Email Scrubbing: When to Say Goodbye to Disengaged Users
Rebecca Nackson
Rebecca Nackson

Email Scrubbing: When to Say Goodbye to Disengaged Users

Rebecca Nackson, Director of Growth Services

Valentine’s Day is here, and for many people, it serves as a reminder to do a little relationship checkup. How are things going? Does something need more attention? Does this still spark joy?

I’m not in a position to tell you how to evaluate your romantic relationship, but I do know about managing email lists, and I can say that sitting on an email database often feels like being in a long-term relationship — and similarly, it’s easy to get complacent. After all, you have the commitment, the numbers look good on paper, so why fix something that isn’t broken?

On the other hand, if you’re frustrated or not getting the results you want, there can be a strong impulse to throw in the towel and just move on. It doesn’t seem to be working, so let’s can it and try something else. If you’re considering seriously cleaning up your email list, you’ve probably heard these three main arguments:

1. Cost savings: The fewer emails you send, the less you spend

2. Data integrity: Your email metrics will better reflect how engaged your email list is if you weed out uninterested users

3. Keeping your reputation clean: Internet service providers like Gmail, Yahoo!, and Outlook are maintaining a score for you behind the scenes. Think of it like a credit score, which lenders can use to predict how likely you are to repay them. Your email reputation is used to predict the likelihood that you’re sending emails that the recipients want to receive.

These are compelling reasons, but they don’t tell the whole story. If you want your emails to maximize revenue and engagement, you need to get beyond surface metrics like Date of Last Open. Here are some considerations we make whenever we think about breaking up with our email list.

They like me, they like me not

I’m the first to admit I’m guilty of using one-off situations to establish big picture assumptions. It’s not a great habit in any area of life, but making a judgment about a user’s interest or the success of an email campaign based on a single vanity metric is seriously bad news. Let’s borrow a metric from the paid media team to talk about a better way to evaluate this: cost per impression. If you’re starting to count results at the time of open, you may not be giving your email enough credit for double duty it’s performing. Maybe your subject line or pre-header text is so compelling that the user doesn’t even need to open the email, and just heads straight for your site or app to get more information.

When marketers are evaluating the impact of paid media, they measure this impression as well as the cost per click, but fewer people do it with email. Doing so may tell a more complete story about your email effectiveness, and which “quiet subscribers” you want to keep on your list.

Keep in mind that some of your audience can’t or doesn’t want to download images, which means their opens won’t be tracked (email open tracking often relies on a one-pixel, invisible image that’s embedded in an email and is counted once it’s downloaded). So if you’ve designed your email to gracefully degrade and not rely on downloaded images (which we recommend), or you have people in your audience who receive their emails in plain text, you may not be registering the full impact of your campaign.

Look for activity in other channels in conjunction with universal and category-specific email holdouts to better understand your quiet subscribers and your email’s influence. Users journeys are not linear and happen across multiple channels, so remember to see if and where there may be signs of interest/activity from your users.

It’s not “goodbye”, it’s “see you later”

As a rain-drenched Ryan Gosling once shouted to Rachel McAdams, “It wasn’t over… It STILL isn’t over!” Just like life and relationships, purchasing habits evolve in cycles. Users don’t always operate on your business reporting schedule or engage according to the strategy you meticulously put together.

Some people advise marketers to purge users after 90 days to six months of inactivity (or after not hearing from your long-distance lover for 365 days), which has more to do with internal reporting requirements than it does to your business. But if you’re selling products with a higher price point (which often comes with a longer funnel/buying cycle) or a seasonal business, this cycle isn’t going to give you a true idea of your users’ engagement. And cutting people out before they’ve gone through a full cycle could result in losing a significant segment of your audience who still have purchases ahead of them.

Always keep in mind that while pruning an email list may statistically result in higher deliverability rates and customer engagement, you’ll want to give this very careful consideration. These were, after all, previously active users.

All great things must come to an end

There’s not always one winning strategy to email list hygiene but I do have one strong recommendation for any email marketer out there: DO NOT DELETE DATA. Even if you have a segment of users that never want to hear from you again, you should maintain a record of every user, past and present. It might hurt having to let some users go, but if you love something set it free…right?

Get in touch with the Prolific Growth team to learn more about email best practices or about any growth projects you may have.