Why Marketing List Hygiene Is More Important Than You Realize

June 13th, 2018
Scott Kaplan
Scott Kaplan

Marketing success is all about getting the right message in front of the right person at the right time — which is essentially impossible if the list you’re working from isn’t built properly to begin with.

Many CSPs, MSPs and other SMBs outside of the marketing industry don’t actually realize how much money they can save by guaranteeing that their direct contact lists are as clean as possible. This doesn’t just deal with your email lists, either — list hygiene is just as important for direct mail as well.

Whether your business uses a house list, a rented list or some combination of the two, it should be regularly cleaned up to guarantee the best possible results moving forward. Doing so requires you to keep a few key things in mind.

The Major Benefits of Cleaning Up Your Marketing Lists

By making a regular effort to “freshen up” your list to remove duplicate entries, to guarantee that all mailing addresses use a standard format, to update addresses that may have fallen out of date over time and more, you unlock a host of unique benefits — essentially all at the same time.

Take your print direct mail collateral, for example. By making a proactive effort to preserve the health and integrity of your lists, you’re going a long way toward reducing your overall mailing costs by preventing customers from receiving duplicate communications (something that could quickly begin to irritate even your most loyal of brand advocates if you’re not careful). You’re also making sure that people aren’t receiving error-ridden communications that could cause confusion, damage your brand’s reputation, or simply make your company look unprofessional.


But equally important is the ultimate deliverability of your digital marketing collateral — in other words, the factors that decide whether or not your messages are making it to their intended recipients at all. These days, services like Gmail use hundreds or even thousands of different signals to decide whether or not an email makes it into someone’s inbox, if it gets filtered into their SPAM folder or if it is denied altogether. These include but are not limited to things like:

  • Engagement rates. If people aren’t opening your emails, if the sender isn’t in someone’s address book or if the person you’re reaching out to has never replied to you, services like Gmail take this as a sign that the message in question is probably SPAM. However, this may also be a sign that the health and quality of your list isn’t where it needs to be and it’s doing your entire campaign far more harm than good.
  • Your reputation. This can include the reputation of your brand in general, the reputation of the IP address that your mail is coming from and other, similar factors. Again, the difference between a low quality, SPAM-ridden sender and a sender with a poor quality email list is not as large as a lot of people assume. It is very, very easy to fall into this particular trap, and making list hygiene a priority can help you avoid it altogether.

Think about it like this: If a subscriber to your list is legitimately interested in what you have to say, but they receive many duplicate or error-ridden messages, they’re eventually going to start deleting most or even all of the emails that you send them. At that point, they will eventually stop seeing those messages to begin with because their own ISP is going to take notice of this behavior.

This creates a ripple effect in the worst possible way. That ISP will start moving the majority of your messages for more customers over to bulk and SPAM folders, at which point other ISPs will take notice, at which point you’ll have a major problem on your hands before you likely even realize the situation is severe in the first place.

But ALL of this can be avoided by making list hygiene a priority on a regular basis.

The Finer Points of List Hygiene

Luckily, cleaning up your marketing list as a CSP or an MSP isn’t nearly as difficult as you might assume. You just have to keep a few key things in mind.

cleaning a mailing list

  • Start by removing inactive subscribers from your list, which most experts agree you should do at least once every 12 to 18 months. Take a look at the people who haven’t opened your emails in the last six months and get them off your list as soon as you can.
  • Note that instead of deleting these inactive subscribers outright, some people recommend taking them off your main list and moving them onto a second one. You can continue to send them offers and other promotions to get their attention, but don’t do so quite as frequently. This will improve the health of your main list and still give you a chance to go after at least a few of these people to bring them back into the fold.
  • You should also use the techniques recommended above. Remove duplicate entries from your list, update addresses to make sure you’re not sending the same message to someone’s old address AND their new one, make sure that everything uses a standard address format, etc.

But maybe the most important thing for you to understand about all of this is that cleaning up your lists isn’t something that you “do once and forget about.” Again, this is something that you should do at least once per year, if not more. But when you’re talking about something as important as your direct line of communication between your brand and your audience, it’s easy to see why this is very much worth the effort required.