Best Practices for Email List Management

So, you’ve been growing your mailing list and are delighted with the results. Now you face a new problem: you’ve got hundreds of email addresses captured from various sources, with zero organization scheme to manage them. How can you target different people on your list with the right messages? What happens if addresses on your list go bad? And how can you reduce the dreaded unsubscribes? 

Understanding how to manage your email marketing lists will not only help you keep your subscribers engaged, but also save yourself the headache of dealing with an unwieldy spreadsheet. Here are the best practices you should adopt to keep your lists healthy and happy.

Segment Automatically

If you’re collecting email addresses from a single source and don’t need to send out various funnels to your subscribers, you can probably get away with an unsegmented list. Most businesses, however, don’t meet this requirement. You have new leads, abandoning leads, existing customers, lost customers, customers who simply don’t open your emails… the list goes on (pun intended). If you don’t send targeted messages to each of these groups, you risk driving people off your list. And if you release content on various topics, you’ve added another level of complexity to deal with.

Let’s say that you run a gym that also sells sports equipment. You have two brick-and-mortar locations that are 30 miles apart, plus an e-commerce store to sell equipment and memberships. You want to send out everything from fitness tips to class schedules to flash sale announcements to membership updates. You’ve collected leads from multiple places, including each location’s front desk, social media platforms, and QR codes that you ship out with your products. All those leads have different interests; members of Location A don’t care about class schedule changes in Location B, and those who have just subscribed for the free fitness tips aren’t interested in your online store’s sales. This example highlights the importance of segmenting as you capture leads, as well as integrating your email marketing list with your CRM to send appropriate messages to each lead or customer. 

Welcome Your New Subscribers 

Once you’ve captured an email address, you’re good, right? You can just start emailing them your newsletter? Sadly, no. First, the recipient’s email client may categorize your emails as spam. Second, the recipient may forget they subscribed. Either way, you’re raising your risk of spam reports and neglecting to affirm your new relationship with your leads. Email list management best practices start with transparency: you should always send new subscribers a welcome message. (Tip: set this up before you start growing your list.)

A welcome email (or sequence, if you like) pulls triple duty: it affirms whatever message the recipient saw before subscribing, it gives you a chance to ask to be whitelisted, and it prepares the lead for the content they can expect from you. All these things together show your subscribers that you’re invested in them. It can help them overcome the icky feeling that you just wanted their address to sell to them. Plus, it’s polite!

Allow Subscribers to Customize Their Experience

Would you rather email your subscribers once per week and have them actually read it, or three times per week and get crickets in response? For most marketers, the choice is easy. Of course, there are those dream subscribers who open and read every single message you send, but let’s face it, most people just don’t have the time to read all their emails. If you send out a lot of content, give them a chance to control the flow. Otherwise, you risk them unsubscribing.

According to MarketingSherpa, the number-one reason that people leave a list is not that they’re bothered by your content or feel like you email too often. It’s literally that they get too many emails in general. If you allow them to reduce the number of emails they get from you (and therefore in general), you just might earn yourself a place in their inbox. 

By the same token, don’t force subscribers to receive all your content. Some people just want order updates and account management emails — and that’s okay. Other people could not care less about your latest blog but are eager to jump on your flash sales. If you’ve properly segmented your list, you should be able to send highly targeted messages to each person, based on their interests and position in your sales funnel. 

Remove Subscribers Who Aren’t Engaged

In most cases, you’re paying for the number of subscribers you have, not the number of emails you send. For that reason, it’s crucial to prune your email marketing lists. Everyone, no matter how great their content is, has some recipients who never open their emails. (Or they open them but never read or click on them, which is a sure sign that they’re clicking on them to delete them.) You can try to re-engage these subscribers, but if you still don’t get bites, it’s time to say goodbye. Why waste your hard-earned money on people who don’t engage with you? Plus, this makes room for new subscribers who are happy to be there. 

Get Rid of Dead Addresses

It happens: people’s email addresses cease working, and any messages sent to them bounce back to you. (This is called a “hard bounce.”) You might also get duplicates on your list, especially if people sign up in different places. Ideally, your email marketing provider will catch these issues, but it’s worth your attention to practice “list hygiene.” Check your list on a regular basis, and pay special attention when your bounce rate rises. This could be a sign of too many broken contacts — or fake addresses! (Yes, it happens.)

Keep an eye on “soft bounces” as well. These are email addresses that technically exist, but the inbox can’t accept any more mail, or the server is rejecting your messages for some reason. To fix the latter, ensure that your email is properly labeled and meets anti-spam regulations. Then, send a confirmation email to new subscribers to encourage them to whitelist your address. This will help your message get past any filters. 

Both types of bounces can impact your sender reputation. Email marketing providers take them as signs that your emails are spammy or that you’ve purchased a list (which is a big no-no). By removing these addresses from your list, you improve your deliverability rate and therefore your sender reputation.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

Gasp! Weren’t we just talking about ways to avoid unsubscribes? Yes, but ultimately, it’s going to happen. You don’t need to take it personally: perhaps the subscriber would simply prefer to follow you on social media, or they are moving out of your service area, or they simply get too many damn emails. Either way, you must make it easy for them to leave your list. If you don’t, you not only risk violating your region’s regulations about digital communications, but you are also demonstrating to your leads that you’re more concerned about vanity metrics than serving them. That’s not a good look.

Remember, there’s no rule that says they can’t re-subscribe. Sometimes, they might just want to switch email addresses, which you should make easy as well. If you prevent them from leaving, they will feel like hostages, and they’re likely going to get a sour taste about your business. Play it safe and make it painless for people to unsubscribe. After all, you don’t want to pay for people who don’t want to be there, right? 


The bottom line is that your list isn’t something that keeps growing without interruption. It will experience breakage, false addresses, and drops in engagement. People will come and go, but a healthy list is one that reliably delivers the best content for most of its members. To get better results from your email marketing campaigns, it’s crucial to keep your list clean, tidy, and full of engaged subscribers. In the long run, this saves you money, reduces overall unsubscribes, and protects your sender reputation.


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