Sep 4, 2014

Cleaning Your Lists for the Holidays

We realize it’s probably still pretty warm— and humid, ugh—where you’re reading this, but the thing about the holidays is that they sneak up on you. And while it’s only September, getting ready for the festive season can be stressful if you don’t plan ahead. With so much email being sent around the end of the year, how can you make sure your subscribers are opening and clicking? And how can you protect your own sending reputation? One simple solution is to be proactive about cleaning your list.

Spammers and spam filters are constantly playing a game of cat and mouse. Once spammers figure out a way to get into inboxes, spam filters react. One way they do this is by measuring the engagement of email recipients against a sender’s domain. If people aren’t opening your emails, spam filters may take this to mean people don’t want to hear from you—and this means the filters are more likely to move your emails out of the inbox. (Gmail even put out a white paper about it.) ISPs also convert inactive email addresses into spam traps to see who is sending to them, and only they know which addresses have been converted.

Around the holidays, especially if you haven’t been an active sender throughout the rest of the year, you may see an uptick in your campaigns being marked as spam. Most folks find it easier to mark an email as spam rather than unsubscribing—especially as their inbox gets crazy during the holidays, and they’re getting hit up by companies who haven’t emailed them in months. “I didn’t subscribe to this!” they think, even though maybe they did half a year ago and forgot.

Because of this, it’s a good idea to remove inactive addresses from your list. (It’s also a good idea, if you’re planning on sending any holiday cards, to only send to folks you regularly send to. The people that only hear from you once a year are the most likely to complain when they do get your emails.) Being proactive about removing those inactive subscribers can help prevent abuse complaints before they occur. If you’re routinely sending campaigns to highly segmented portions of your list, use the bulk unsubscribe tool to remove subscribers based on member activity. If you’re sending campaigns to your entire list, subscribers can be removed based on recent campaign activity. For starters, try segmenting by users who haven’t opened for 5 or 10 campaigns.

Cleaning your list will also lessen your bill if you’re a paid sender. MailChimp’s paid plans are based on either the total number of subscribers in an account or the total number of emails you’re sending, so why spend extra on people that aren’t engaging in your content? Designer Rick Whittington trimmed his list by 70% based on subscriber activity, and ended up saving his client $75 per month in the process. Another big sender recently decreased their monthly bill by almost 90% by removing subscribers that had either a low member activity rating or who had not opened the last 10 campaigns.

While trimming a list helps save money in the long run, it also instantly increases your list’s engagement. In the examples I just mentioned, one user doubled their average open rate from 20% to 43%. The other increased subscriber engagement by 45%. Remember: Engaged lists, no matter how small, help improve deliverability because ISPs judge senders based on subscriber engagement. By ISP standards, sending to 100,000 people with 1,000 opens is not as good as sending to a list of 5,000 with 1,000 opens. One list has a 1% open rate and the other has a 20% open rate. Having the biggest list isn’t always the best, but having the most engaged one always is.

We know, we know, pruning your list can be hard. It’s only natural to want to keep all your subscribers. But the reality is that not everyone engages with every email they get, and they’re especially unengaged if you don’t send regularly. Proactive list cleaning before the holidays is actually one of the best gifts you can give yourself—and you don’t even have to fuss with wrapping paper.