Many popular email marketing services, such as MailChimp, have requirements for email list health. These services look at:
- How many email addresses hard bounce (cannot be delivered)
- How many instances of abuse are reported (if someone marks your email as spam)
- How many email addresses are unengaged (someone receives your email, but they don’t open, read or click)
Even if everyone on your email list opted into receiving your email, the health of that list deteriorates over time. We recommend a regular email list health checkup.
Begin with healthy emails
A healthy email list has been properly built in a reputable way. This means, as much as possible, do not purchase a list.
A healthy email list contains addresses that are organically grown. You can grow your list organically through inbound lead generation. This includes using helpful and educational content to attract people, and to get them to voluntarily opt into your email list. A newsletter or blog subscribe form
is another way to grow your list. Newsletters and blog posts generally offer educational content but they can also include updates, sales and news – which can be a value add for customers and prospects.
These methods are in contrast to cold email acquisition via list buying, site scraping or acquiring emails of people who have not opted-in via other means (more on that below). In general, emailing cold leads is risky when using an email service provider, because you could see a lot of bounces or your messages could be marked as spam. Also, for many email service providers, using a purchased list is against their terms of service.
Good emails go bad
Your list of cultivated email addresses will naturally decay over time. There’s organizational turnover, companies shut down and people move on, which brings changes to business-related email addresses. People sometimes change their name or email address or the email provider they use.
Without regular checkups, your email list health goes from healthy to sickly simply through atrophy.
When you email bad email addresses, your emails bounce. A higher bounce rate raises red flags for email service providers and affects the deliverability of your emails. For example, they may limit how many addresses on your list you can email at one time or the frequency of your email sends.
If your email sending domain is also your site’s domain, you’re also risking your website getting blacklisted.
There are email service providers that specialize in cold leads, such as ClickBack, that use multiple sending domains similar to your domain. They have a dedicated pool of IP addresses, so you’re not risking your email IP address. They also parse the email distribution over a period of days, depending on the list size, to watch for issues with the deliverability. Cold lead specialists use these tactics to warm a list without the risk of tarnishing your domain reputation.
Verify your email sends
One way to check your email list health and clean your list is using an email verification service, such as NeverBounce or BrightVerify, where you can test the validity of an email address without actually sending an email to it.
ClickBack, which again specializes in sending emails to cold lists, compares your email list against known email lists, and also pings servers to verify whether email addresses are valid.
We work with a service-oriented client that has a large email database. Their services aren’t designed to be used regularly, so some of these addresses have not been emailed in years. While the list accumulated new emails over the years, the client rarely used the list for email marketing/nurturing purposes.
If they don’t verify those addresses before sending their next email, they risk high bounce rates if emails go bad. They also risk high abuse reports or spam complaints if people don’t remember they signed up – or simply don’t like the contents of the email. Both of these can lead the service provider to limit their ability to send email.
Once a limit has been imposed on your account, your email service provider can even manually review your campaign sends, slowing the process.
List verification services flag generic or role-based email addresses, which are used to manage generic inquiries and are overseen by several people across departments, because they often result in high complaint rates and have low open rates. Email list verification services will provide you with a report of invalid and risky email addresses that you can remove from your list.
Purchased email lists
We’ve already mentioned that purchased lists are risky, and we think trade show registrant lists and professional association/organization lists are potentially risky to add to your email database, as well. These people may have opted in for something, but not necessarily from you, so you open yourself to spam or abuse accusations and high bounce rates if you start sending emails to that list.
Email marketing solutions such as HubSpot and MailChimp do not allow you to email to a purchased list. (However, a way that lists can be grown reputably, offline, is having people willing add their emails to your list at a trade show or event.)
But, if you’ve already purchased email lists, there are some providers that will allow purchased-list or cold lead emailing.
Also, some free customer relationship management systems show how you can reply to CAN-SPAM accusations, and how you can email cold leads. (CAN-SPAM refers to the first national standards for sending commercial email, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.)
Pruning your list
The more often you email your list, the better your bounce rate will tend to be because of this incremental verifying and cleaning. If you wait a long time between emails, expect a higher bounce rate. However, just sending emails is not an email cleaning tactic.
Verifying and testing your cold emails can reduce your list by 20% or more, but keep in mind, those are likely bad addresses that are going in the trash anyway. You’re going to have much more success emailing engaged contacts anyway.
Good email addresses can go bad overnight. Consider a situation like the creation of Verizon Media, which merged Verizon, Yahoo! and AOL. The new company started purging inactive email addresses (those that had not been accessed in over a year), so suddenly anyone sending to those @yahoo.com addresses received bounces. Of course, those purged addresses were inactive, so they weren’t doing anyone any good anyhow.
That’s why we recommend verifying email addresses once per quarter, even if you send email frequently. Email service providers have to protect their own reputations, which is why they’re not afraid to limit your service if you’re labeled a spammer.
We’ve compiled information on email list health and a plethora or email topics with our one stop Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing Strategy.