15 Free Email List Hygiene Tips For Small Business

August 17, 2015

15 free email list hygiene tips for small business

Nothing gets me more excited than finding low hanging, actionable marketing fruit for small businesses to capitalize on. Whether we’re talking about a unique automation campaign, or a tool that saves tons of time and boosts conversions ala Leadpages. 😉

Today I’m diving into the nerdy end of the pool… Email List Hygiene… Yick! At least it may seem that way on the surface. You might ask why I would want to swim on this end of the email marketing pool, to which I would give you five answers:

  1. Email List Hygiene Is Relatively… Really Simple
  2. 99% of it is simply Email Best Practices Repeated
  3. 99% Of It Is Free To Implement… Everything In This Guide Is 100% Free.
  4. There Is A Huge Upside To Having Your Emails Actually Hit Your Prospects Inbox
  5. Your Competitors Aren’t Doing This

Why Small Businesses Are No Good At Email List Hygiene

Typically in a small business you have the owner, or some other key employee managing all of the spinning plates. Fun times, I’ve been there! And the focus is on bringing in oodles of new leads to keep the wheels turning and the lights burning brightly.

To do this we look for new lead gen techniques, the latest killer app, how to crush it on social media, etc… Never in a million years is it email list hygiene, unless of course you have a problem. And once you have a problem you’re going to get stuck in the wallet for an expensive “solution” that will not retroactively fix your problem.

Check out the pricing for companies that do list cleaning:

Ouch! You will notice pricing is not prominent on the websites… But from experience you’re looking at 5 figures for most of these services. Preying on your fears they will happily separate you from your cash as you try to make a sacrifice to the Google gods to let your emails go through once again.

15 Tips To Improve Your Email List Hygiene Without Spending A Dime

1. Ensure That Every Email You Send Has A Specific Purpose

Realize that every communication you have with your prospective client either moves the relationship forward, or knocks it back a step. If people don’t open your email it’s not an oh well, better luck next time. This is hurting your list and will lower the deliverability as a whole.

Be deliberate, and have an email marketing strategy. What is the one action you want them to take when they open this email? Once you have decided focus the whole email around that action.

Check out this email from Frank Kern

Email List Hygiene - Make Sure Your Emails Get To The Point And Have One Objective

You’ll notice it’s pretty short and to the point. Additionally all of those links point to one landing page. He’s not sending you his life story, just one specific thing that is valuable to you.

2. Be Crystal Clear On What’s In It For Them

Now that every email you are sending has a specific purpose be very clear of the benefits (what’s in it for them) of engaging with it. Speak in benefits and be direct and clear. Some sales chops certainly help here. I recommend signing up for the sales caffeine newsletter over at Jeffrey Gitomers site.

Remember people are buying the hole, not the drill. They are after the RESULT you can provide them, not the means to which you achieve that result. Most people focus on the means and lose a large percentage of potential clients.

  • People aren’t paying for a massage, they are buying the relaxation it brings.
  • People aren’t paying for pest control, they are buying the ability to mow their lawn without being stung (true personal story)
  • People aren’t paying for a babysitter, they are paying for a night out with their spouse and the confidence their kids will be taken care of.

3. Go Heavy On The Value!

You will be better served by one email offering a ton of value than 20 thin emails with no compelling reason to click. The internet is a deep place and if you aren’t going above and beyond chances are someone else is. For an example of above and beyond go sign up on Neil Patel’s blog, watch, and learn.

Compare what exists in the market currently and shoot for at least twice as good.

4. Offer Your Subscribers An Opt Out

With the changing Spam filters you will see more and more savvy marketers employing this technique. They will ask you at the beginning of the email to unsubscribe, BEFORE their content. It seems absolutely crazy but in the long run getting your tire kickers, complainers, Better Business Bureau “taddle tales” off your list is a very good thing. These people will not only cause you heartache and stress down the road, but their behavior will pull down the deliverability of your list as a whole.

Consider offering your list an out early and up front.

An upfront unsubscribe tactic used by Jaime Tardy

I know for a fact there is a little voice on your shoulder saying, “they could come around… let’s just send them a few more emails, they will change their mind.” But trust me, that’s the dude in the red suit with the pointy tail. Nothing but pain for you by dealing with these folks.

5. Remove Bounces After Every Email Send

Every time you send an email you will likely have emails that bounce. What this means is that the email address does not exist (either a typo, or someone entering bogus information) and the mail server has bounced it back to you.

