Best practices for list hygiene and email deliverability

Tracy Skochil

Updated: Jul 24, 2023 · 7 min read

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In the battle for email deliverability, list hygiene is crucial —and can sometimes feel uncomfortable. You want your email to land front and center in people’s inboxes. But that list you’re planning to send your message to may be working against you.

Melodie Moore, CEO of Business Tech Ninjas, knows that emphasizing quality over quantity when it comes to list hygiene can boost your email deliverability. She joined our recent Level Up With Keap event to share her knowledge on:

  • Strategic and technical aspects impacting deliverability
  • The ego-check of focusing on quality over quantity
  • 3 things you can do today to improve deliverability
  • Viewing customer engagement as dynamic vs. static
  • Why goat cheese is awful (this is up for debate)

Plus, host Jade Olivia demonstrates how to use some of Keap’s reporting and functionality to improve email deliverability. Read on for a recap of the event’s key takeaways.

Things impacting your email deliverability

Landing in more inboxes — which is what “email deliverability” comes down to — is impacted by your strategic approach to outreach. There are also key technical aspects that need to be in line to best position you as trusted by email service providers.

Be strategic about email outreach

Your outreach strategy affects your email deliverability. This is all about sending emails that people want to open, which drives back to knowing your customers.

“Use email to build community and connection,” Melodie suggests. “Look at what you’re sending and work through the logic of it.” If it doesn’t make sense to send a new product announcement email to your full list, don’t send it.

Keep these tips in mind when crafting your outreach strategy:

  • Write catchy, compelling subject lines
  • Personalize content to people’s interactions, including automated emails
  • Meet your segments where they are in their journey — not where you want them to be
  • Nurture their interests and build relationships
  • Present an offer once they’re sufficiently engaged
  • Pro tip from Jade: don’t just send emails when you want to sell something.
  • Catch Melodie’s do’s and don’ts of email content here.

Get your technical ducks in a row

On the backend, make sure you’re doing everything you need to do to set yourself up for success when it comes to email deliverability. This includes:

  1. Authenticating your DKIM, SPF and DMARK
    • This gives you clean, verified, compliant permission to be emailing people
    • Try the free domain health checker at Dmarcian
  2. Get your email score and take action on it
    • Your email score will help you see how you’re actually doing in terms of deliverability and engagement, and where to prioritize improvements
    • Try Deliverability Dashboard, which offers an email health score
  3. Diagnose your lists
    • Spam traps, dormant accounts, bots, typo domains and other hidden issues can live in your email lists, damaging your delivery rates
    • Try Klean 13, which catches and removes invalid and unengaged users
  4. Keep your ducks in a row
    • If something gets messed up with your email deliverability and you’ve signed up for Google Postmaster tools, you’ll be alerted.
    • Try Google Postmaster tools

Bigger email lists aren’t necessarily better — oftentimes they’re worse

“There was a time in the marketing world where you were measured upon how big your list was. Those days aren’t really here anymore,” says Melodie. Big lists give people an illusion of progress, or an illusion of success, she explains. “I would rather have a list of 1,000 people that are engaged and opening my emails consistently, than having 10,000 that I land in their inboxes and have no engagement.”

Melodie stresses that the goal should be building a better list filled with people who are truly interested in and engaging with what you’re doing. Then you can spend your valuable time connecting with those people and building a relationship — something that’s easier to do when you’re sending to smaller groups.

An added bonus of removing unengaged people from your email sends is that your deliverability will increase, and you’ll likely see higher conversion rates.

List hygiene can be an ego check

Focusing on quality over quantity can be difficult. Everyone says they’re okay paring down massive lists to only focus in on those who are engaged or focusing in on those who really might attend an upcoming event (for example). Everyone’s okay with it until you miss a goal, or someone says “but we need more responses, so just resend to the whole list and see what happens.”

Don’t. Do. It. The negative impacts in terms of opt outs, deliverability repercussions, and brand reputation aren’t worth the small response you may get from the resend.

List hygiene and management can be emotional for people, Melodie knows. She’s worked with clients where best practice list hygiene has brought lists down from 10,000 contacts to less than half that.

When emotions rise, Melodie suggests thinking through it with empathy. Some clients may see that original list as symbolic of all the years of hard work spent growing a business. They also may have invested money into tactics to create that list. Reducing the list size also means fewer people to sell to, in volume.

Melodie suggests refocusing these conversations around the positive aspects of smaller, better lists. For example, when you have all those unengaged people in your list, your performance rates are looking worse than they actually are. When you’re focused on sending to an engaged list, conversion rates should go up. So should overall email performance metrics and deliverability. Besides, you can always resend to the less engaged list separately, which helps you to set baselines for that group.

Engagement is dynamic, not static

Whether someone lands on an engaged or an unengaged list, they likely won’t stay there forever. Engagement changes over time and can be cyclical depending on industries. A good way to shift thinking here is to always be thinking: “how do I continually provide value to this person so that they engage?”

Sometimes, you may be providing value, and any disengagement that’s happening may have nothing to do with you or your content. Case in point, Jade gets the Morning Brew newsletter. But she hadn’t been opening them for about a month. Morning Brew emailed her to ask if she still wanted to get their emails. Her response: “Thanks for asking. Yes! I do!” People are cyclical, and life happens, which is why Melodie suggests setting baselines for what unengaged means.

Bonus Tip: Jump into the event replay at the 22:48 mark to hear Melodie explain how all those high school emails people give you but never check may be dinging your company’s deliverability, somewhat unfairly.

Creative re-engagement campaigns

You don’t have to immediately cut unengaged contacts from your database. Once you’ve found them, spend time learning about this segment and develop re-engagement campaigns that approach from a different angle.

Maybe you offer your unengaged audience a unique event experience, or the opportunity to test a new product or service. Get creative. But at the end of the day, if they haven’t re-engaged after your efforts, you need to be able to cut them from your list so you can focus on people who are your raving fans. Your deliverability metrics will thank you.

Keep learning

Catch the event replay for more from Melodie, including a Q&A that covers the happy medium of sending frequency, and using Lead Source on a Contact to qualify a Lead. You can also let us know if you’re team #goatcheese.

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