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Blogs by Barb Perell

8 Steps to Email List Hygiene

Rubber Ducks - Hygiene
It goes without saying that a clean and productive email list is crucial for effective digital marketing. But where to start? Here are Avalon’s recommendations for keeping your email list in tip-top shape.

1. Garbage in, garbage out.

Start by collecting and importing good, clean names on your list — names that you have permission to contact. This can include people who sign up on your website or at events, or who take an action on your behalf with the knowledge that you’ll email them in return. If you add people who do not want to be on your list, they will quickly unsubscribe — or worse, ignore you!

2. Seeing double.

Employ a double opt-in process in which subscribers must confirm their sign up through an email they receive immediately after submitting their email address. This confirms that the subscriber really does want to be on your list and hear from your organization.

3. Give that squeaky wheel some grease.

If you’re not paying attention to your email metrics like deliverability, unsubscribes, open rates, and complaints, they can sap the productivity of your email list. Track these metrics with every email you send and review them over time to identify trends and create an action plan to address anything troubling. Poor deliverability percentages could mean an ISP is blocking your email. High unsubscribes could mean your subscribers didn’t like the message or felt they were getting too many messages. Low open rates? Could be the time of day you sent the email — or maybe the subject line or sender name didn’t resonate. Whatever the issue, the data in these metrics can tell you what’s happening.

4. That’s the way the ball bounces…or is it?

Review bounced emails, which fall into two categories.

Soft bounces are email addresses that are temporarily unavailable (e.g., busy server, full mailbox because someone’s on vacation, etc.). Most email platforms will attempt to send email to soft bounces again, usually up to a certain number of times before flagging them as undeliverable.

Hard bounces are emails that are undeliverable either because the email address no longer exists or because there is a typo in it.

Email service providers can block delivery for other reasons, sometimes arbitrary. Review your bounce-backs to see if a specific provider (e.g., Hotmail, Comcast) makes up the majority. This could mean you are being blacklisted.

5. Churning is for butter.

Some people will join your email list and fall off later because they changed jobs and didn’t send you an updated email address. Others will unsubscribe. The rate at which email addresses go bad, either through bounce-backs or unsubscribes, is your list’s churn rate. It’s important to review growth and attrition of your list to determine an acceptable churn rate for your organization. For comparison, the most recent M+R benchmark study shows an average monthly churn rate of about 1.5%.

6. Get off the fence.

Do you have inactive folks on your email list? These are people who are on your list, but not engaging with your emails through opens, clicks, or taking an action — but they aren’t unsubscribing, either. Review your list to identify inactive subscribers – start with the segment of people who haven’t opened an email in 12 months. You may be surprised! Then, develop a plan to re-engage these people through a series of email communications designed to remind them why they signed up in the first place. If that doesn’t work…

Takeaways from the Luminate Benchmark Report

Benchmark Keyboard

Blackbaud’s 2015 Luminate Online Benchmark report is out and has some interesting takeaways:

        • Email house files grew at a median rate of 11.82 percent. List growth continues to be a priority, though investment is key.
        • The number of donation and advocacy email sends increased 17 percent, but this does not mean that any one individual is getting more email (even though it may seem that way). Rather, people may be getting fewer — but more relevant — emails, thanks to more sophisticated segmentation. We have so many data points about our email list subscribers, so be sure to use this data to tailor content to your readers’ interests, behaviors, and relationships with your organization.
        • Fundraising email open and click-through rates declined, but the good news is that the rate of decline has slowed. Open rates are at 15.34 percent — a 2.25 percent decrease from last year (compare this to M+R’s 12 percent). Click-through rates are at 0.61 percent, which represents an 8.41 percent decrease. It’s getting harder and harder to get opens and clicks. Two tactics that can help? Always offer stellar content that your subscribers want, and optimize your emails for mobile.
        • Conversion rates are down 11 percent from last year and are at 0.04 percent (compared to M+R’s 0.07 percent). See above — good content and a mobile-friendly viewing experience can help here, too.
        • Median online giving grew nearly 9 percent this year, and first-time online giving is sluggish. But repeat online giving is strong. This stat consistently increases, even though online giving for most organizations still only represents 7-10 percent of overall giving.

The Pressure Is On!

Calendar - Dec 31 image

We’ve always known that year-end fundraising is crucial. But in the course of ongoing internal statistical analysis, we were recently reminded of just how important it is to a successful direct marketing program—because it’s such a huge percentage of the whole. And its prevalence is growing; in fact, the percent of yearly revenue from year-end giving has steadily increased almost three points over the past five years.

Data from four Avalon clients illustrates this year-end increase:

green chart - year end 1

The takeaway is clear: Nearly a third of direct marketing revenue comes in at year end—sometimes as much as half, if you consider only online revenue. Consequently, you should place a great deal of focus on getting ready for this all-important fundraising opportunity. 

We recommend our colleague TJ Hillinger’s 2014 blog on best practices for prepping for year-end campaigns. It’s a matter of getting your ducks in a row early—which means planning well in advance to seamlessly integrate your multi-channel campaigns, while also dedicating plenty of time to creative development.