How to Maintain a Quality Email List

September 1, 2016 Appirio

By Erin Lively

In an ideal world, everyone who subscribes to your email list eagerly awaits your company’s messages in their inbox. But the reality is that not every lead will develop into a profitable relationship. Growing an email list by creating and reinforcing an optimized Customer Experience can engage quality subscribers and minimize dead-end leads. Retaining and capitalizing on promising leads requires constant monitoring and maintenance — learning to distinguish a promising lead from an inopportune one.

quality email list

A successful email list is comprised of active and engaged subscribers. If subscribers are neither, you have 2 options: re-engage them or remove them. In monitoring your list, you should be cognizant of 3 subscriber categories: invalid, unengaged, and active.

Invalid subscribers: bad or dormant email addresses

Users may misspell their email, provide a fake address, delete their email account, or abandon it until the inbox is at capacity. No matter the reason, the result is the same: invalid subscribers are impossible to reach. The emails distributed to these addresses are undeliverable and will register as a “bounce”; the more bounces, the worse the sender reputation, and the more likely you are to be labeled as spam.

Luckily for us, every email service provider offers bounce rate reports to monitor the success of email delivery. Investigate the reason for the bounce and brainstorm the appropriate response… but don’t be too hasty to remove the account from your database. Many times you will find it’s a bad or dormant address, but this is not always the case. A few sporadic bounces may be a result of other problems, like a busy server. Flag email accounts with one or 2 bounces to monitor closely in the future. To keep a legitimate email list, a threshold of 3 to 5 bounces before deletion is a good rule of thumb.

Unengaged subscribers: remove or re-engage?

Your messages are reaching their inbox… but that’s about it. Your company’s communication and promotions are either going unopened or ignored. To determine if a subscriber is completely inactive or just unresponsive, email service providers offer reports outlining who is clicking and who isn’t. This insight can lead to several viable solutions to better target unengaged subscribers and create a Customer Experience tailored to their unique engagement patterns.


First, it’s possible the frequency of communication is overwhelming and subscribers currently view your messages as a nuisance. Limiting the number of emails sent to inactive subscribers may restore their interest. If your company name only appears in their inbox periodically, they may instead see messages as a delightful surprise.

Second, subscribers may feel that there is little ROI, so to speak, for opening your emails. To incentivize subscribers, create a re-engagement campaign offering exclusive promotional discounts or giveaways in emails.

Third, know that, unfortunately, you can’t salvage every relationship. Allowing people to easily unsubscribe from your distribution list is a better alternative than being marked as spam, as being repeatedly marked as spam is the kiss of death for your sender reputation. Circulate an email to all unengaged subscribers with options to continue or stop receiving messages. This provides them with an easy out that will not damage your reputation.

The active subscribers: never stop improving

Active subscribers are in every way the ideal; they open and interact with email campaigns. But without the right level of attention, they can easily slip through the cracks and downgrade to unengaged or even invalid subscribers. Maintaining a successful and clean email list is an ongoing process, constantly cycling between the growth and maintenance stages. The work is never done and there is always room for improvement. Providing a great and adaptive Customer Experience throughout the customer journey is the only way to engage and retain active subscribers.


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