Your Guide to Spring Email Cleaning 2024

email cleaning

The first quarter of the year is in the books. How are things going with your email marketing? If you’re feeling like they could be better, it’s not too late to put 2024 on the right track with a little spring email cleaning. 

Clean your [email] house today using this guide to set yourself up for a relaxing, email feng shui experience where your hard work cleaning pays you back in dividends for the rest of the year – and then some! 

Email Cleaning is an Essential Best Practice 

Sure, you won’t often face sudden and imminent disaster if you decide to shirk a best practice, but we know convenience can be a slippery slope. One day you decide to let a bounced email address stay on your list for one more distribution and the next thing you know, your list is cluttered with nothing but junk! 

Keeping a best-practice-driven strategy all year is important for continued success. Though we’re talking “spring cleaning,” this isn’t a one-time scrub. Like a house, it requires upkeep and some diligence to keep it feeling like home. 

Benefits of an Email Cleaning Regimen 

We don’t just recommend having a regular and thorough hygiene regimen because we like things alphabetized. Having a consistently clean list with a best practice-led marketing strategy is your best shot at reaching maximum ROI on email. 

When you prioritize regular maintenance on your data and decision-making, you benefit from: 

  • Improved data quality: You’ll have less junk addresses, more quality contacts. 
  • Improved engagement: Improve your targeting and messaging for more relevant, engaging emails that generate a lot of positive interactions (like opens, clicks, replies, forwarding it to friends) and very few negative interactions (spam complaints, unsubscribes). 
  • Improved reputation: Demonstrating a commitment to best practices is highly desirable to mailbox providers, and they’ll reward you for your hard work. 
  • Improved performance: Better data plus more engaged recipients equals more success, and isn’t that what we’re all here for? 

Consequences of Neglecting Upkeep 

See that list above? Think of all the opposites of those benefits! Truly, though, you won’t only miss out on some really great reputation signals to improve your deliverability if you choose to be less diligent about hygiene.  

You risk: 

Don’t live and work in a dirty house. Let’s clean up. 

Email Housekeeping Items 

Spring cleaning can be overwhelming, especially if you either aren’t great at keeping a tidy house (not talking about me, surely) or aren’t sure where to begin. 

Let’s create an email cleaning to-do list so you know where to start, where to go, and where you can expect to be when you’re all done with the big lift. 

Create Benchmarking Standards 

First, set your baseline: What email metrics do you consider the absolute minimum requirement? These standards should be your guiding light both today in cleaning and tomorrow in upkeep. 

Look at your past performance and determine the following: 

What are your typical hard and soft bounce rates?
If you notice fluctuations, you know it is time to investigate your list quality and start cleaning up old or errant addresses before you have a code-red dirty list situation. 

What engagement signals do you prioritize?
If you have a recipient who consistently opens but never clicks, should that person be moved to a different list or segment? We’ll get into this more later, but make sure you’re prioritizing the engagement activities best aligned with your goals. 

If you’re using a comprehensive email performance tool like SocketLabs Spotlight, you should be able to get these details quickly and easily. Most email service providers (ESPs) will give you the basics like opens and clicks at the very least, but you should also monitor signals downstream suggesting your email may be keeping your brand top of mind, even if folks aren’t opening your email. 

For example, your email might not get an open, but the recipient did see your brand name and subject line, sort of like a virtual billboard on the side of the road. Did you notice a spike in web traffic on an email day even if your open rates weren’t stellar? Were there more logins that day than usual? These can tell you a whole lot, even if they aren’t strictly “email” metrics. 

What length of inactivity do you find acceptable?
For instance, if an individual hasn’t opened an email in two months, do you consider them inactive and remove them from your lists? Or, do you consider them inactive when they have no engagement with your email after six months? This will help you determine who to cull from your lists and who to move to “at-risk” lists where you can start to re-engage. Use these signs to continually move people around on an ongoing basis. 

Set Your Standards and Create Plans 

After your benchmarking exercise, you should know exactly what procedure you’re gonna follow if someone hasn’t opened an email in six months, or what you need to do if you’re noticing a slip in performance related to your list quality. 

Using your standards, you should then have “if-X, then-Y” tasks to complete on a rolling basis. Every Monday, look at your list – do you have 10 people who now are past that six-month mark? Goodbye. One person opened one email in the last 20 distributions? You know that qualifies them for a re-engagement campaign. 

