List Management Best Practices: Clean & healthy lists for a better deliverability

List Management Best Practices: Clean & healthy lists for a better deliverability - mailmonitor

Marketers who are searching for ways to improve their marketing ROI often overlook the benefits that come with email list management. This is because managing email lists take time and effort to accomplish as it ensures a mailing database stays organized.

However, building long-term relationships with contacts largely depends on having a well-managed email list. Lists that aren’t targeted and focused tend to hit-or-miss once marketers start sending out emails.

Although it doesn’t happen instantly, having a maintained list ensures that the contacts you have are actually interested in receiving your content. If you’re trying to optimize your email metrics, it’s far better to have a small email database with highly engaged subscribers than to have a huge list of uninterested people.

That’s why subscriber list management is vital because it not only increases email deliverability, but it also improves overall engagement.

So what is email list management?

What Is Email List Management?

Email list management is the act of making sure that a mailing list stays healthy. It involves practices that aim to eliminate inactive contacts from your subscriber database. This procedure is particularly essential especially since people’s interests and engagement will shift as time goes by.

It’s only normal for this to happen to subscribers, but it can still cause problems for your marketing campaigns. That’s why for these situations, it’s best to remove these contacts from your list immediately.

Email service providers such as Google and Yahoo along with anti-spam organizations are constantly monitoring several elements about senders. Besides spam complaints email addresses receive from their recipients, they also look at their rates for opens, clicks, and unsubscribes.

Subscribers who love the content you send will almost always engage with your emails as soon as they receive them. This is the best email marketers can hope for in their campaigns.

But if your engagement metrics are low, then you need to take some urgent steps to resolve this issue before it gets worse. This is because when inactive subscribers aren’t engaging with your emails, their actions can affect inbox placement even for those who are active.

Bounced emails are also another factor that inbox providers pick up on when tracking senders. The two types of bounced messages are soft bounces and hard bounces – both of which affect your sender reputation.

You want to minimize your bounce rates as much as you can since a hard bounce and a soft bounce can affect your standing among providers.

Practicing proper email list management allows you to minimize these problems from happening in the first place.

Why Is It Important to Keep Email Lists Healthy?

A healthy email list is a mailing list that has quality contacts who are engaged with your brand and want to receive updates about it. This offers numerous positive benefits to marketers that know how to take advantage of them.

On the other hand, a poor-quality list is one that has subscribers who aren’t engaged or are slowly unsubscribing from their campaigns. This has a negative effect on sending reputation which will eventually become a serious problem if left unattended.

To give you an idea of a healthy mailing list, consider the following:

  • You have a high deliverability rate and a low bounce rate
  • Most of your subscribers are consistently engaging with your content
  • Each subscriber genuinely wanted to receive your emails
  • The email campaign receives new subscribers frequently

These traits of a healthy mailing list all lead to targeted and personalized email marketing efforts that result in significantly higher ROI than unfocused campaigns. If you continue operating without cleaning your lists, most of the actions that you do will be in vain — and for good reason.

What benefit can you get from having thousands of users in your email marketing list if only a small portion of them engage with your messages? And that’s only one problem out of many. Consider the negative implications that come when your emails are constantly sent to the junk or spam folders.

The main objective in keeping your list hygiene up is so that your email campaigns can achieve the results you’re looking for. When you can manage your lists the right way, you help ensure that your efforts in crafting and designing emails are being sent to people who actually want to receive them.

How to Develop Healthy Email Lists

Email list management shouldn’t be complicated since its goal is fairly straightforward. However, that doesn’t mean that you can just ignore it in favor of other email marketing activities.

Having a clean and healthy email list sets the stage for an email campaign to be successful. That’s why it’s important to know how to develop healthy lists.

Without further ado, here are the best practices you should start doing today:

Best Practice #1: Confirm and Validate All Email Addresses In Your List

As you grow your email list, you’ll soon find yourself adding invalid email addresses in it without your knowledge. This is inevitable and it will happen no matter how much you try to avoid it. Fortunately, you can do something about this issue by validating your email database regularly.

Inboxes that are inactive should be identified right away. The main reason for this is that they are often used by anti-spam entities as spam traps.

Spam trap addresses are designed to catch senders who aren’t practicing proper email list hygiene. If you send to one of these inboxes, your sender reputation will go down significantly. This can have a huge effect on landing in the right inbox the next time you send emails.

So how can you identify inactive email addresses? This is where email validation tools can come in handy. Such apps are capable of scanning your email lists and notifying you which addresses are no longer being used.

Best Practice #2: Start Incorporating Double Opt-In

When we refer to opt-in in emails, this is the registration method that is used in order to get people to sign up for an email campaign. The two most common methods are single and double opt-in.