As part of your email list hygiene game plan you need to be purging these from your list after every send. Some email providers will automatically do this like Hubspot while others will happily let you email them over and over. A common thing across the board though is they will not remove them from your list… They will happily charge you for having f@u.com on your subscriber list… They are just smart enough to not mail to it again. 😉

You need to remove these because it’s an immediate red flag to gmail, outlook, and any other modern email provider. If you send one email to a bogus address, not such a big deal… But if you are emailing that same email address every time you hit your list you will get dinged big time.

6. Remove Inactive Subscribers Regularly

This is a little more hardcore than removing the emails that bounce, but equally necessary to maintaining maximum email deliverability. Set a threshold for email engagement and stick to it. How many emails are you willing to send someone until they are dead to you? 5? 10? Make a decision and boot them after that point.

If you are continually sending to people who are not even opening your email it will start going to spam. An email provider like gmail keeps track of this…

As an example if you are emailing to 1,000 people with gmail addresses and 90% of them don’t open any of your emails it will affect everyone in the future with a gmail. Welcome to the world of big data.

big data star trek meme

If you really feel the need to keep on Spamming these poor people (let’s be honest here and call a spade a spade) then take advantage of the next tip…

7. Use A Two Email Service Provider System

Your sending reputation is based on the IP you are sending from. Each ESP will give you a different one. Have you heard the saying “don’t crap where you eat?” This is the application of that rule in email marketing.

After contacts reach a certain threshold of inactivity (maybe they don’t open 3 emails) they are sent to a second email service provider.

Typically a lower cost provider with a looser spam policy. This will keep your most important emails deliverable but allow you to attempt the hail mary with your bad contacts while not toasting your deliverability.

Many savvy marketers like Ryan Deiss take advantage of this technique by utilizing a dedicated platform for only paying customers and a separate one for the “unclean masses”.

8. Use Momentum To Your Advantage

As you are moving prospects through your marketing funnel (link mf article) use momentum to it’s full advantage. If someone downloads a lead magnet on your website both the thank you page and the thank you email should offer them an opportunity to move down the funnel further.


Lead Magnet Qualifier Next Action
Prospect Downloads Whitepaper Would you Like To Chat With A Consultant?
Prospect Downloads Template Would you like to attend our webinar?
Prospect Attends Webinar Would you like to purchase our product?

To bring this back to your email list hygiene it is important because you are going to lose the prospects attention. Think of your opt in magnet buying some sands in the hourglass. They have an issue they want solved and you just bought yourself an elevator pitch. Allow the prospect to use that momentum and keep moving closer to solving their problem for good, preferably via a sale of your product.

9. Sell Early… Get to the point!

In the previous point we covered that you opt ins are only buying you a little time and attention. It’s important then to capitalize on that attention and offer the sale. According to the Pew Research Center 58% of people with a problem turned to the internet first to solve it. Typically if they found you your business deals in solving that problem.

Follow that logic and knowing that people want a better, faster, done for me solution to their problems… You are doing them a disservice by not offering a sale early, and often. Now, you don’t need to get all commission breath on them and be annoying, but a mention of the solution you provide is certainly expected.

How does this relate to email list hygiene? Simple, people will get their problems solved, and if you didn’t show them everything you offered out of the gate chances are they kept searching and either solved it themselves or went with another provider.

Fair enough…

But now you are sending them marketing emails for a problem they no longer have, finally reaching your sales presentation somewhere around paid the bill to your competition and paying off the credit card bill that month.

Think they are going to be opening and interacting with your emails? Nope! Since engagement over your entire list is an indicator for the email providers this will undoubtedly hurt your deliverability as a whole.

10. Don’t Purchase Lists

I should not have to list this…

I should not have to list this…

I should not have to list this…

But really I need to. Even is this day in age I can’t count how many small business owners I have spoken to who wonder, “can’t I just buy a list”. To which I reply, “sure you can, but it’s a terrible idea!”

Buying a list will not only provide a swift way to get all your emails thrown in a Spam filter, but is also not allowed by most modern email service providers. I’ll keep this tip short but if you aren’t convinced you can read a great article on the topic here.

11. Send From An Email You Can, and Do Check

When sending out emails to your list the next tip is to send them from an email you can, and actually do check. If you have a larger list it is a good idea to set up a separate inbox to hold these and not blow up your phone after you send out a blast, but check in them regularly.

