Email List Hygiene: A Clean List Makes for Better Email Marketing

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

email list

Email List Hygiene:  A Clean Will Grow Your Organization

Let’s face it, most folks don’t spend enough time working on their email list hygiene. There is always something wrong with your email engagement. If you are working with emails, you can always fix something. Contrary to popular opinion, most email problems stem from list problems. Nevertheless, most folks just focus on email content instead of list hygiene. Fixing subject lines and A/B testing are easier fixes than digging into the nitty gritty work of fixing a bad email list.   

Clean your list– on the regular: List hygiene is a boring topic. It is the flossing of digital campaigns. Flossing is important and just like flossing, if you don’t do it, you will lose something important.

The list size myth: Many folks think list size matters. The truth is, a disengaged list hurts your metrics and hurts your understanding of your data. It is simple math. Let’s say you have a list of 5,000 people–– you have 1,500 people who are disengaged and 3,500 people who open email sometimes. Of the 3500, you have 1250 people who open your email constantly– that is a 50% open rate, but you keep your disengaged contacts and keep emailing them. Now, instead of a 50% open rate you have a false open rate of 25%. Your exec director, comms, and membership department are spinning their wheels asking for more emails and different subject lines. The truth is you have a great email program, with a real open rate of 50%. Yes, you have a small list of engaged folks, but those folks open your emails! The quality of your emails is not your problem, your email list is your problem.

Engage your list: Having a clear cadence for communication is important. Don’t just collect names and then occasionally email your list, this may sound counterintuitive, but engagement rates are low enough that most folks will not open every email from you. This means good consistent emails will help keep your folks engaged over time. Trying different approaches will allow folks to engage in ways they want. The less you email, the more likely your list will atrophy sooner.  

Have a clear point of view: Understanding what you want to say and how you want to say it makes for good content that folks engage with. If folks don’t hear from you and don’t have a reason to give or engage, they will find something else to do with their time and just stop reading your email when you occasionally decide to contact them.  

Stick to a calendar: Who would have thought that keeping a clear content calendar will lead to a clean list?– well, it does. Because having good, clear, and consistent content leads to an engaged list and that makes for a clean list. It also allows you to plan for the natural ebb and flow of list building and building reengagement fundraising and member outreach into your email program.

Try a reengagement campaign: When it comes to email, people don’t realize how much they are missing until it is about to go away. With the right message, you can reengage as much as 30% of your disengaged list. This requires time to write good emails, but also a good understand of your content and why folks would want to stay in the first place. This could be fundraising, advocacy, membership, and list segments. People have a reason why they joined your list in the first place. The better you understand and can tap into that, the more likely you are to reengage folks who are on the verge of leaving.  

List segmenting is key: Most people spend no time understanding their list. This is boring work to many, and it is not something we have been taught to focus on. Understanding your list means knowing where the data came from, how folks were acquired, the type of person who is in the list, and the issue folks care about– we commonly refer to this as list segments. Both, segmenting existing lists and adding data to lists that you already have, work very well. Understanding your segments is an important way to craft emails that get high open rates and click-through rates. Segmenting will tell you where the list came from, the issues they respond to, and the kind of actions they take.    

Build from the ground up: Do not buy an email list. Do everything you can to organically collect email addresses, like petition campaigns, event collection, coalition building, volunteer outreach, Facebook ads with calls to action, and content marketing. Place gated content on your website for download and collect an email address to access it. Evaluate every resource you have and turn it into an opportunity to fine tune and build your list.

Have a real plan: The most common mistake groups make is not having a real plan to follow up with folks once they acquire an email address. Many organizations spend a lot of money to acquire names, but then don’t go about the process of keeping those folks engaged. You can keep engagement up long-term by using other content, driving folks to video content, SMS signup, organizational branded apps, just to name a few, are all strategies folks look into, depending on their goals.

Modeled data: Use modeled lists to build broader coalitions over the long term, segmenting your existing list, and matching that data to other lists to get more information on who your members, donors, and activists really are.

Content can help build your list: Real content marketing has been embraced by companies, but not by nonprofits the way it should. Organic search is massively undervalued and very cheap for groups to do– it also works very well with a social media strategy. In-app communication is also something we are looking into for large nonprofits to increase engagement over the long term.

More channels: When it comes to marketing, we will continue to have more channels, not less, and we need to think about advocacy across platforms and creating content that truly engages. A single platform won’t do that. Thinking about how we connect, engage, and track advocates across multiple platforms is needed for the digital world.  

More list-building tactics: List-building takes a multi-pronged approach to get people engaged  
List building through social media: Facebook and Instagram, even YouTube can help you list build, but it will take time, money, and some creativity.  

Cost per acquisition campaigns: A CPA campaign is not what it used to be, but there are still publishers that in big states can help engage you with like-minded audiences through a defined cost of an email sign up.  

Phone calls: Yes, folks still respond to phone calls. They are usually older and there are significant restrictions on how to engage folks.  

Pop-ups: Pop-ups on the home page of your website, especially exit pop ups, enhance list building from organic search and get people to connect for more.  

eBooks: Long form content is a great way to get folks to engage around a topic and brand you as an expert in the process.  

Direct mail: It was seen as the only real targeted medium for a long time, but today that is not the case. Depending on what your goals and your audience are, direct mail may still be doing very well for you. But you should be testing other mediums to see if there are ways to engage your direct mail audience by doing list matches to your email list and serving them digital ads. 

Event-based list building: When you have events, you have an opportunity to connect with folks who care about your issue, have a personal connection, and want to get involved.  

Have a consistent list: Format when building a list. Sometimes folks make errors with the basics, like making sure there is an actual format to the list and keeping the information the same through the different ways you acquire names.  

Remove bad addresses: This is a basic thing but folks don’t always do this. It takes an internal process to make sure bad names and addresses keep getting removed.  

Reengage low-engaging contacts: Have a plan to test new ways to engage folks. This may take different and more specific kinds of contact and different approaches to reengage folks.  

Remove inactive names: Get rid of inactive names once they stop engaging with your content.  Have a process to make sure you remove them on a regular basis.  

Check your deliverability: Basic steps like making sure your email shows up in the right tab and that you’re not flagged for spam can also make a difference in making sure folks get and open your email.   

So how does this post end? Does everyone live happily ever after with perfectly clean lists? No, it is not that easy– you can’t just drive off into the sunset with a great list. Building a relationship with subscribers takes consistent and incremental work but if you stick with it, your audience will continue to grow and strengthen.  

Have questions about how to clean your list? Drop us a note.