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The Five Email List Management Best Practices

Email list management, best practices
Marketers often talk about their email lists regarding hygiene and health, as if it were a fragile organism.

When you think about it, you begin to understand why. Nurturing an email list, from the sign-up of your first subscriber to a thriving, bountiful source of revenue, is an ongoing process akin to keeping a garden or raising a child.

I’ve even heard a marketer refer to his email list as his ‘baby.’

With email marketing still the top channel for ROI, delivering an astonishing $40 for each $1 spent, we all want to know how to successfully manage a healthy and lucrative email list. It’s not simply a matter of adding contacts and forgetting about it—you need to keep your subscribers happy and engaged with highly relevant and personalized emails and swiftly drop connections that aren’t interested in what you’re offering.

In this article, we’ll check out some of the best software available to help you manage and segment your list and introduce some best practices that you can easily incorporate into your email marketing strategy. But first, let’s find out why we’re doing all this in the first place.

Why is it important to manage your email list?

Your email list has a lot of potential value—it’s theoretically populated with people interested enough in your brand to learn more and perhaps one day make a purchase. To maximize this potential, you want to ensure that your emails reach the right people, at the right time, and with the right messages.

A messy, disorganized list full of inactive and duplicate contacts wastes your precious time and can negatively affect your sender's reputation. Managing your list to keep subscribers engaged and trimming those who aren’t is key to preventing your emails from going straight to the spam folder.

The caricature of irrelevant mailing by D. Waisglass and G. Coulthart

Luckily, plenty of intelligent, user-friendly software options can automatically manage and segment your lists for you. Let’s look at what’s available, what kind of features you can expect, and how they can help you build and maintain a killer email list.

Choosing the right email marketing software

You’re likely already using marketing automation software if you're reading this. If you’re not, then you should be! There’s simply no time or need to manually attend to repetitive marketing tasks.

This applies to managing your email list, too, and most email marketing platforms will offer various features to make this more accessible and more effective than ever before. Four qualities to look for include the following:

Ask the Right Questions, and Choose the Right ESP!

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  1. Segmentation: Today’s customers expect highly relevant marketing, and the better you can segment your subscribers, the more personalized your emails will be. Check if your email provider allows you to segment contacts based on a large variety of detailed metrics, from basics such as customers who’ve previously placed orders or opened and clicked on your campaigns to those that browsed a specific product. Other valuable data points that can be used for segmentation include age, gender, location, and signup date.
  2. Contact tags: Contact tags help segmentation by assigning labels to your subscribers based on their activity. This way, you can target customers with relevant offers based on their preferences and behavior, for example, what kind of links they click on and what kind of products they enjoy browsing.
  3. Testing: With A/B testing, you can send emails with various subject lines to a small portion of each segment and see which generates the highest open rate. The subject line that yields the highest available rate is then automatically sent to the remainder of the piece, giving your campaign the best chance of success. Check out the 515 best subject lines!
  4. Automated remailing and reactivation: With an average of only 18% of promotional ecommerce emails opened, giving them a second chance at life is a must. Make sure your provider allows automated remailing for those emails that weren’t opened the first time, with tweaks to the subject line to make it more noticeable. For customers who haven’t engaged for some time and are seemingly no longer interested in your brand, you should consider customer reactivation campaigns to win back their attention.
An example of an Unengaged Subscribers’ segment that could be excluded from the recipients’ list to generate better results.

5 Best practices for email list management

1. Collect email addresses with consent

One of the reasons why email lists are so valuable is that they are populated by subscribers who have made a conscious choice to be there. Opt-in permission-based marketing is more ethical and less intrusive for consumers, but it also means that your list is full of interested potential customers who are much more likely to engage with you. Plus, it means you’ll have no problems with GDPR, the EU regulation that requires consent for all personal information.

You should always be looking to grow your email list with quality subscribers. This is commonly done with sign-up forms and pop-ups on your website, but other tactics, including referral marketing and contests, are popular, too. If possible, ask for mobile numbers and an email address—SMS marketing is becoming an increasingly utilized part of ecommerce business’ omnichannel marketing strategy. In fact:

Tempting as it may be, you should never, ever buy an email list. Blasting out unsolicited emails to random recipients is an ineffective and unethical (and sometimes illegal) practice. With most of them going straight into the spam folder, it will quickly destroy your sender reputation. Don’t flush your money and reputation down the toilet—put in the time to grow and nurture your list.

Alastin Skincare collects email addresses, names, and phone numbers. At the bottom, there is a checkbox for marketing permission.

2. Let your audience manage their subscriptions

There can be too much of a good thing, and customers can be turned off by receiving too many promotional messages from you. This study by eMarketer found that an excess of emails was the number one reason people unsubscribe from email lists. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story; many email subscribers unsubscribe due to the volume of irrelevant emails, not the overall number.

Rather than tone down the frequency of your messages (you have plenty of essential things to say, after all), the best way to address this issue is to let your audience manage their preferences. This way, your customers can decide exactly which kind of content they’d like to receive, allowing you to create and send confidently.

Most email marketing automation platforms will give you the option to offer a preference center for your subscribers, so make sure you set one up and display it prominently during your signup process and on all of the emails you send.

An example of the subscriber preference center at Omnisend

3. Make unsubscribing easy

While offering an easy escape from your email list might seem counterintuitive, it is the right thing to do. Here’s why. If a contact is looking to unsubscribe, they show that they aren’t interested. Why risk annoying them and getting a trip to the spam folder just to hang onto an unengaged subscriber?

Create a prominent unsubscribe button and make the process as painless as possible. By allowing users to unsubscribe easily, you reduce their need to mark your email as “spam,” which can have long-term inbox deliverability issues.

With your list clear of unengaged subscribers, you can better focus on those who are genuinely interested in what you have to say and enjoy higher conversions.

4. Clean your email list

As well as helping unengaged subscribers to remove themselves from your list easily, there are a few other things that you can do to improve your ‘list hygiene.’ Keeping your list clean and healthy is essential to avoid sending emails to inactive, invalid, and duplicate email addresses, which can increase your bounce rate, harm your sender's reputation, and negatively impact your deliverability.

Your email marketing automation platform should offer a list cleaning service, which you should use regularly to ensure your emails get through to the right people, avoid the spam folder, and protect your brand reputation.

5. Start on the right foot

First impressions count, so you should make your new subscribers feel welcome with a memorable and rewarding experience. According to Ominsend research, welcome series emails are some of the best-performing automation available, showing consistently high open rates and the highest conversion rates of all emails sent.

Using the data you’ve collected from your contact tags and segmentation efforts, you can create a personalized and effective welcome series that makes your new subscribers feel valued while setting their preferences, telling your brand story, and offering an introductory offer to nudge them towards a first purchase.

This is the moment when your brand has captured your new subscribers' full attention, so utilize the effectiveness of the welcome series to make an impression and turn them into loyal customers for years to come!

An example of automated welcome series personalization

Final thoughts on email list management

A lucrative, engaged email list is one of any marketer’s most prized possessions, and while it can take a little time and nurturing care to develop one wholly, the results are well worth the effort.

One of the key points to remember is that a good email list is more about quality than quantity. It’s much better to have a smaller, focused group of well-segmented, interested subscribers who want to hear what you say than an extensive, disorganized list of inactive and unengaged contacts.

So treat your list like the ‘baby’ it is—regularly feed it with more subscribers, take it to the list doctor (cleaner) for preventative care, and keep it happy and entertained with relevant and personalized content. With a bit of love and the passing of time, you’ll see it grow into a healthy and thriving source of revenue for your business!


Special thanks to our friends at Omnisend for their insights on this topic.
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