A Simple Guide to Cleaning and Organizing Your Email Lists


Email marketing is one of the strongest ways to connect with your leads and existing customers, but keeping your email lists organized can feel like a never-ending task.

You may be using a robust platform like Salesforce Marketing Cloud or Pardot that has a range of capabilities, but these solutions don’t do all the organizing for you. Never fear — we’re sharing our top tips for keeping your email subscriber lists clean and primed for business.

Read on to learn how you can start organizing your contacts the right way to maximize the effectiveness of your email marketing strategies (and keep you sane!).

Permission Makes Perfection

To achieve clean, usable, and legally sound email lists, you must ensure that each of your subscribers has given you permission to send them emails. This is important because you can face extreme legal repercussions if you send marketing emails without explicit permission from the recipient.

The Legal Side

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the reason you received a heap of “We’re Changing Our Privacy Policy!” emails in spring of 2018. The fines for violating GDPR range from roughly $11 million, or 2% of your business’ annual review, to as much as $22 million or 4% of your annual review. To avoid running afoul of the GDPR guidelines, keep your opt-in forms clear, specific, and transparent and stay away from purchased email lists.

Ensuring your subscribers have opted in will also keep your business in compliance with American CAN-SPAM rules. Violating CAN-SPAM can result in fines of up to $41,484 for each individual email sent in violation.

The Brand Side

Ensuring your subscribers opt in not only keeps you on the right side of the law, but also gives contacts a more favorable impression of your brand. Aside from the hefty fines you may face, violating GDPR, CAN-SPAM or other privacy regulations can severely damage your brand’s reputation in the eyes of your consumers. The negative publicity that can come with a violation of privacy may cost you more loyal customers and prospects than the fines you pay, and the impact can last far longer than the initial hit to your bottom line.

The good news is that if violating privacy can wreak havoc on your brand image, respecting your subscribers’ privacy can have an equally positive impact. Being clear in asking for permission shows subscribers that you treat their data with respect and transparency. It also ensures that people who are truly interested in receiving your emails will join your list. Your followers are some of your most precious assets, as they are showing an interest in learning more about your company. This is a strong way to give your subscribers a great impression of your brand from the start.

Make it clear that by participating in your marketing efforts — such as giveaways, contests, and point-of-sale requests — people are opting in to receiving future emails from you. If you don’t clarify this, your subscribers could feel misled and unsubscribe from your list altogether.

I Signed Up for What? When?

Pay attention to the date your subscribers opted into your email list. If they haven’t received any emails from your company recently — or ever before — and suddenly get daily inbox alerts from a sender they don’t recognize, they will probably treat your emails as unwanted spam. Regularly review your lists for outdated contacts and contacts who have never engaged with your content. Don’t send these “dormant” subscribers a sudden onslaught of marketing emails; instead, consider placing them in their own category and crafting a re-engagement drip campaign that gradually sends them more emails to try to rekindle their interest.

Placing dormant subscribers in their own category not only allows you to tailor your email messaging to them, it also allows you to look at their metrics separately from your more engaged subscriber list. Measuring success for rekindling interest in dormant subscribers will look much different than measuring success for marketing to active subscribers — by categorizing them, you avoid having the statistics from one group give you a false impression of the other group.

Another handy marketing tool is the permission pass. These one-time emails give unengaged users the opportunity to re-opt into an active list. Those who do not click on the link are removed from your database, and voila — you’ve already made a dent in cleaning your old lists.

Won’t I Lose a Lot of Subscribers That Way? Shouldn’t I Save Them, Just in Case?

Some marketers balk at the idea of the permission pass, because it removes any dormant subscribers who don’t re-opt in, in one fell swoop. As marketers, we’re often trained to feel that losing subscribers is a bad thing — and it is, if you’re consistently losing relevant, active, and engaged subscribers. Removing dormant subscribers is actually a very helpful action to take.

Dormant subscribers are completely unengaged with your current email marketing. Because they’re not opening, reading, or clicking on any emails you send, they are actually bringing down your email metrics. When you review the campaign metrics for an email campaign you sent to 1,000 subscribers, yet 600 of them are dormant, your success rate for email opens and click-throughs will look far lower than it actually is. Let’s say, for example, 300 subscribers opened your email.

If your report shows that 300 out of your 400 engaged subscribers opened your email, that’s a 75% open rate — which is extremely high! You did something right in your subject line.

But if instead your report shows that 300 out of your total 1,000 subscribers opened your email, you will see a 30% open rate. You may not realize just how successful your campaign truly was; or worse, you may categorize it as poorly performing, and put an unnecessary focus on revising your subject line strategy in the next campaign. When you clean out entirely unengaged and irrelevant subscribers, your email metrics more accurately represent the success of your efforts, allowing you to see more truthfully what you’re doing well and where you need to focus on improving your strategy.

Dormant subscribers also impact your bottom line in a direct way. Most email service providers (ESPs) charge you based on the number of subscribers you have stored. This means you’re paying for each dormant subscriber with little to no chance of ever seeing an ROI on that contact. Removing a collection of long unengaged subscribers from your database can save your business money in the short term, and it frees up your budget to be spent paying for only relevant subscribers who are worth marketing to.

Use Savvy Segmentation

If you have only one gigantic list with every subscriber who has ever opted into your emails, you are likely sending irrelevant emails to many of your contacts. Segment your lists into manageable groups, sorted by information that’s most useful to your business strategy, be it industry, demographics, company size, or buyer personas.

Because they allow you to offer more personalized messaging, segmented lists see whopping returns over non-segmented lists on average, including:

  • 14% increase in email opens
  • 9 percent decrease in unsubscribes
  • nearly 5 percent decrease in bounce rate
  • 100% increase in clicks within emails

One simple way to segment your list is by stages along your sales cycle such as leads, prospects, and customers. This can help your marketing team determine when to hand over an email address to your sales team. You can also use tools like Einstein Engagement Scoring to automatically segment your subscribers based on their engagement level.

To have a greater impact with segmentation, sync your marketing automation platform with your CRM to ensure that you have access to all your company’s data on your leads. As the single source of truth, your CRM should contain the most accurate information on your contacts and can better inform your segmentation efforts.

Grow Your Lists Organically

You might be tempted to take the seemingly easy route and purchase a list of contacts, rather than build a list organically and organize it periodically. Purchasing email lists is never a good strategy. Purchased lists are often of poor quality, meaning that you’re likely paying to store a multitude of unengaged subscribers who aren’t in your target market and will never need your business’ product or service. Not only that, but these faulty email addresses and recycled contacts will contribute to high bounce rates and low engagement metrics in your email reporting, regardless of how good your campaigns are.

When one of the contacts on your purchased list inevitably reports your emails as spam, your deliverability will suffer, your account may be blacklisted, and you could receive penalties and fines. Even if these contacts opted into a form from another company, they haven’t opted into your business’ email marketing — meaning you are at high risk of being fined for violating GDPR, CAN-SPAM, or any number of privacy regulations.

Ultimately, it’s not worth it for a list of contacts who aren’t even interested in your company.

Partner With Us to Organize Your Email Lists for Success

As a Salesforce Platinum Consulting Partner and digital agency, RelationEdge offers a team of email marketing specialists and technology experts who collaborate with you to create transformative business value. Our certified Marketing Cloud experts can implement and customize an email marketing platform to meet your needs and train you on best practices for organizing your contacts and data. Our team of digital marketing specialists at RelationEdge Digital Agency (REDA) can partner with you to craft an effective email marketing strategy for your audience and execute digital campaigns that compel your prospects to engage with your brand.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you manage your contact data within your email marketing platform and CRM.