In single opt-in, users are immediately added to a list once they have clicked the “subscribe” button of your landing page or ad. This may seem beneficial to those prioritizing a fast-growing email list but if you want to maintain good hygiene, you want to go with the double opt-in approach.

The reason for this is that the double opt-in ensures that only people who are truly interested in your emails will sign up. It also helps prevent users from putting the wrong email address, which could result in email bounces.

When you incorporate double opt-in, every new contact interested in your campaign will receive an email that confirms the address that they just input. This approach not only results in verifying users but it also ensures the quality of your email subscribers.

Furthermore, double opt-in is also beneficial since it reduces the risk of having spammers added to your mailing list.

Best Practice #3: Start a Re-engagement Campaign for Inactive Subscribers

Inactive subscribers are a problem that every email marketer has to deal with at some point in their jobs. These users no longer open your emails or click on your links. It could be that they are no longer using their email addresses, aren’t interested in your content, or have simply forgotten about you.

So what can you do to remedy this situation? Starting a re-engagement campaign is one of the best ways you can bring these people back to the fold or at least confirm their emails.

A few examples you can begin using now include:

  • Changing the way you approach your subject lines to make them more compelling to readers. It doesn’t matter what type of email you plan to send for that day. You want to make sure that all of your subject lines from now on are straightforward yet engaging. This line is particularly important since it is the first thing people see when they receive your messages.
  • Personalize your email marketing campaigns by segmenting your mailing lists accordingly. Once you are able to separate users based on certain criteria, you can then craft more customized campaigns that are designed to meet their needs.
  • Let your subscribers know that you’re here to help them. Asking what you can do for your contacts is important especially if you don’t know exactly what they want. It also shows them that you actually care about their feedback, making them more inclined to share what they’re thinking.
  • Provide your contacts with something they value such as a discount code, freebie, e-book, and other downloadable content that are useful to them.
  • If all else fails, inform those subscribers who haven’t responded to your re-engagement email that you’ll be unsubscribing them from your campaign soon. Recipients who are still interested in your content may choose to respond by then, and if not, then you can freely remove them from your list.

Best Practice #4: Allow Your Recipients to Manage Their Own Subscriptions

Visibility is critical in email marketing since you can’t have engaged subscribers if no one gets your emails. No matter how well-crafted your messages are, they won’t be of use to your brand if they don’t arrive at their intended destinations.

However, being too visible also has its drawbacks.

Expert email marketers have learned the hard way that most subscribers would choose to opt out of email lists once their senders start going overboard in sending emails. It’s simply annoying to get email after email from the same email address.

So how can one send their messages without being a nuisance? The answer lies in balancing how often you send emails based on an optimal sending frequency.

Although there’s no golden rule on how often you should send emails, most marketers have found that sending emails at least once or twice a week appears to be beneficial to their campaigns. It’s important to keep in mind however that this is going to depend on the brand and its audience.

You’ll need to perform some tests and see for yourself which sending frequency would be ideal for you. And while you’re at it, you should also come up with an email marketing strategy that will help subscribers from being burnt out.

Subscription preferences can aid this by allowing recipients to:

  • Input a new email address
  • Choose to get fewer messages
  • Opt out of receiving certain email topics

What makes subscription preferences even better is that they are readily available in many email marketing automation platforms like Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, and Constant Contact.

Best Practice #5: Remove All Inactive Email Addresses From Your List

Cleansing your email list plays an important role in ensuring that your list itself maintains good hygiene. If you have contacts who are no longer actively engaging with your messages, it might be time to part ways with them.

However, you don’t want to rush this part. As mentioned earlier, you should try and send them a re-engagement campaign first before taking them out of your list. This allows them one last chance to decide whether they want to leave or stay out of their subscription.

Make sure you do this step carefully and you don’t want to overdo it. There are times in the year where people are busier than most and these users simply don’t have the time at the moment to read emails not related to their jobs.

Additionally, it’s also important to consider what causes people to disengage from your email marketing campaign. A few reasons could be because:

  • Your content might no longer be relevant to their needs
  • Sending emails too infrequently can cause contacts to lose interest
  • Your emails constantly include promotional content that isn’t valuable to your readers
  • The emails you send simply don’t stand out from your competition

Best Practice #6: Personalize Your Email Content for Targeted Messaging

Email marketers who are only personalizing their emails with just a “Hi *first name/last name*” approach are missing out on truly connecting with their recipients. This is especially true since personalized messages offer higher ROI that makes them truly a necessity if you want to succeed in email marketing.

The main goal in email personalization is to allow your subscribers to feel that you know their problems and can offer them a solution. Besides feeling human, personalized content is timely and relevant to your recipients’ needs. Consequently, these are all essential elements that make up a successful email campaign.

