10 Tips for Building and Maintaining a Quality Email List

Your email list is one of the most important assets you have, and a high-quality list is worth its weight in gold. What exactly is a quality list? It's made up of valid email addresses to which you have clear permission to send specific content.

Why does the quality of your list matter? For starters, it can have a direct impact on the deliverability of your emails. When you continue to mail to addresses that have bounced, ISPs take notice. They take even more notice when you get spam complaints from your recipients (their customers). Remember that these days, most ISPs define spam as any email their customers have indicated they don't want to receive.

A low-quality list can also have a direct impact on the success of your emails. You're sending emails because you want to communicate with your contacts. If they don't receive your email because it is either blocked or delivered to their spam folder, you aren't reaching them. And if they are annoyed at your content or your frequency, they are likely to delete your message or file a spam complaint. Either way, you won't get the opens, click-throughs, and other results you are seeking.

So your deliverability and your reputation with your subscribers are deeply intertwined... and building and maintaining a clean list is critical to keeping both on the right track!

7 Tips for Building a Quality List

Now that we've covered why it's essential to have a quality list, let's look at 7 techniques for how to build one.

1. Ask permission - Remember that an effective email list is one composed of people who know and want to hear from your organization. Always make sure you have explicit permission to mail to your contacts. This is not only an industry best practice; it's also a very practical way to reduce your complaints and improve your deliverability. (A bigger list is not better if your recipients are ignoring your email and filing spam complaints.) If you haven't been asking permission, now is the time to start.

2. Confirm your online sign ups - To avoid problems with online sign-ups, such as typographical errors or attacks in which a malicious person or program inputs bogus addresses, it's a good idea to require confirmation before you add them to your list. This is usually done by having the sign-up trigger a confirmation email requiring the new list member to click on a link to confirm their subscription before they are added to your list.

3. Set expectations - Set clear expectations next to your sign-up box about what you will do with the address, including what kind of content you plan to send and how frequently you plan to send it.

4. Collect subscriber preferences - If it's feasible, give your subscribers some control over what content types they're interested in receiving and how often they'd like to hear from you. Many people unsubscribe from lists because they feel that the content isn't relevant or they are getting mailings too frequently.

5. Start communicating right away - To help people remember that they opted in to your list, it's a good idea to follow up promptly with a confirmation. Best practice is to respond with a welcome email that acknowledges that you've received their confirmed sign-up, introduces your organization, and reminds them of what content you'll be sending to them.

6. Be consistent with your "from" name and address - To be easily recognizable, use the same "from" name and email address in all your mailings and make sure it clearly identifies your organization. Avoid using a personal name or email address that people may not associate with your organization.

7. Ask to be added to their "Contact" list - This quick step can help to ensure delivery and will see to it that images and links are enabled in your future messages. It also sends a signal to the ISP that your mail is wanted.

3 Tips for Maintaining a Quality List

Here are 3 tips on how to maintain your list quality over time.

1. Monitor your bounces - A "bounce" is a message from a receiver, such as an ISP, telling you there is a problem delivering your message. For example, the address you are sending to may be invalid because of a typographical error or because someone has moved to a new company or ISP. "Non-existent" addresses should be removed promptly, and even notifications of temporary failures like "mailbox full" are worth monitoring. If you continue to see the same bounce message for very long, consider removing that address from your list. Continuing to mail to addresses that you've been notified are invalid hurts your sending reputation and deliverability at those ISPs.

2. Monitor your recipients' activity - If you have open or click-through statistics, use them to understand what your contacts strongest interests are, then follow through by tuning the content of future mailings to reflect those interests. Also, respond promptly to complaints and opt-outs and treat them as valuable feedback.

3. Consider an opt-in campaign - If some of the people on your list haven't opened or clicked on your emails for a significant amount of time, they may no longer find your emails relevant. One option is the industry best practice of a confirmed opt-in (COI) campaign, where you send an email whose express purpose is to re-establish permission.

In this case, if the person you email does not explicitly confirm that they want to continue to receive your emails, their address must be handled as an opt-out as defined by CAN-SPAM. Many Email Service Providers (ESPs) provide tools for COI campaigns that manage the confirmations and the implied opt-outs for you. However, if your existing list was purchased, rented, or scraped, even sending a COI campaign is a permission violation: you should start fresh and build a new list with permission-based techniques.

Establishing a solid relationship with the people on your email list is the best way to build their trust in your organization's products and services. By following the tips laid out in this article and respecting your subscribers' preferences, you can keep your list golden. And as an added bonus, you will also likely see improved deliverability and better success with your email campaigns.

by Ellen Siegel, Constant Contact Director of Technology and Standards, Constant Contact www.constantcontact.com