Email marketing list hygiene - time for a spring clean?

Written by  Thursday, 07 April 2011 13:08

Email list hygiene appears to have taken a back seat across the industry in recent years, which could be a result of pressure on email marketers to be compliant and pressure to get results.

It would seem that email marketers often find themselves caught up in difficult situations when it comes to maintaining opt-in e-mail lists, take this scenario:

Your sales department puts pressure on the marketing team to help establish new account relationships by raising awareness and setting up lead generation programs. Your legal department are tasked with ensuring your marketing team only sends e-mails to recipients who have opted-in.

You need subscribers, the pressure is on to get the opt-ins.

Sound familiar?

You are not alone, email list hygiene has been the subject of discussion recently as it has emerged that 'just 15% of marketers clean email lists of users who haven’t opened or clicked on email messages recently'*.

Low open or click rates suggest your email has reached a recipient who has little or no interest in your mail message - this raises questions of how they ended up on your list in the first place - ignore this question at your peril!

A 2003 European Union directive, designed to help consumers feel confident about using new technologies and to help the industry as a whole to "use the technology properly to build legitimate businesses"**, means the government's information commissioner is able to investigate organisations or individuals believed to be using spam. Consumers can also sue for damages.

Richard Harrison ( suggests the problem with poor list quality may come from two popular methods of list acquisition:

1. In the form of purchased data:

'Purchased lists, claiming opt-in status of contacts, often produce a large amount of bounces and spam complaints...(so)... ISPs block your sending server IP addresses or blacklist future e-mails'.

2. From “trolling” for opt-in contacts.

This is where marketers create compelling content, such as a Facebook app, a whitepaper or an entertaining or informative video, which is then posted to a number of third-party content sites.

Internet users are then required to register their details before accessing the content. These registration pages typically display a tick box, usually checked off by default, which fulfills the obligation for opting in as users have the option to un-check the box.

Registrations that result from this practice can legally be categorized as having opt-in. However, it is worth thinking hard about the value of this data. A certain percentage of your sign-ups gave you their details for a single purpose - to obtain the one piece of content you were offering. A week later, when that user group receives your routine opt-in communications, they have forgotten they ever opted in and, in just one click, they have branded your e-mail as spam.

The message is clear. Whether you buy your data or generate it yourself, clean email lists keep you out of trouble with the law, help you to stay ahead of your game, and keep your reputation safe with the ISP’s, so what are you waiting for? Get Spring-cleaning!

*Richard Harrison writing for DMN March 8th 2011
**E-commerce minister Stephen Timms, the Guardian, 27th March 2003