149 – Why Clean Your Mailing List?

why clean your mailing list

Why Clean Your Email List?

So you have seen the light and realised that you need a mailing list to grow a thriving online art, craft or photography business but why clean your mailing list routinely and what does that actually involve?

Your mailing list is an essential tool in your online art business to build long term relationships with your customers. Unlike other 3rd party ‘rented’ platforms your mailing list is an ‘owned’ platform. It is a direct connection with your customers and not subject to many of the algorithms, filters and competitor distractions that can stop your communications getting through. This makes it a key tool in your online marketing.

Is it all plain sailing then? Of course not. Like most things your mailing list needs to be grown and cared for if it is to become effective for you. In addition to growing it and sending out frequent engaging emails it is important that you ‘clean‘ your mailing list regularly for a number of reasons if it is to work effectively for you.


Some mailing list service providers will provide free email up to a number of specific subscribers / emails. Mailchimp for example will allow you to have up to 2000 contacts on its free account, many other providers offer fewer but regardless of which provider you choose you will eventually have to start paying to use your mailing list service so you will want to get the most value from it. You don’t want to pay for emails that are not read or even getting through.

In Mailchimp, for exampe, you will continue to pay for ‘unsubscribed’ as well as ‘subscribed’ contacts. If you have a high mailing list turnover you may reach your 2000 free contact limit sooner than expected. You can further clean your mailing list by ‘archiving’ some of your unsubscribers so that they do not incur cost.

Engagement Rates

When measuring the effectiveness of your mailings you should be keeping an eye on engagement rates. People are much more likely to open emails which interest them. They are much more likely to click on links within the email that interest them. This can lead to great insight into what your audience wants you to deliver. Knowing this you can deliver more of it and less of what doesn’t interest them.

If your list is full of people that are not receiving your content or not interested in it it can make it much more difficult to gauge interest from your engagement rates. If you clean your mailing list by removing those people you will get a much clearer picture of engagement so that you can work harder at it.

Email Reputation

Everybody knows they have a credit score but what about an email score? Are you aware that internet companies monitor the email you send and can profile you based on what happens to those emails? This is just one of the many tools that they have at their disposal to help them with the fight to contain spam email.

Every IP address and domain name that you send email from has an online reputation and internet companies can look up this reputation when deciding to let your emails through, block it or send it to spam and junk folders. This is a good thing for us all as it helps to contain the amount of junk mail out there. We can, however, fall foul of it if we are sending to mailing lists but not monitoring what happens to that email and acting accordingly.

What Are The Signs Of Poor Quality Email

Internet service providers can recognise poor quality email. They will issue you with a poor email reputation score based on a number of factors like

  • continuing to send email to addresses that have bounced multiple times
  • continuing to send lots of emails that are being received but not opened
  • recipients marking your email as spam because they don’t recall opting in and weren’t expecting it
  • people are adding you to internal blocked and spam lists
  • recipients reporting your email as spam to the mail provider
  • how often your emails hits spam traps based on content that uses spam keywords
  • whether you have been added to blacklists elsewhere

Once your email reputation score drops your email is much more likely to be marked as spam. Less of it is likely to get through to your recipients which will really harm its effectiveness.

How To Clean Your Email List

Whilst it is impossible to avoid all of these situations, by regularly ‘cleaning’ your email list you can keep your email reputation score high. So how does that work exactly?

Most of the mailing list services such as Mailchimp, for example, track all email that you send out through them. They make it easy to detect what email bounces, who opens what and what they click on when they open it. They will usually unsubscribe addresses automatically that bounce multiple times. It is up to you to look for email that is not being opened and not being engaged with.

Many systems provide features such as ‘segments’ as they call them in Mailchimp. Using these you can filter certain contacts within your email system based on activity that has taken place. I would suggest that you create a ‘segment’ or ‘filtered list’ in your mailing list that filters out people who do not appear to have engaged with you in a specific amount of time. You can then target them specifically and clean your mailing list by removing them if you do not get a suitable response.

What Does Engage Mean In This Situation?

Engaging could simply be ‘opened’ any of your emails. If people are not opening them it could be for a number of reasons

  • they might not be getting through
  • they might be going straight to spam
  • the recipient is simply too busy
  • the recipient simply has no interest

Regardless of the reason if you just allow them to continue to be sent they will damage your email score. Think about how many emails are being ignored in a reasonable period which would indicate lack of interest.

If you are sending weekly content, for example, you might decide that not opening the last 12 emails (3 months) is sufficient. If you only send once a month you might choose the last 6 emails. Don’t just pick a figure at random though. Make an educated guess then look at the email addresses that fall into that segment.

Do you recognise anyone in that list that you have been having contact with? Are any loyal customers in the list for example? Could there be other reasons they are not opening their email? Glance through initially and follow up before cleaning anything out.

Warn Them Before You Clean Them

Sometimes people might be reading your email but their privacy settings mean that they don’t ‘download pictures’. This means that your mail system is not told that they have read it. For this reason you should always send at least 1 warning email to them. This warning simply needs to tell them that you have noticed that they haven’t been engaging with your emails recently.

Tell them that you don’t want to bother them with content that they might not want from you. If they do, however, just ask them to simply click a link in your email. This could be something as simple as a link to your homepage. Tell them that by doing this it will ensure that they continue to receive email from you.

Cleaning Your Email List

Once you have given people sufficient time to click the link that you have suggested to them you can activate the segment again. Then tell your email software to ‘unsubscribe’ everyone in that segment. This will stop them receiving future emails. Over time it will help you to drive up your engagement rates which in turn will help to drive up the emails that get through.

Unsubscribes Can Be A Positive Thing

Try not to think that everything depends on the size of your list. It doesn’t. Yes it helps but a highly engaged small list can often be better than a larger unengaged list. Try not to be disappointed if people unsubscribe from your list. These people were unlikely to buy from you or become long term customers anyway. It is good that they unsubscribe of their own accord as that usually makes that clearer to you. It avoids you carrying them and wondering why they are not interested or buying.

Unsubscribing them yourself to clean your list is a good thing too. It will ultimately increase your email reputation score which will mean more of your emails will get through to those who are more engaged with you.

What Are Typical Engagement Rates

Engagement rates will vary from industry to industry and business to business. Within the art industry, for example, Mailchimp suggests that typical open rates can be less than 30% that means that for every 1000 email going out less than 300 are being seen. So much missed opportunity! This is because many people in the industry do not clean their lists, do not email frequently and do not produce engaging content.

Your welcome emails as people join your list are particularly important. You should experience 70% or more engagement rates as they are being expected at that time. Try to aim for 60-75% open rates on everything you send out though. If things drop below 50% you are wasting too many opportunities. Address this, work out what is going wrong and look at cleaning your list along with looking at your email frequency, content and what people are clicking on and you will see your emails perform much better for you.

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