What makes personalizing emails great is that you can get started with it despite not having a lot of data on your target customers. A few ways you can begin personalizing emails include:

  • Creating personalized subject lines that will catch reader attention
  • Incorporate personal names in the greeting and throughout the email body
  • Mention the company name or industry when marketing to a B2B entity

Most marketing tools allow you to customize the personalization tags or custom field tags, letting you achieve these simple email techniques.

Apart from using personalized emails, you can also segment users based on the data you’ve obtained about them. Segmentation allows marketers to adapt their campaign messaging based on which segment the recipient belongs to.

There are several ways to incorporate segmentation depending on the information you have available. The primary goal here is to subdivide contacts in your list into groups and then categorize them based on the characteristics you find in your data.

For instance, you can segregate users based on their:

  • Lead score
  • Business size
  • Location
  • Activity on the website

With email marketing automation tools, you can develop several versions of a single email and tailor them according to the preferences of each segment group.

Best Practice #7: Let Your Contacts Unsubscribe to Your Campaign Easily

There are many reasons why people want to unsubscribe from any given mailing list. These include:

  • Receiving content that is no longer relevant to them
  • Receiving too many messages within a given time
  • The emails that they are getting appear to be spam
  • The recipients have forgotten about the sender

Your unsubscribe process should be easy and straightforward to accomplish. The purpose of this is to avoid frustrating recipients even further by making the unsubscribe button difficult to find. When subscribers get annoyed, they can easily report your messages and send them to the spam folder the next time.

You don’t want your subscribers to feel trapped and make them think that they may have to force their way out of your campaigns. This process needs to be smooth, just like your subscription procedure.

Best Practice #8: Stay Away From Purchased Email Lists

One of the best practices in email list management that you need to follow strictly is to stay away from buying your email lists. Not only is the act of purchasing and using these lists illegal but you could also end up being fined for every email that you send.

Another big reason is that most of these bought mailing lists contain poor-quality contacts. This means that, although there may be email addresses available, these users aren’t targeted for your brand or niche. You won’t be able to make the most of them even if you acquire many subscribers quickly.

Furthermore, these lists often contain spam traps that could easily result in your IP addresses being blacklisted or marked as a spammer in the future. Despite how tempting it can be to grow your email list fast, you should avoid buying your subscribers like the plague to prevent further problems.

Best Practice #9: Let Your New Subscribers Feel That They Are Welcome

Maintaining proper list hygiene all starts from the first time you get into contact with new subscribers. You want to make a good first impression right away while your brand is still fresh in their minds. One of the best ways you can do this is by sending them a welcome email or a series of messages that are triggered as soon as they decide to opt-in to your mailing list.

Your first email should thank them for joining while asking them to add your address to their whitelist. Being whitelisted ensures that your messages moving forward will always push through and reach their inboxes.

You want to ensure that your welcome series is as personalized as possible. It should also lead new contacts into the perfect content that provides the value they seek.

Another important aspect your welcome email should have is by informing new subscribers that you plan to contact them again later on. You want this to include how many emails they’ll receive in a given time, what type of content they can expect, and anything else that is important to them.

Best Practice #10: Perform A/B Testing On Your Email Marketing Campaigns

It can sometimes be difficult to know the exact type of content your recipients like to consume. This is where A/B testing will come in handy since it helps take away the guesswork in your email marketing efforts. You get to prove which versions of your messages are performing the best.

For instance, you can create two different versions of the same email that use two distinct subject lines. You then send these two types of emails to your subscribers and see which one will work better. Once you’ve identified the one that received the highest engagement, you can use that instead for the rest of your contacts.

A major advantage of A/B testing is that it allows you to ensure your recipients stay active and engaged with your emails. You do this by providing them with relevant content that you have tested to ensure their effectiveness.

Steps to Maintain a Healthy Email List

Now that you know the importance of email list management, you might be wondering where to start. There are many tips provided above already and it can be overwhelming to some marketers particularly those new to managing their lists.

To help you out, here are some of the steps you can take to get started:

Step 1: Remove Email Addresses That Result In a Bounce

Users often change email addresses especially when their statuses in life change as well. It could be that a person has started a new job, created a new account, or simply forgot the credentials to their old email.

Sending emails to inactive addresses will often result in a bounce. This could either be a soft bounce, which isn’t that serious, to a hard bounce, which can be problematic for email marketers.

Frequent hard bounces can lead to email marketers being scrutinized more by email service providers and anti-spam agencies. This results in lower email delivery and potentially a drop in their sender reputation.

Step 2: Use Email Validation Tools From Third-Party Providers

Validation and verification solutions are ideal for list management since they go over email addresses and tag those deemed to be invalid or spam traps. This allows marketers to create a dedicated IP address suppression list that keeps their sending reputation from being damaged.

