Why and How to Keep a Healthy Email List

We preach a lot here about the importance of publishing consistent quality content. We do that because, well, we want your business to grow, and that's one of the ingredients to a successful marketing campaign.

Another thing business get bombarded with is building a list, and for good reason. There's nothing better than email when it comes to getting the word out about your upcoming sale, a new item or service, or just telling your potential customers about the new piece of content you just published.

In fact, 25% of Black Friday sales were generated by email, 89%  of marketers say email is their primary source for lead generation, and 24% of Americans say they check their email too much.

Interesting stats, huh?

Keeping Your List Healthy - the Why

Just as too many sweets can rot your teeth, too many email addresses can actually be a bad thing. Too many unengaged emails, that is.

Yes, you need to grow your list, but you need to grow that list with people that are actually interested in your products or services.

Listen, you can go out and buy 100,000 emails right now and have a hell of a list, but it would be a big waste of time and money.

It's better to have 100 very interested emails on your list than 5000 that aren't.

In fact, Email Service Providers (ESPs) like MarketVolt, ActiveCampaign and others actively track their customers' email lists to make sure they aren't poor quality accounts.  A bad open rate (because no one that gets your email cares) can negatively affect your list health, and can get you flagged by your ESP. This can lead to suspension and even deletion of your account.

It's best to keep your list healthy - end of story.

Keeping Your List Healthy - the How

So if having a rotten list is bad, how can you keep it clean?

This is an easy one - automation.

Many ESPs have some form of automation, albeit sometimes a bit archaic. Here at RCM we're big ActiveCampaign fans, and for good reason. You can build automations in visual mode, where you can see and modify each step as you put it together. Plus, AC has a lot of custom features, works well with landing page software like OptimizePress, and integrates nicely with services like Zapier and IFTTT.

So for purposes of the how, I'll be using ActiveCampaign (free trial) as my platform. If you're on a different system, you can still use these steps, you'll just need to modify them to work on that platform.

Getting Started - the Disengaged List

To get this automation built, we actually start with the end in mind.  By end I mean someone who joined your list and has become disengaged. Maybe they don't need your services, maybe their life situation has changed, or maybe they've moved out of your area.

Whatever the reason, they need to either be re-engaged or removed.

Since the first thing we need to do is think about the end, we need to figure out how long of a time we're willing to leave someone on our list before we decide they need some prodding. Depending on your business type, the amount of times you email your list, and the typical buying cycle of a customer, this number could be 30 days to 2 years. For most businesses, 60 days of silence from a customer/lead is about right. Remember, even if your buying cycle is 2 years, and you're sending out great info, your customer will stay engaged and never hit that 60 day limiter. And even if they do, the steps below will get them back on track.

Building the Reengagement Funnel

First, let's assume the best-case scenario - your subscriber simply hasn't had time to open or read your emails. Their business or life is so great that they're doing other things besides checking email. It must be nice.

So these people probably just need a simple nudge to get them back on track. So the first email in our reengagement series will probably have a catchy subject line like 'Are We Still Friends?' or maybe 'Did We Offend You?'. Get their attention, get them to open the email (and maybe even reply if you're good at writing email copy), and now they're back on your engaged list. All is well.

Now, perhaps for some reason they don't open that email. Things aren's looking great. Or maybe that catchy subject line just didn't get their attention. Or maybe it showed up on a Sunday.  Whatever the reason, it's best to wait a few days and send another email.

This one needs to be a little more direct. Use a subject line like 'Do You Still Want to Hear From Us?' for example. Write copy that assures them you aren't interested in spamming them and just want to give out good information and keep them informed.

Now, if they haven't opened that one either, it's safe to say things aren't great in this email relationship. This account may certainly qualify as an unhealthy email, and you need to think about removing it from your list altogether.

But before you do, maybe one more email (again after a few days) will get them back on track.

Maybe. It's worth a shot.

So send out a third email. Maybe this one is even a bribe. 'FREE Gift Inside' or 'Renew Our Relationship and Get a Discount' might be some good subject lines to try.

This tactic requires you to actually have some sort of gift, giveaway or promo code, but that's not a big deal.

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By now, if they haven't opened anything, it's time to remove them from your list. Some email marketers recommend you just move them to a different list, but I think that's silly - you'll just have a list of disengaged people. What's the point?

Build the simple engine

Now that we have taken care of what happens when someone becomes disengaged, we need to build a system that 'resets' them every time they engage with our list.

This is an easy one. All we do is set a trigger to start whenever a person on our list opens an email or visits our website.  This sets off the engine, which simply removes them from the reengagement series and puts them back in. Basically it's just restarting their 60 days wait period.

Crazy easy, right?

Build Your Own Reengagement Engine

If you're an ActiveCampaign user, you can actually download both of these automations for free: reengagement series | engagement engine

If you are using a different system, we've created a PDF that you can use to guide yourself through the automation creations. Download that PDF here.

By the way, if you already use ActiveCampaign and want to clean out those older emails quickly, simply go to Lists and select the drop-down next to the list in question. Select 'Engagement Management' and you'll see a quick way to cleanse your list. Remember, though, these people have never received any of your re-engagement emails, and they might want to be on your list, so be careful with this feature.

Beyond the Basics - Getting Fancy

If you want to do a little more work and really segment the people in the various stages of disengagement with your business, you can utilize tagging to split these people into separate groups.  Instead of waiting a full 60 days, you may want to only wait 30 and then tag them as 'disengaged 30 days', which may fire off a simple email asking if everything is ok.  You could do the same at 45 days, and even 55 days.  At each stage, you'd tag them with a new label, and perhaps fire off an email accordingly.

For us, we think that's just too much craziness for most small businesses. Let's keep it simple, keep our list clean, and watch our business grow.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Email list health is important, but it's just another thing you have to worry about. The good news is, you'll only have to build this automation once, and it'll keep your list clean forever.

If you've implemented these automations, we'd love to hear your feedback. Or if you think it's crazy to even think of doing this (because you want to keep those emails forever), we'd love to hear your thoughts, too.

(And of course, if you want us to set this up for your business, we can!)

About 

Will Hanke owns Saint Louis’ top independent Internet Marketing firm, Red Canoe Media. In addition to helping some of St Louis’ most recognizable brands with their online marketing strategy, Will also is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and teacher.

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