Cleaning Your Email List is Like Caring for an Apple Orchard
Why List Cleansing is So Important
The Importance of Tree Trimming
This time each year I start pruning my apple orchard by cutting back a portion of the healthy trees. It seems counter-intuitive to cut young, recent growth - why would you cut healthy branches that can bear fruit? Cutting back the growth is actually good for the trees.
Pruning allows the plants to focus their energy on producing flowers or fruit, rather than growing all those offshoots. It produces a healthier plant that has a nicer-looking shape and larger fruit.
Left untrimmed, you’ll get a very thick, bushy tree with long offshoots and plenty of tiny apples. The tree doesn’t have enough energy to grow beautiful apples when there are so many branches and so many apples.
How Cleaning Your Email List is Like Pruning Trees
Email lists have an average Churn Rate of 30% each year. That means 30% of your email addresses are no longer getting your emails. This can be pretty hard to swallow when you work so hard to acquire those names, but it’s normal and it’s not your fault. One of the biggest reasons for churn is that people change email addresses, especially for B2B email lists where people change jobs. Remember Earthlink.com and Roadrunner.com? These email addresses were phased out as email providers changed. People change their names, leave the college where they had an email account, or just decide to switch emails.
You end up with names you’ve grown on your list that are going to hurt the overall fruits of your email campaigns. Why? Because you have something called an email sender reputation that says whether or not you send people relevant emails to their interests. The higher your score, the more likely your email reaches their inbox. The lower the score, the more likely you are to reach the junk folder or not get delivered at all. If you keep emailing all those excess names who don’t open your messages, email algorithms are going to look at your email sender reputation and say, “No, I don’t think these emails are relevant enough to get delivered.”
Cleaning names from your list to avoid emailing them is like cutting those branches back. It produces a healthier overall list with a more attractive sender reputation and your email program is more likely to return a good crop of healthy sales or leads.
Tree Trimming - A Conservative versus Aggressive Approach
When I first started trimming the trees in my yard they were terribly overgrown. I was overwhelmed and couldn’t decide how much or where to cut. I got advice and help from someone who had trimmed a lot of trees. They helped me find the right tools and told me where to cut the branch. They also told me that you can cut up to 30% of the tree a year. (Just like email – 30% churn, 30% branch removal). But in my case the tree was so overgrown that if I got too aggressive and cut all the branches that should be removed, it would be more than 30% and I could kill the tree. So I started very conservatively. I cut some, stepped back and took a look, then went in and cut some more. Some of the growth I took out was pretty big and I had to use a saw--the branches looked like small trees themselves. I took a portion of the trees back each spring for a couple of years until I had a healthy, shapely orchard. Now my trees look great, and the crops produce large apples. I will need to trim those trees every spring, but the days of using a saw to take out huge limbs are over. If I prune on a regular basis, I am now just cutting out some of the new growth that will take the tree’s energy away from producing fruit.
Conservative versus Aggressive List Cleansing
Some marketers take a very aggressive approach to list cleansing. They remove anyone who hasn’t opened an email in 6 months. They remove them completely. To me, that’s like cutting too much too fast and potentially killing your tree. You kill good leads. I shop on plenty of websites where I may buy cyclically. I don’t need golf apparel year round, for example, and when I do want to buy, I find I’m no longer on the email list. Some list maintenance routine has removed my contact record because I didn’t open for a few months and now I’m not getting any emails. Do you know what happens then? I go and buy from someone else who is emailing me.
So where’s the balance? It comes in a methodical, conservative approach. Like dead branches, remove truly bad addresses like undeliverable emails. Then prune, step back, look and take another pass. Pull out names that are valid but not opening into segments and retarget them through other channels, through reactivation campaigns and cross-channel marketing or by using an email change of address service. Don't just trash these contacts, email them less often to see if they are cyclical openers. Take a multi-step approach with the right tools versus chopping out all the dead and overgrown branches at once and over time you’ll build a healthy, attractive list that produces results and can be kept up with regular, routine maintenance.
Just like I asked for help with my trees, you should get help with your database updates, list segmentation and cleansing. Do it with the guidance and expertise of someone who has cleaned a lot of lists and do it with the right tools.
Services in March
In March Peak Marketing Communications will be doing a complimentary list update for all our clients, identifying and removing all the dead limbs. We’ll be looking for email addresses that can no longer bear any fruit, segmenting or removing them strategically and identifying cross channel marketing, re-engagement and change of address opportunities.