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How to Keep Your Email Database Alive

Updated: May 30, 2023

A guide to keeping lists clean and making the most of engagement to contribute to your bottom line

In email marketing, it’s quality not quantity that counts. One of the most measurable - and measured - forms of marketing, email communication provides marketers with in-depth knowledge of the return on their activities: how many people opened your email; who clicked what content, and more.

Whilst growing your database is a solid objective for many marketers, managing email databases shouldn’t be overlooked as a key responsibility. Database management will help you direct your time and resources in the best way possible and maximise your company’s bottom line.

[As a slight aside, every business today needs to manage their customers' digital contacts. In the initial set up phase of a business, you might find a simple email platform sufficient to manage your contacts. As you build your marcomms and aim for bigger and more business, you will need a CRM. A CRM will make your email databases more intuitive by consolidating data from across the business and enabling you to build a fully functioning sales funnel. But we’ll look at Sales Funnels and CRM another time.]

To help you make the most of your email database, here’s our top tips on email list management.

Build Solid Foundations

The first step to building the most effective email database is to ensure the data you are collecting is accurate. Some email service providers (ESPs) include built-in address verification tools which will flag up email addresses that look to have typos - such as homtail instead of hotmail - as well as cleanse addresses that are duplicates. Some ESPs run even deeper cleans when addresses are added to your database, removing generic email addresses such as sales@ or admin@.

Once populated, it’s time to segment your list. The more information your subscribers share, the more meaningful your communications will be. The ability to sort your list - by demographics such as location, age and gender, or by business insights such as how often they purchase, what they purchase, how often they read your emails or buyer personas - will help you share messages in a timely and targeted manner.

Read more about the Essentials of Marcomms in our blog.

Use It or Lose It

Put simply, if you give someone the opportunity to sign up to your database, you need to use their information - keeping them active - or you will ultimately lose it, most likely through disillusionment or disinterest!

One of the easiest ways to utilise your database is automation. Most ESPs provide workflows for your database, automatically sending them a templated email at key stages throughout their journey with your brand.


Welcome messages are one of the simplest forms of automation, triggered once someone signs up to your database. Depending on your business and industry, it could include a welcome offer (discount or value add), a personalised introduction to your brand from a senior spokesperson, the latest content you have created or a combination of all three. On average, welcome emails have an open rate four times higher than regular emails, with five times the click through rate.

Depending on the data you have about your list and how it is segmented, you can set automation rules for emails to celebrate a personal milestone such as a birthday or wedding anniversary; or a business related activity such as 10th order placed, abandoned shopping basket reminders or time passed since they last purchased from you.

Analyse Your Emails

As with all marketing activities, a task isn’t completed until the activity has been assessed and lessons noted for refining future activities. After you’ve sent an email campaign - including regularly assessing your automated workflows - review the results.

Consider how your email open rates stack up against your industry. Benchmarks are published by sector on top ESPs including Campaign Monitor (with an average open rate of 18% across all industries), HubSpot (20.94%) and Mailchimp (21.33%). If your list is up to date and your open rate is falling below your industry and historic list average, test different subject lines. This is the key driver in encouraging people to open your email.

Manage your hard bounces - these will be permanent issues such as invalid email addresses. Remove these people from your list or mark them as inactive so they no longer receive your emails. Soft bounces are temporary delivery problems such as being sent to a full inbox or a server issue: these won’t affect your rating but if a subscriber is repeatedly soft bouncing, it’s worth considering whether you want to keep them active.

‘Win Back’ Inactive Subscribers

Before removing people from your list, consider running a re-engagement campaign. This can be set up under your automated campaigns, triggered if a subscriber hasn’t opened or engaged with one of your emails in the last three or six months.

Depending on your industry, you could offer a discount or value add for purchase, or simply ask them to update their information. Perhaps the information they want to receive from you has changed. Perhaps they simply want to unsubscribe - everyone is entitled to change their mind.

Just as social media and search engines increasingly prioritise relevance in assessing the content they put in front of users, marketers should keep relevance front of mind when managing an email list.

Let Your List Have Control

The best marketing programmes give power to subscribers. Let them set the frequency they receive emails from you, and the topics they want to hear about. Utilise dynamic content fields and segmentation to provide a variety of messages to different audiences at your fingertips.

As well as giving them the choice about how and when you contact them, you need to provide an easy way of opting out or unsubscribing. Accept that times change - whether someone has changed companies or no longer wants the product or service you provide, giving them a clear and easy way to unsubscribe means they’re less likely to mark your email as spam just to get it out of their inbox.

This step is like throwing the curdled milk from your fridge - leaving it will lead to a stinky fridge, just as too many ‘stale’ contacts can lead to your email send rating stinking!

Email marketing is the most direct channel: you can target specific audiences who already have shown interest in your brand. It is not beholden to social media or search engine algorithms in placing your message in front of an audience. With 347.3 billion emails sent each day, some people opt out of email marketing simply because of fatigue. Letting people opt out doesn’t mean they’re lost forever: signpost other ways they can keep in touch with you such as your social media channels as that may be their preferred method of communication.

Benefits of Having an Active Email List

Besides boosting key engagement metrics like open rate, an active email list will help protect your reputation with your ESP. Some services will blacklist the IP addresses of those who send emails that are frequently marked as spam or have a high bounce rate. By removing inactive and disengaged users, you will reduce your bounce rate.

Think of your list as a living, breathing entity that needs tending to so it can thrive. Just like a garden, if you don’t care for it and put the time in doing the ‘ugly’ jobs of weeding and sowing, you won’t be able to enjoy the colours of a garden in full flourish.

Quality subscribers are those who actively engage with your brand. They open your emails. They click on your content. They ultimately buy from you. By keeping your database up to date, cleansed of inactive and outdated email addresses, you’ll be using your time to communicate with people who are open to hearing from you and no longer wasting your energy shouting into a void.

Read more in our blog How to stay in touch with your target audience. If you need assistance managing your databases, why not get in contact and arrange a meeting with one of the team?

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