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Clean Up Your Email List: How to Build a Healthier Newsletter with a List Pruning Campaign

When you’re deep in the thick of building your email list, it can seem absurd that you would ever want to delete subscribers. After all, each one represents a result of your hard work. But eventually, there comes a time when even the most engaged readership will lose interest.

According to the Radicati Group, in 2015, the average number of business emails received per person, per day was 88. Of those, an average of 12 were either spam or “graymail,” newsletters that the subscriber signed up for but was no longer interested in.

Maybe they got busy, maybe they left that job, or maybe they just aren’t interested. No matter the reason, once your subscribers stop reading, it’s time to let them go with a list pruning campaign.

Why Clean Up Your Email List?

Won’t disinterested readers just unsubscribe, though? According to a Leadpages study, not necessarily. When asked what they do when they are no longer interested in a particular newsletter, less than half of respondents said that they unsubscribe.

27 percent delete the emails without reading, 17 percent ignore them, and 8 percent mark them as spam.

That means that your inactive subscribers aren’t just weighing down your list—they’re potentially hurting your sender reputation, bounce rate, and email deliverability.

Subscribers who no longer engage with your emails also drag down your open and click rates, which are important metrics that you’ll use to determine your newsletter advertising rates.

To make matters worse, if your email service provider charges you by list size, you’re paying for those inactive subscribers, too.

Any way you look at it, inactive subscribers are a drain on the health of your newsletter, which is why they need to be pruned.

Building a Clean List

Before it comes time to clean up your email list, though, you should start by ensuring that you’re using list building techniques that keep your list clean in the first place. That means only sending emails to people who give you permission to do so (through an opt-in form on your site, for instance).

Buying emails or mailing to people who didn’t opt-in are some of the easiest ways to ruin your sender reputation.

You should also always comply with the CAN-SPAM act, or your local legislation, and always give readers a way to opt-out of future mailings. Hiding your unsubscribe button, or failing to include one in your emails, will lead to your emails being marked as spam.

While it takes longer to do it right, building a list of real people who are interested in what you have to say will pay off in the long run.

Pruning Your Email List

So, now it’s time to clean your list. Start by getting into your readers’ mindset to figure out a threshold for inactivity.

If you send emails every day, you might know a reader is inactive after a month or two goes by without them opening your emails. If you only mail monthly, though, it could take longer to determine that someone is truly inactive.

Now, find those inactive subscribers in your email marketing system. You can usually filter to see either who hasn’t opened your emails for a set amount of time (like 90 days), or a set number of email sends (like, the last 10 emails).

Create a seperate list or segment of these inactive users.

Try a Re-Engagement Campaign

Before you hit delete, it can be worthwhile to try to win back your lapsed subscribers. A re-engagement campaign is an email or series of emails designed to get those readers interacting with your material again.

If you’re not sure where to start, try reminding your readers of the value that you bring to their inboxes. You might offer a coupon code (if you sell something), or let them in on a behind-the-scenes glimpse of your business or blog.

Brainstorm a compelling subject line to entice as many opens as you can, but don’t expect a high open rate—these readers have already shown that they’re unlikely to open your emails.

Finally, try asking subscribers if they still want to get your emails.

Create a button that they can click to say that they still want to hear from you, and don’t remove them if they click it. Sometimes, the idea of officially no longer hearing from you will be enough to bring readers back to the fold.

Remove Inactive Subscribers

In your ESP, you can check whether subscribers opened and clicked on your re-engagement campaign.

If a subscriber opened your re-engagement email, or especially if they clicked a link in the email, you probably want to keep that reader on your list. You’ve reminded them who you are, so they might be inclined to start reading your newsletter again.

If, however, a subscriber still hasn’t engaged with you after your re-engagement campaign, you can confidently remove them from your list.

Your ESP will likely have a way to unsubscribe readers in bulk. Gather the courage to hit delete, knowing that it will benefit your list in the long run.

A Healthier Newsletter Awaits

While it can be painful to think about removing hard-earned subscribers from your list, remember, if they aren’t engaging, they are lowering your metrics, hurting your sender reputation, and costing you money. A healthy, engaged list will serve you better, especially when it comes time to find advertising partners.

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