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How and why you need to scrub your email list

scrub your email list

If the only metric you’re measuring is the size of your list, you’re in trouble. Because a big list doesn’t equal a good list. Actually, it can translate into the exact opposite. That’s why it’s crucial to regularly scrub your email list to trim the fat and hone in on the readers that matter most. 

What does scrubbing your list even mean?

We take showers to get rid of the grime. Scrubbing your email list is essentially the same thing. It just means that you regularly go through and remove both inactive and inaccurate emails so that your list is squeaky clean. 

You can do this manually, automatically, or using a combination of both strategies.

How can I tell it’s time to clean my list?

The easy answer is that everyone needs to clean their lists regularly. But since we live in a world where there are only about a gazillion things on our to-do list, far too many email marketers keep putting it off. Here are a few warning signs that you simply can’t wait any longer: 

  • Your open rates keep finding a new bottom
  • Your email click-through-rates have dropped and stayed down
  • Your spam complaints are rising
  • Your bounce rates are through the roof

Even one of these is a sign that you can’t waste time. But if you’re suffering from two or more of these symptoms, it’s time to re-arrange your schedule and make scrubbing your list an urgent priority.

There are big rewards for tackling this chore

By nature, humans will go to greater lengths to avoid pain than they will to find pleasure. The great news is that scrubbing your email list will accomplish both goals in just one effort. How’s that for a dose of motivation?

  • Regular scrubbing will lower your email marketing costs while raising your return on investment
  • You’ll see a dramatic drop in your spam complaints, and suddenly email providers will like you more
  • You’ll enjoy a rapid rise in both your open and your click-through rates

And having seen your responses to recent surveys, I know that you want all three of those rewards.

We’ll address the mechanics of scrubbing your list in just a moment, but first, let’s talk about two things you need to do before you start the scrub. 

2 things to do before you scrub your list

The first thing you need to do is take a look at your hard and soft bounces. Most email clients will automatically remove hard-bounce emails from your list. Soft bounces, however, represent email addresses showing a temporary issue. 

Hard bounces need to be removed without delay. Soft bounces should be monitored. You may even want to create a dynamic suppression list that doesn’t email those members again until a certain time period has passed. 

The second strategy you’ll want to deploy is a re-engagement campaign. This allows you to place inactive subscribers into an email drip (or journey, or workflow, or whatever jargon your email client uses) that gives them one more chance to engage before you go through and cull your list. 

Use a clever “can’t resist” subject line and then give those readers a choice, do you want to keep getting emails from us? Yes or no. Those who click yes have now opened and engaged. Those that click no get unsubscribed. 

And those that didn’t do anything, well, we’ll talk about what we’ll do with them in just a second. 

5 tips for starting your scrub

Tip #1: Prioritize based on frequency

When it’s time to scrub your list, you’ll want to start with the lists you use the most and that have the most actively engaged readers. But you won’t want to stop there. Just prioritize the scrubbing based on the frequency with which you send. Begin with the most frequent and end with the least frequent lists. Depending on how you segment your list, you may have a dozen or more lists in need of a good cleaning. 

Tip #2: Next, get busy removing duplicates

It doesn’t make any sense to send six emails to the exact same subscriber. But it happens. That’s because people might forget that they’ve already subscribed, or your messages may be hiding in promotional or spam folders. So, that reader heads back to your opt-in page and subscribes again. And maybe again. Scrubbing those duplicates is a fast and easy way to increase your list’s efficiency and ROI. 

Tip #3: Find and remove “spammy” email addresses

Doing this manually can be a nightmare, but the good news is that there are list cleaning services out there that can automate this process. Info@ email addresses are often “catchall” addresses. Then there are email “aliases” people use to sign up for sexy lead magnets that look like this:, but it isn’t just +spam that they use. Finally, specific domains are often tied to bots or fake email addresses. Doing this manually can be tricky, but there are a host of services out there that can help you automate the process. 

Tip #4: Make sure that you’re removing people who have unsubscribed

This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes, big stuff falls through the cracks. Take a moment to double-check that anyone who unsubscribes has been removed from your list. If you send emails from multiple channels, you may want to create an internal policy for handling unsubs from one channel in the other channels. If they unsub from one channel, will you unsub them from all channels? If not, why not? If you keep an unsubscriber on other channel lists, make sure you clarify after the unsubscribe that they’ve only unsubscribed from one channel and then give them the option to get removed from the rest if that’s what they want. No sense in wasting sends on folks who don’t want them or (worse) will complain that you’re spamming them after they unsubscribed. 

Tip #5: Find and replace common typos

Typos happen. That’s just a fact. And people even make typos when they’re adding in their own email addresses. It’s all too easy for gmail to become gamil or some other variation. Once you’ve tackled the first four email scrubbing recommendations, devote some time to cleaning up contacts with typos so that they’ll actually get the messaging they want. After all, that accidental typo could keep your emails away from someone desperate to buy. 

If all of these tasks seem too daunting to tackle yourself, you don’t have to. There are several email list cleaning services that can help you make it happen with just a simple click. The best ones aren’t free, but they are worth every penny you’ll spend. After all, time is money.

So, now that you’re all out of excuses, what are you waiting for? Get busy scrubbing your list and reaping the rewards. 

The Knowledge Base

Q: I think we should adopt Inbox Mailers, but some of my team is worried that other mailers will get access to our list. Will that happen?

A: Absolutely NOT! Although we use our entire network to look for open events to send out your triggered emails, no one else in the system can see, figure out, view, or otherwise access your list. All of that magic is happening in an encrypted, behind-the-scenes environment that keeps your list private but supercharged by knowing when your readers are actively opening in their inbox. 

Q: Our company is in love with Inbox Mailers. Do you have an affiliate program?

A: That’s a great question. We knew when we launched Inbox Mailers that we’d have a lot of raving fans. And what better way to reward our evangelists than with an affiliate program? If you’re interested in partnering with us, here’s everything you need to know

Q: I’m still struggling to create subject lines readers can’t resist. Have you got a hack for that?

A: Yes. Correction: we have hacks for that. Not just one, but seven you can put to work right away. First, ensure you aren’t making things harder than they should be. Then, give these other six hacks a shot. 

Survey Says

Last week, we asked about your biggest fears regarding email marketing. Now the answers are in, and there wasn’t a clear winner. Instead, we have a 3-way tie for first place. Take a look:

What is your biggest email marketing fear?

What is your biggest email marketing fear?
Last week’s survey results

Now, this week, we want to know how long it’s been since you’ve scrubbed your email marketing list. Don’t worry – responses are anonymous, but your honesty will be wildly appreciated. Weigh in now…

When did you last scrub your email list?
This week’s survey

Facts & Stats

  • Did you know that 37% of email addresses change every year? 
  • 78% of email marketers think that list segmentation is the most effective way to keep your list(s) clean
  • The average consumer will only give your email message 10 seconds of attention. Are you making the most of your first impression?

Get Hacking

Remember how we said you’ll want to create a re-engagement drip BEFORE you start scrubbing your list? If you’re unsure what that looks like, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Get inspired by the best of the best with these 10 clever and effective email re-engagement campaigns.

Did you miss last week’s edition?

Don’t worry, it’s not too late to check it out. Last week, we featured a tutorial on how to make your content more clickable. Take a look at what you missed.