Deliverability

Maintenance matters, part 1: How to clean up your email subscriber list

We’ve now entered the era of the “new normal,” and it’s arrived with bells whether we like it or not. The old way of living and working doesn’t really exist anymore, but in keeping with the art-of-tidying-up ethos spread by Marie Kondo—a silver-lining of this time in lockdown is there’s finally time to tidy up! Whether that’s cleaning out your closet, your basement, or (in this case) your email subscriber database, get rid of what’s not important, and keep the things that spark joy, as Kondo would say! 

For most companies, an email subscriber list sits in the corner growing each year, but not being used to its full potential… Are those cobwebs? Well, it’s time to dust them off.

In this two-part series, we’ll share best practices and how-tos to help you get your data back into tip-top shape by segmenting out inactive recipients from your database. Then we’ll dive into designing a re-engagement or win-back campaign. The time is now, what have you got to lose?

What is a win-back campaign?

First things first, I want to highlight the word “campaign” in a re-engagement or win-back campaign. In the email space, a campaign means a long running program versus a single blast emailing. 

By cleaning up your email list, you can set up a self-feeding list of subscribers for re-engagement. Meaning, every month you should start setting aside a block of email addresses that’s considered too old or inactive to be included in your regular emailing list. These addresses are what you’ll use to begin the re-engagement campaign. We’ll share some recommendations on what parameters you should use to scrub that list further on in this post, so keep reading…

The purpose of the win-back campaign is twofold. The main reason is to get people to opt back into your program. The other is to reduce abuse or spam complaints. 

Your re-engagement campaign should allow recipients to opt out of your mailings by unsubscribing instead of hitting the spam abuse button. This allows those recipients the ability to opt back in to future emailings. Once they click the spam abuse button you are no longer able to send any email to that address. (Cue the doomsday music. Dun, dun, dun…)

Another benefit of getting rid of the dead weight of inactive recipients, is that this weight is impacting your open rate. Sending emails to inactive addresses impacts mailbox placement.

With re-engagement as your strategy, you want the recipient to perform two actions: 

  • Open the message
  • Click on a link in the email

Anything other than both actions is considered a “no,” meaning the open by itself does not constitute an opt-in. Not opening the email is also considered a “no.” 

Best practices for scrubbing your list

Now that you’ve determined you have to clean up your list, the next thing to determine is how old is too old? There are two options. 

The first option is going with a blanket setting of six, nine, or 12 months of inactivity, which is the easier of the two. 

Here’s a step-by-step:

  1. Pick a date and any inactive address older than that date falls into the re-engagement database. 
  2. Once the date is selected, segment that new database by month inactive. 
  3. If the cutoff was 9 months, then inside this database you should create a 10-month inactive segment, an 11-month inactive segment, a 12-month inactive segment continuing until you run out of addresses. 
  4. These segments will be used to determine the frequency and order of your re-engagement emailings.

The second option requires a bit more research and work, let’s tackle that next.

Get your shovel

Option two is a deep dive into your database which allows you to select a date based on your metrics. It requires a lot of digging, querying, and studying the data. If this sounds like too much work—see option one above. But, there are nuggets of gold to be discovered if you are willing to dig.

Determining when an address is inactive depends on your mailing frequency. Everyday senders will have different metrics, versus weekly senders or seasonal senders. The more frequently you send, the earlier you would/should consider an address inactive.

The goal of your quest is to find the date range when recipients stop doing whatever activity you want them to do. That date is determined when “opens” no longer lead to the expected behavior.

How to implement your strategy

The best way to start thinking about this is to use a tangible example:

The expected behavior of a “regular” email campaign is the recipient going to the website and purchasing something, right? Let’s call this the “buy rate.” Other expected behaviors might include making donations, completing a form, or generally acting on a call-to-action.

Looking at your data, you should determine: 

  • Recipients who open your email once-per-week have a buy rate of “A”%.
  • Recipients who open twice-a-month have “B”% buy rate. 
  • Recipients who open once-a-month have “C”% buy rate. 
  • Recipients who open at 60 days have a “D”% buy rate. 

The further out in time you go, the more data you will have to determine the date. Splitting the months in half or by week will provide even more granular data. In addition, if you’re tracking visits to your website, that’s another metric worth digging into

By examining your data, you can also find the answers to questions like:

  • What happens when customers receive an email, don’t click on a link but instead go to the site and buy something? 
  • How often does this occur? 
  • How long of a time period is it when people stop doing that behavior?

If this data is not available, let us know! We can help.

Let’s say after parsing through the spreadsheets and bar graphs, you’ve determined email addresses older than 8 ½ months are no longer considered productive. This means an ideal re-engagement campaign would include email addresses that are 7 ½ months inactive. The goal to win them back before they go “dark” at 8 ½ months.

Now that you’re hopefully feeling inspired and understand all the fundamentals of reengaging your email subscribers, the elements of a win-back campaign, and how to clean up your email list—stay tuned for part 2 next week where we’ll take a deep dive into seasonal email lists, and how to write the most effective re-engagement emails. 

For more content like this, follow Cordial on Twitter and LinkedIn, and sign up for our monthly newsletter. Better yet, if you’re curious how Cordial can help you win back your inactive customers, request a demo and we’ll show you how our team of messaging experts can help.

Jeff Dellapina

Jeff Dellapina

Jeff Dellapina is the Deliverability Operations Manager at Cordial. He has been in the deliverability space for 16 years assisting thousands of clients overcome deliverability challenges. In addition, he has spoken at more than 100 client events around the world explaining deliverability in a fun and easy-to-understand method.