Deliverability is generated by algorithms using a wide variety of signals to determine whether an email gets through to an inbox. In order to increase the chances that your emails are getting consistently delivered to your readers, it is important to maintain a solid email marketing database.
When your email newsletter subscribers open your emails, click through your email content or have some other positive responses to your messages, this helps your deliverability.
If readers simply delete your marketing emails without opening them or mark them as spam, they are sending negative signals that can hurt your deliverability.
Here are three tips to help you keep a squeaky-clean email marketing database and improve your deliverability.
1. Remove or fix bad email addresses.
Some email marketing platforms will automatically suppress bad email addresses for you. If they do not, make sure you are taking steps to manage bad email addresses. A bad email address will be marked as such by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) because it has one of the following errors:
- Bad format—A format error could indicate that an email address is missing a period, contains a misspelling, or has other incorrect or duplicated characters. This type of error could simply be a typo that needs to be fixed. When the format error is obvious, like a double period, this can be corrected by making a small adjustment to the email address in your subscriber record.
- Bad domain—Sometimes domain names are changed, merged with those from other companies or are simply deleted. When this happens, it renders the domain portion of your email address (or everything after the @ sign) ineffective. Watch out for company name changes, mergers, email service provider domain name changes and other domain name issues in order to avoid bad domain issues in your database.
- Bad account—When an employee leaves a company, his or her email address often becomes invalid after a certain period of time. For example, email@example.com may have retired. In the case of professional office environments, staff emails might be forwarded to a third party for a period of time before they are rendered invalid. When this occurs, there are often auto-response emails sent out asking you to delete or update a former employee’s contact information. Pay attention to these auto-response messages and take action to update information in order to avoid bad account issues.
On occasion, it will be impossible to tell why an email was marked as bad. If you have attempted to remedy format, domain and account issues, and the email address is still being marked as bad, it is time to either suppress the contact or remove the record from your database.
2. Remove generic email addresses.
When an email address is publicly available, it can often be harvested by unethical list sellers. Because of this, generic email addresses are often heavily policed by spam traps. Unless you absolutely know that the person or people behind a generic email address expressly consent to receiving your messages, you should remove any of the following generic email addresses from your account:
Additionally, generic email addresses often have low open rates and low engagement, which also negatively impacts your deliverability.
3. Remove inactive subscribers.
To keep up to date with email deliverability best practices, we consult with some of the top delivery and anti-spam engineers from major mailbox providers, as well as senders that are like our company, in order to coordinate better ways to get wanted emails to the readers.
One of the most important email marketing best practice trends we identified is to track user engagement and remove inactive subscribers. Engagement means that your readers have opened, read and/or clicked a link in your email. The major mailbox providers such as Gmail, AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo all track how long a message is open and whether the links within it were clicked. They take note if a message was deleted without opening it. They also detect when messages are sent to accounts that no longer check email at all.
Clean up dead weight
A common suggestion for cleaning an email list is to remove all disengaged or inactive subscribers. What this means is that you will be determining all the people who have not opened or clicked on one of your emails in a given period of time and simply removing them from your list.
Why does this help?
You may feel like it stings a bit to remove a bunch of people from a list that you’ve worked hard to grow, but if they are sitting in your database in an inactive or disengaged status, they are actually hurting your sending reputation. A bad sending reputation means you’ll be less likely to be successfully delivered to those who really want to hear from you.
Improve your reach
If there is no engagement for a large portion of your list, then it is more likely that your marketing emails will not reach a majority of your audience. To increase the chances of reaching inboxes and not getting filtered out, take steps to remove all list members who are not engaged.
Take a tiered approach
You can begin removing people in waves. First, remove those who have not clicked or opened in the past two years. Then change your email strategies to see whether you can boost engagement among your existing members. When you see open and click rates improving, take some time to do a second purge of all those who have still not engaged within the past year. You may also repeat this process as a last step, and look at all those who have not engaged within a six-month period as your final purge.
Purging long-term inactive subscribers also means you’re much less likely to end up in a spam trap. An extremely inactive list with long-term disengaged members can be “gravestoned” by ISPs. This means that ISPs will flag your messages as irrelevant or meaningless to your subscribers, thus negatively impacting your deliverability.
“Healing” your deliverability
Even though this process will cause the number of active list members in your database to go down, you will receive the benefit of better delivery rates among those recipients who enjoy your messages. When you view your metrics and reporting, you may notice that the number of opens and clicks will remain steady, but since fewer inactive email addresses are on your list, the open and click rate percentages will gradually increase as mailbox providers begin to recognize your improved sending reputation.
Over time, this process will result in more emails getting into the inboxes of your recipients, producing higher traction and engagement with fewer complaints and filtering issues. When the mailbox providers detect the higher percentage of recipients reading and clicking on links, they will tend to give those messages more favorable treatment by keeping them out of the spam folder. The absolute numbers of clicks and opens will likely go up as well, based on experience from testing this strategy with our existing customers.
Time to Grow
Now that you’ve cleaned the dead weight out of your database, you’ll have room to add more engaged, happy subscribers to your list.
When growing your database, avoid purchasing email lists. Typically, these lists are expensive, have inaccurate contact information and encourage opt-outs since the individuals don’t have a context of how they got on your list.
A good way to ensure that your list is always healthy and full of readers who really want to hear from you is to give individuals the opportunity to opt in.
Provide new prospects with opportunities to opt in to receive your email newsletter:
- Add an email newsletter sign-up call to action to your website and social media pages.
- Invite blog visitors to sign up to receive your newsletter.
- Design CTAs so they stand out from the rest of the page.
Where to place newsletter sign-up CTAs:
- On more than one page (test multiple pages to see which gets the most traction).
- Above the fold (the part of the webpage or email you see without scrolling down).
- On your high-traffic pages.
There are many other digital resources you can leverage to gather up new subscribers.
Here are some ideas to drive list growth:
- Include a “Sign Up for My Newsletter” link in your company’s standard email signature.
- Regularly post reminders for your social media followers to subscribe to your email newsletter.
- Post email newsletter articles to spike the interest of your contacts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn with an invitation to receive similar information if they sign up for your newsletter.
- Include your newsletter sign-up URL on your business cards as well as your direct mail and/or print marketing materials.
- Create newsletter sign-up sheets and distribute them at seminars, conferences, trade shows and events.
- Encourage current subscribers to share or forward your email newsletter content.
- Promote an online contest that includes signing up for your newsletter as a contest entry requirement.
- Place content on your website for visitors to download, making email opt-in an option for those who access the content.
- Host online webinars, and let attendees know how they can sign up to receive your email newsletter during your closing remarks.
- Use word of mouth — don’t forget to simply tell new contacts about your email newsletter. During in-person meetings, ask people whether they would be interested in receiving your newsletter and show them where they can opt in.
- Look to collaborate with influencers or business partners in your community. By establishing reciprocity with one another, you can ask them to promote your newsletter on your behalf while you do the same for them.
There are many creative ways to grow your email marketing database. The key is to get creative and always be looking for opportunities to add more valuable, engaged subscribers to your list.