These are the following criteria email validation use to provide their reports:

  • Valid: A specific email address has passed all significant checks and is considered by the app to be safe. There’s still a small chance of experiencing a bounce once in a while.
  • Invalid: The email is considered to be 99.9% invalid for several potential reasons. You should avoid sending messages to such addresses.
  • Unknown: This is an email address that can’t be validated by the validation tool primarily because the server of the email service provider is down. This issue might be temporary or permanent, so it’s important to be careful when deciding to continue sending to these accounts.

Some great email validation tools you can start using include ZeroBounce, MyEmailVerifier, and Xverify.

Step 3: Maintain an Appropriate Email Sending Frequency

In order to maintain a healthy mailing list, you also need to keep your subscribers engaged with your content. An essential way of doing this is by following an appropriate email sending frequency.

This doesn’t mean that you should send emails several times a week since your messaging cadence will depend on what is sensible for your brand. The important thing is that if you decide to send emails once a week or once a month, then you should follow through and stick with that.

When you send messages to your recipients on a regular basis, your brand remains at the forefront of your audience. Eventually, contacts will start to expect your emails, which makes them more open to engaging with your marketing efforts.

On the other hand, when you infrequently send emails to your subscribers, many of their addresses might have become invalid already. When you can’t spot these changes at the right time, your bounce rates will go up, putting your email deliverability and sender reputation at risk.

Step 4: Segment Your Subscribers Intelligently

All of your subscribers will be in different stages in their customer journeys, which makes it impractical to consider them within the same levels. Some would have just learned about your brand for the first time while others are already experienced with your solutions. Meanwhile, there are others who are close to finalizing their purchase decision.

To make your emails effectively reach each of these customer groups, you need to segment your lists accordingly. One way you can do this is by sending a survey and segregating users based on their feedback. Another approach would be to segment based on how they interacted with your past messages.

An easy way to perform segmentation is to use the information you find in user profiles. You can ask them to create one if you haven’t asked them to do so yet. Incentivizing this effort would increase the chances of subscribers following through with what you just requested.

Email List Management Platform Recommendations

Seeing as we’ve already hinted about platforms that can help with your email list management, here are the top systems we’d recommend to email marketers:


Perhaps the most well-known email marketing platform today is HubSpot. The main reason for this is that it offers users an all-in-one marketing suite that comes with its own customer relationship management (CRM) system. This type of system allows users to manage their contacts while connecting with their target audience directly.

With HubSpot, you have a tool that lets you send out targeted messages to contacts in various stages of their customer journeys. You can also send emails to them based on the added data you’ve gathered about them.

Furthermore, the email list management suite lets you integrate two-way data synchronization with other apps so you don’t have to worry about incompatibilities with other marketing platforms.


Another popular software used by email marketers nowadays is Mailchimp. It’s particularly loved because of its features for A/B testing, its various email campaign templates, and its RSS capabilities. However, the platform’s email marketing automation features could be harder to get used to than others.

With regards to email list management, you can expect Mailchimp to provide excellent options for segmenting users. For instance, it allows you to mix and match up to 5 various conditions for segmentation. You can also find audience subsets through insights provided by the platform for more personalized messaging.


When talking about email list management, the software that has a good chance of being included in most conversations is ActiveCampaign.

Its list management features include leveraging tags that let you segment your contacts and target them individually. You can add tags to your subscribers automatically as soon as they perform certain actions on your site or landing page.

ActiveCampaign is often used by marketers because of its amazing email deliverability scores with popular email inbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail, and Outlook.

On the whole, ActiveCampaign is a great choice if you want to automate your efforts to manage your lists. However, it should be noted that it can be complicated for beginners to jump right in and get started since most of its features are for advanced users.

Campaign Monitor

Campaign Monitor is also a popular email list management platform that marketers are using nowadays. It offers an email builder that allows users to completely customize their designs from the color choices they desire to the individual fonts used.

Meanwhile, its automation suite has the same capability as most well-known email marketing platforms with regards to triggers and actions. Data segmentation is great since you can exclude several groups and configure advanced rules prior to sending them out.

A major advantage that Campaign Monitor has is that it’s quite scalable. All of its plans provide its users with unlimited capacities, which makes the platform great for teams that wish to expand immediately.

The Premier tiers allow customers to send an unlimited number of messages per month. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the monthly cost grows the more people you incorporate into your mailing lists.

The Takeaway

No matter the industry, niche, or type of business you’re working for, having a clean mailing list is vital to ensure the success of your email campaigns. Practicing proper list hygiene is imperative as it can improve the ROI of your email marketing efforts by increasing conversions and sales.

Furthermore, a focused email list lets you understand your customers more and engage with them effectively. This helps grow your brand’s value, visibility, and the trust that existing users have for you.

The best practices provided in this guide are designed to help you with your email list management and your sender reputation. We hope that the tips we’ve shared will give you a more in-depth idea of how you can go about managing your lists and ensuring it stays healthy.

By taking into account the factors above, you should be well on your way to solidifying your email lists and making the most of your email marketing approach.

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