Here’s How to Maintain Your Email Marketing List for Engagement and Better Deliverability

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Posted: September 17, 2013 | Email Marketing

Most companies focus their time and energy on building their email marketing list – as well they should. But it’s not enough just to build a list – you also need to maintain it. This means:

  1. Letting subscribers manage their preferences (or opt-out if they wish), and
  2. Proactively cleaning and culling inactive subscribers.

Email Subscription Centers

One of the best ways to manage your list – and simultaneously establish trust with your audience – is to allow them to take control of the communications they receive.

By law, you need to allow subscribers to opt-out. Most opt-out forms are pretty bare: you ask a subscriber to enter his email address — if it’s not pre-populated — and, perhaps, his reason for leaving. As a marketer watching a subscriber march out the door, wouldn’t it be better to give him one last chance to stay? What if you could offer a few subscription-frequency options in a human, friendly voice that lets him know you care about his needs?

This is where you can go further (and often reduce opt-outs) by creating a subscription center on your website. When subscribers click “manage my preferences” or “unsubscribe,” they will be taken to the center and given the option of changing their communication preferences or the frequency with which they receive your emails. Maybe they still like you and don’t really want to leave you — they just want to see less of you.

Here’s a great example from Bonobos, a men’s clothing line:

bonobos opt-down

When a Bonobos subscriber clicks “unsubscribe” in an email, he’s taken to his preferences page, where he can choose how often he’d like to receive messages, including never. Through the use of appealing language and humor, Bonobos is savvy about offering options that decrease a subscriber’s likelihood of unsubscribing. As a result, Bonobos retains 25% of those who would have otherwise opted out.

At Marketo, we allow subscribers to choose which “channels” to subscribe to, unsubscribe from, or to simply pause for 90 days.

 Marketo subscription center

Fab goes even further with its subscription center. Customers can choose email delivery days and the content they want to receive: sales information, order confirmations, invites, and/or inspirational emails.

 Personalize Fab Experience

In your subscription center, give your subscribers options such as:

  • A list of all current subscriptions. Show subscription details.
  • The ability to customize preferences. Checkboxes make it simple to change subscription options.
  • A pause option. For subscribers going on vacation, or who simply need a break from the information stream, offer the ability to pause for a certain period of time. This option can help decrease your unsubscribe numbers.
  • The ability to “opt-down.” Opting down allows subscribers to receive fewer — but not zero — emails.

Clean Inactive Subscribers

Do you suspect that a lot of your subscribers have emotionally opted out? The Marketo Benchmark on Email Performance study found that most marketers are pretty sure a significant percentage of their subscribers are inactive — neither opening email, reading them, nor bothering to unsubscribe.

When we asked, “What percent of your lists do you consider inactive?” the most common answer was 26-50%, with more than 20% of respondents saying 51-75%. What’s more, the top performers — those who tend to be the most on their email game — were even more cynical about the average level of engagement of people on their lists.

 jon4

If you can identify your inactive subscribers, remove them.  This kind of list maintenance is essential for ensuring that your email marketing is engaging consumers and customers. “As an organization’s email marketing program matures, routinely and methodically ‘scrubbing’ its subscriber list becomes a greater priority,” according to MarketingSherpa’s Special Report: CMO Perspectives on Email Deliverability.

And it is increasingly important for making sure your emails get delivered to the inbox. As Melinda Plemel of ReturnPath says, “In the end, removing inactive subscribers is often the action needed to get your mail back to the inbox and in front of your customers.”  Furthermore, when MarketingSherpa asked companies what tactics they use to improve email deliverability, the most common answer was to remove inactive subscribers.

 jon5

So how do you do this?  The best way is to send an email (or a series of emails) to subscribers that have not opened, clicked, shared, or converted for a while. In each message, give them the option to remain on the list or opt out. Once you’ve sent your final email in the series, go ahead and remove those who haven’t responded. They’re dead to you, after all (pun intended).

(Note: The “not converted” part of this query is essential. If you don’t include this, you risk removing subscribers who may not be active clickers, but are your biggest purchasers!)

Here’s an example of how Fab did this:

Fab opt-out

One final note: Before removing inactive subscribers, consider using one of these techniques to re-engage the most potentially valuable subscribers on your list:

  1. Run a direct mail campaign. This takes time and money, but it allows you to communicate with — and, hopefully, re-engage — subscribers through another channel.
  2. Pick up the phone and call them. The payoff could be worth it if your call is perceived as great customer service. Gary Vaynerchuck from Wine Library did this a few years ago with some amazing results.

What tactics have you used to maintain your email list and maximize engagement?

Jon (@jonmiller) is a VP and co-founder at Marketo. He is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Read Jon's Blogs

You've got a great email list, but how do you maintain it? A little humor & lots of options go a long way @jonmiller

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