Busting Myths on Email List Hygiene

Deliverability long has been a concern for email marketers. It’s that concern that fuels marketers’ ongoing conversation over list hygiene and management. “List hygiene is important to us,” says Robert Oberheide, director of digital marketing at publishing company Kalmbach. “We take special care to ensure a positive relationship with our customers from the moment we acquire a name.”

Email marketers often share Oberheide’s sentiment, but the process of maintaining clean email lists continues to be arduous. For this reason marketers continue to pursue methods beyond standard list-cleaning software. In doing so, they often confront viewpoints that are misleading or confounding.

Here, experts debunk four pervasive list hygiene myths.

Myth: Marketers must use software that’s solely designed for list cleaning

List hygiene remains important, but the tactics have changed. Many email service providers have evolved their platforms to include list-cleaning functionality, making it simpler for marketers to purge outdated contact information and to run data matching. As a result, it’s often no longer necessary to use software designed solely to clean email lists effectively.

“For your average Fortune 500 email marketer, list hygiene isn’t necessarily a practice that they have to actively do. All of the email service providers inherently build list hygiene practices into the platform,” says Quinn Jalli, SVP of digital marketing services at marketing services firm Epsilon. “As long as [email marketers] aren’t going out and doing list buys or pulling old lists, there isn’t a ton of need to do anything beyond what the platform does on its own.”

Myth: List cleaning is about eliminating bad data

Not only have the methods changed, but so have marketers’ motivations for having a clean list. “About eight years ago, list management meant scrubbing lists for invalids. Today’s list hygiene is really focused on activity or engagement by consumers, so when we talk about cleaning lists, we’re talking about removing people who haven’t opened or clicked on your offers in X months,” Jalli explains.

Myth: List hygiene focuses on reaching the inbox

A clean list most likely will result in better email marketing performance. But it’s also what marketers do with that clean list that can make all the difference. “Yeah, you have a clean list, but what are you going to do? Batch-and-blast for the next six months,” asks Graeme Grant, COO at SaaS analytics company CQuotient. “You’ve missed the boat and people will ignore you. The ISPs and Gmails of the world are relentless, and they’ll see you being ignored and [then] chuck you into spam. Being ignored is the worst thing here, and that comes down to relevance.”

The most effective email campaigns are personalized and relevant to the customer. Grant says this is especially true for retail. “The average retailer gets the same customer only about twice a year,” he notes. “Triggers work, and they’re effective; but they simply don’t touch enough people because most of your customers probably haven’t been to your site in six to nine months. It’s really less about having a clean list and more about if people want to hear from you. Are you relevant to them?”

Myth: Bots are declining

Another concern for marketers is that idea an email address may not belong to an actual human, but rather a bot. “Bot use has become more of a problem,” says Loren McDonald, VP of industry relations at Silverpop. “These programs will target sites that have forms for sweepstakes or rebates, so product or retail marketers are especially affected; but anyone could have hundreds of thousands of these bots running around in their lists.”

However, as bots have grown in sophistication and volume, so too has technology to combat them. “There’s a fast growing category of services providers that offer real-time verification to look for known bots and spam traps,” McDonald explains. “The problem is that there aren’t a lot of marketers using these services yet.”

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