List Database Management. Bigger? Or, Better?

In most athletic competitions, the team that scores the most points, most goals or most runs means it wins the game. In golf, the lowest score wins the match. Hit fewer shots than all other competitors over a 72-hole tournament and you walk off with a “W.” In analyzing email database list management, we believe the winners are those marketers who don’t focus on quantity (the biggest), but rather the ones who target quality (the most engaged). In this case, smaller can beat out larger. And in the email marketing game, it’s a surefire win. Here’s how.

Is a Large Email Database a Good Thing?

The answer is a slightly qualified yes. At Communication Links we do believe that growing the email database is a very important Key Performance Indicator (KPI). Your marketing team, or a marketing company like ours, should be incentivized to build a strong database of customers and prospects with whom you can easily communicate through your email platform of choice. By adding a variety of meta-tagged attributes to each unique email address, you’ll be able to target customized emails to database sub-sets that match targeting criteria you wish to reach with your messages.

However, we do not buy into the argument that spending time and money to build the “largest” database in the market is a profitable end-game. Rather, the goal should be focused on building the largest database of engaged customers and prospects you can attract through opt-in best practices. Since the cost of your email service is generally tied to the size of the database hosted in your account, adding unqualified and less engaged users to your database will cost you more each month as the database grows. Another downside is the larger the base of less engaged users to whom you send email, the lower the effective Open Rates, Click-Through-Rates and other important email metrics that are equally valuable as KPIs.

How to Weed Out Non-Openers

Virtually all the major email service providers (ESPs), such as Constant Contact and MailChimp, offer effective database cleaning tools. One such tool enables you to chose a list bucket (or your entire list database) and run a query such as “How many unique email recipients have not opened any emails over the last 12 months.” You can vary the query to change the timeline such as last six months or whatever may be appropriate for your application.

When we’ve run this list hygiene exercise on a number of our client list databases over the last year, the percentage of non-openers has been eye-opening. If you find that 20%-25% of your entire email database has not engaged with a single email over the last 6-12 months, the obvious questions to ask yourself are: how did these email addresses get there in the first place, and why should we keep them?

The easy solution is to delete the habitual non-openers immediately. Simply run a database scrub and remove them entirely. Another solution is to isolate these non-openers, delete them from the primary email list buckets within your email database, and add them to a single “non-openers” list. Over the course of a few months, you can experiment with several independent test offers to this group. Watch the metrics closely. Before pulling the pin completely, email the list one last time asking the recipients if they are still interested in hearing from you (remember, they may have never actually opted-in to your database based on your list sourcing). Delete them if they say “no” or just don’t open the email (what does that tell you?). Most non-openers don’t change their habits. Retaining them in your database may keep the Big Boss happy based on the ever-growing size of your database, but the ROI isn’t there. Drop them and don’t look back.

The Calculus of Great List Hygiene

There’s a temptation to add every email address you can scrape from gosh knows where because the recipients “might” open an email. The corollary is that some marketers don’t want to ever remove any name from the database because, you know, these recipient MIGHT buy something. Eventually. Our long history in the digital world tells us that formula doesn’t compute.

Keep your lists clean through the manual and automatic processes at your disposal. In terms of email deliverability, inbox placement, sender reputation (yours!) and data accuracy, list hygiene is one of the primary keys to maintaining high engagement rates and a successful email marketing program.

5 Tips for Effective List Hygiene

  • Don’t buy/upload outside lists: this may violate CAN-SPAM laws.
  • Always remove hard bounces: soft bounces should be monitored. Soft bounces may eventually become hard bounces.
  • Spam complaints auto-delete: don’t fret unless rate is greater than 1 per 1,000 emails sent. Some people just don’t want to hear from you for one reason or another (usually because of over-communications).
  • Opt-outs auto-delete: while there is always some level of email list churn, you should closely monitor opt-out rates. It could be a sign you aren’t correctly messaging or targeting your email lists.
  • Remove non-openers: email recipients don’t generally change their minds.