Don’t Forget to Wash Your Mule and Clean Your Email List

Don’t Forget to Wash Your Mule-1

Email is the rented mule of marketing channels as in the old saying “getting beaten like a rented mule.” Email works like crazy and marketers tend to flog the heck out of it.

And the ones who flog it the most are usually those who know the least about it, like the C-level executive who gives the email manager orders to grow their email file by [insert number that is just inviting garbage data into the file here] by [insert unreasonable deadline here.] 

Then there are the folks in all levels of management who buy lists thinking it’s a shortcut to growing their files—a tactic that works until it grinds the company’s email-marketing program to a halt because its domains and IP addresses have been identified as sources of spam.

Many of the activities that come with getting aggressive with an email program carry reputational risks with them that can cripple deliverability.

But it can be difficult to explain to the uninitiated all the quirky intricacies of email, especially when the program hasn’t broken yet.

All these conditions existed long before 2020. And then there was 2020. Suddenly, it was time to flog the rented mule like it had never been flogged before.

According to a recently published report from Webbula, there was a spike in reputation-risking activity in 2020 as marketers began pushing their programs to their limits.

Webbula predicts a similar spike this year as marketers continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic.

Keeping data clean at the point of entry is one of the most important things an email manager can do to avoid deliverability issues. Employing fully confirmed or double opt in, where a new registrant must respond to a confirmation email, is one of the best ways to ensure new addresses are clean but it’s not bullet proof.

People can sign up with dummy or temporary addresses who have no intention of doing any business with the sender. Then there are habitual complainers and folks who sign up with malicious intent.

Also, most email-marketing managers aren’t their company’s first. They may be the fifth or the 10th, and have no idea how the list or lists they’re managing have been built and possibly abused by previous managers.

According to Webbula, improperly formatted email addresses, disposable domains, and duplicates accounted for 70 percent of deliverability threats on their clients’ lists in 2020, a sign of possibly purchased lists.

We should note here that companies tend to turn to data-services providers like Webbula only after they get into trouble, so the report involves a fairly self-selecting group.

However, loosey-goosey behavior is very common in the email-sender community. Twenty twenty apparently was a very loosey-goosey year. So far, 2021 doesn’t look to be much different.

Marketers are understandably looking at their email programs and thinking “more.” But too often more is translating into getting as many email addresses as possible and cutting corners to do so.

Rather than more addresses, these marketers should be thinking more mail as in increasing frequency. Yes, mail more. It’s worth trying and can always be dialed back.

But it’s important to know that the recipients of this increased frequency are high-quality, clean addresses.

Some well-meaning folks in the email community—mostly deliverability folks—contend that the answer is removing addresses that haven’t opened or clicked in a certain period of time, say, six months. Bad idea. Unopened emails to valid addresses have been shown to have a branding effect that drives sales.

Removing addresses simply because they have not opened or clicked recently needlessly damages the file, limits potential reach, and hurts sales.

It’s important to get an idea of why they aren’t opening or clicking.

[I know. Thinly veiled pitch for Webbula here. But I honestly believe in employing data-services providers to help keep lists clean, and Webbula isn’t the only data-services provider in the world.]

It’s understandable that marketers want to beat their most powerful channel like a rented mule. But they should give it a regular washing, as well.

Read Webbula’s full report here.


Magill Headshot

Ken Magill has been writing about digital marketing for more than 20 years. His work has appeared in DM News, Direct, Target Marketing, Catalog Age, Multichannel Merchant, Marketing Dive, Internet Retailer and his own newsletter The Magill Report.

Verify, Protect and Grow Your Database