Don’t expect people to email you at a different email address just because you asked them to in the third paragraph of your email, or your actual email is mentioned in the footer. People will hit reply no matter what you do.

Not only will this raise your engagement rate but you will really impress your subscribers. Additionally you would be surprised how many people with the kinds of replies you get. In almost every email blast I send I typically get at least one response like:

“Alright, I have some money freed up in my budget for this project now. Give me a call at 111-111-1111”

Had it went to noreply or an email I didn’t check I could have lost the sale. Even big names in the industry Seth Godin (https://twitter.com/thisissethsblog) and Ramit Sethi (https://twitter.com/ramit) check their emails and will respond. (I have tried)

12. Update Emails When Requested

Another piece of low hanging fruit here but if you are following along and using tip 11, sending from an email you can check you will get autoresponders like:

“I have retired this email, please reach me now at new@address.com”

Take 30 seconds to update your address and don’t just keep sending to the dead one. Think of the time, effort, and money that went into acquiring that lead… Don’t let 30 seconds of work convince you to throw it away.

This can be tough if you aren’t the one monitoring the reply emails or managing the email sending. If your marketing guy or company does this chances are they are just being tossed. Make sure they understand the value of each lead and ask them periodically how many they were able to save in this fashion.

13. Practice Great Customer Service

If you are emailing any sizeable amount of people you will catch hell from some of your subscribers. You will mess up from time to time. You will find unhappy people.

Always take the high road and respond professionally and practice great customer service. I personally enjoyed “walking these people off the ledge” when they would light me up for some minor infraction.

Over time you will be threatened with legal actions “you’ll be hearing from my lawyer”, social media justice “I will tell everyone on every social media network”, and general crabbiness “I can’t believe you… you will never get my business”.

Email marketing is not for the faint of heart.

I’ve had great luck with a response similar to the following:

“Dear Complaining Customer,

I am truly sorry you feel that way. At the end of the day I am just a guy trying to provide food for his family working a job to keep the lights on. I understand that when my company _____ you felt _____. Totally understandable but that was not the intention.

I really do appreciate your reply, Complainers Name and will move this up the chain. Additionally I will PERSONALLY see to it that your name is removed from our mailing list.

Thank you SOOOO much for bringing this to my attention Complainer, If you do receive another email from us for any reason please let me know by emailing me directly at: your email and I will make sure it is taken care of.


Your Name”

After an email like this most people actually apologize for their attitude. It’s a good idea to still unsubscribe them but I’ll leave that to your own discretion.

If you want more great customer service tips, check out Shep Hyken. I have seen him present personally, read his book, and use his tips daily.

14. Segment Your Emails (One Blast Does Not Fit All)

As tempting as it is to send every email you compose to everyone on your list it’s a good idea not to. You likely offer different products and services and prospects opted in for a specific one. If your email wouldn’t further their mission to solve their initial problem they opted in to solve they shouldn’t get receive it.

By segmenting your email lists you can really dial in your message and will double, if not triple your open and click through rates. If you want to cross sell them on other products or services you should do so AFTER they purchase the initial product or they opted in to learn more about.

15. Ask For A Reply, AND RESPOND

With the first email you send ask an open ended question to the recipient, and then reply when they answer it. If you’re lazy you can set this up with an autoresponder but it’s best to just reply. By having recipients reply your email quality score will be higher and your emails prioritized in their inbox. Bonus points if you ask them another question… Imagine your broadcasts being highlighted with a gold star and put in google’s priority inbox.

See an example of this by signing up for the ConversionCast, in the first email (automated) you’ll get a thank you from Tim Paige the shows host. If you reply it will go right to Tim’s inbox. Give it a try!

The Upside Of Taking A Few Moments To Work Email List Hygiene Into Your Strategy Is Huge For Your Business

I encourage you to take action on these 15 email list hygiene tips in your business. They have served me well over the years and will help you to. By maintaining a clean, active email list you can look forward to:

  • Getting Dramatically Better Email Marketing Results
  • Chalking Up Dramatically Better Stats
  • Pushing Yourself To Be A Better Marketer (Not all of these are the easiest way to do it)
  • Getting In Front Of The Right People
  • Growing Your Business

Additionally if you are considering implementing marketing automation in your business you need to nail these basic tips before you turn on the flywheel and your automated selling machine. If your emails aren’t solid automating them will only multiply any deliverability problems you would run into.

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