You’ve now got your ongoing maintenance checklist! 

Prune your Email Lists 

When spring cleaning, you’re going to need to be pruning your email lists. That’s a given. This activity will be the cornerstone of your upkeep processes, so let’s get into it a little deeper. 

With lists full of addresses collected years ago, you increase the risk of deliverability issues. These dead-weight folks could give mailbox providers (MBPs) the impression your mail is unwanted simply because they’re always ignoring you or deleting your emails without reading them.  

If you haven’t been sending in a while, you could have loads of inactive or errant addresses, too, potentially spiking bounce rates or trap hits. Those are bad news for your deliverability. 

We recommend bucketing your findings into two groups: 

  • Deletes: These are addresses with clear issues – bounces, unsubscribes, no activity for year(s) 
  • Standby: These are addresses at risk of deletion, but have the potential for re-engagement – mostly based on activity 

Say goodbye to those in the delete bucket and put the standbys into a re-engagement campaign. If you don’t see progress with them, into the delete bucket they go. 

Like we mentioned earlier, you can get this information from performance monitoring tools like SocketLabs Spotlight reporting. With us, you can go from overview-style information (low audience score) to in-depth information (15% bad addresses at Gmail) in less than five clicks.  

You also can see clear visualizations of classic metrics like opens, clicks, unsubs, complaints, and so on, so you can research patterns, look at recipient-level activity, and more when you need to. 

One more note: Some places will encourage list validation services to verify the authenticity of email addresses. While validation can be beneficial, you can likely get the same type of results by sending to your lists regularly, monitoring engagement, and making decisions based on what you’re seeing in your email data. 

Organize your Lists 

Once you’ve separated the bad from the good and you have an audience you’re confident in, you can start getting strategic. Lists with “good” addresses but poor engagement can be damaging, too, just like lists filled with booby-trap addresses, so you’ll want to start segmenting your lists intelligently. 

We recently published a blog all about segmentation, complete with recommendations and tips, so we won’t over-complicate this here, but we’ll give you some of the most important guidance. 

You can split lists by behavior, like purchasing history, or demographics, like geographic region. You can make it as simple as moving people with recent engagement onto one list and those who don’t qualify onto another. 

You can also segment mail by stream, not just by lists or recipients. So, if you send both marketing and transactional mail, you should consider sending them in different batches via IP or domain. SocketLabs users with a little complexity in their email programs can use Rule Engine to sort mail by attribute. If something is tagged as transactional, you can set a rule to route it to the appropriate place with automation to make segmentation easy and instant without a ton of manual intervention. 

Overall, neatly organizing your recipients into bunches that make sense can make your life easier: 

  • You know exactly what kind of content to give each group  
  • You know exactly what attributes should belong in each one 
  • You can test and optimize according to each group’s needs 

Again, once you’ve done this the first time as part of your big spring email clean, it should be much easier to keep this process going so you can better avoid major overhauls in the future. 

Refresh your Relationships 

If you have a relatively large bucket of people in the “standby” bucket, consider doing a spring relationship refresh with a re-engagement campaign. The success of this kind of campaign can help further clean or segment your organized lists. 

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel but try to mix things up a bit. Remember, what you’ve been doing isn’t working for them, so think outside of the box. Try new messaging or offer a new benefit they haven’t seen before. You could also consider adding a preference center and directing them there so you can better tailor your communication to them. 

But don’t give up too soon. You might feel discouraged by no engagement but give them a few attempts before you decide to move them to your bye-bye box. 

Of course, you can monitor the performance of these tests with Spotlight. It’s particularly helpful when you need to track engagement at the message-level. You can even do recipient-level analysis! 

Breathe in that FRESH Air! 

Once you have a clean email house, you know what it takes to keep a clean house. Do you want to consistently maintain a tidy home with good practices, or do you want to let dust and dirt pile up until it gets too gross to live in and you have to do a major emailing cleaning that can cost lots of time and money? 

I hate cleaning and even I know the answer to THAT question. Investing in your future performance by spending time on a regular basis will make it a lot easier to maintain a solid, consistent performance all year long.  

Choosing a comprehensive ESP with not only great reporting capabilities but tools like Rule Engine can also save you time AND money, helping you detect risks, avoid issues, proactively improve performance, and overall provide a nice place for you to live your best email life without Cinderella-level hard labor. 

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