend. When she's not curating articles, you can find her in the woods challenging herself in hiking boots or off-roading her bike.