Sometimes I procrastinate on completing essential tasks. But, when it comes to email list cleaning, waiting until the last minute or doing it only after a significant problem arises is the last thing you want to do.

Think of it like only flossing your teeth the day before you head to your biannual dentist visit. Sure, running some waxed floss between your teeth the night before is better than doing nothing. But flossing only a handful of times before seeing your dentist isn’t enough to maintain good oral health (and keep your hygienist from commenting about plaque buildup while they clean your choppers).

The same is true with email list cleaning. It’s not a task you should ignore if you want your email marketing campaigns always to perform as well as possible.

Keep reading to learn why our experts think having a clean list is critical for any email marketing campaign to convert. Plus, get some tips on things you can do to keep your lists up-to-date and see examples of messages you can send to subscribers to weed out the unengaged and identify bad addresses.

What is email list cleaning?

Cleaning an email list is the process of reviewing and updating your subscriber database to remove invalid, outdated, and unengaged subscribers. Doing this work is important because it helps ensure your marketing messages are delivered to engaged and interested subscribers’ inboxes.

What makes a clean email list?

In an ideal world, your email list will always include people who are active, engaged, and interested in your company’s messaging.

Two ways people signal they want to be on your email list include:

  • Regularly opening and engaging with your messages (e.g., those who clicked on links, downloaded content, or made purchases/appointments)
  • Recently choosing to opt-in to your list or reconfirming their desire to continue receiving your emails

3 benefits of cleaning your email list data

Your email list is the backbone of your email marketing strategy. You can write all the best subject lines in the world and design all the coolest graphics, but if your email list is full of stinkers, the right folks in your target audience will never see your messages.

Simply having a bunch of emails in a database isn’t enough. For your email campaigns to be successful, you need a clean email list to reach your customers, nurture leads, and drive conversions.

Still not convinced that it’s worth spending money from your marketing budget on email list cleaning? Check out this list of the three most significant benefits of maintaining clean email list data:


Cost savings

Do you remember back in 2004 when the writers from Sex and the City had every scorned singleton headed to the bookstore for their self-help guide He’s Just Not That Into You?

Just like those relationship gurus would tell you not to send flowers to an ex who’s moved on, any good marketing agency will tell you that sending emails to uninterested subscribers wastes time and money.

Some email marketing providers, like my favorite tool Hubspot, have tiered list limits that offer different pricing based on the number of contacts you track using its software. One way to keep your email list clean is by saying goodbye to subscribers telling you they aren’t a good fit for your product or service because they aren’t engaging with your marketing.

Remember, it’s always better to have a smaller email list made up of interested people who fit your target audience than it is to send out messages to a massive list that includes folks who are never going to use your services or buy your products. This is just one more bonus that comes with email list cleaning. Dropping unengaged subscribers who aren’t a good fit will also help your bottom line because you can stop spending money to send messages to individuals who will never convert.


Better email deliverability

When you have a junk-filled email list, deliverability can be much like sending a message in a bottle. You write a message (create an email), tuck it into a glass bottle (hit send), and toss it into the roaring ocean (the internet).

If your message gets lost at sea, recipients never have a chance to read it. This can happen when emails get marked as “spam” by people on your list who don’t want to be on it or when your emails get returned as undeliverable because of bad addresses in your list.

Now, when you’re lucky enough to have your message make it to shore (subscribers’ inboxes), that’s a sign of good email deliverability. And good email deliverability means you stand a better of more subscribers opening your emails, reading them, and taking action) … which leads us to the next benefit of email list cleaning: increased engagement.

sample of an Ubersuggest email
This is a sample of one of the emails that Ubersuggest sends when a subscriber has low engagement.

Increased engagement

“Spam is a waste of the receivers’ time and a waste of the sender’s optimism.” That’s one of my favorite marketing-related quotes, and it’s from philosopher Mokokoma Mokhonoana’s 2011 book The Confessions of a Misfit.

It’s the perfect way to describe why your goal with email list cleaning should always be tied to improving your engagement. And why does engagement matter so much?

Well, according to an email marketing benchmark study by Mailchimp, the average open rate for emails sent to a list with 0–5% inactive subscribers is 24.79%. Nice, right? However, the average open rate typically drops to 20.54% when an email list contains 6–10% inactive subscribers. It goes down to only 15.22% when an email list has 11–15% inactive subscribers.

That’s significant!

And it proves that purging unengaged subscribers from your email list can really make a difference when it comes to email performance metrics, including:

  • bounce rates
  • open rates
  • click-through rates
  • conversion rates

5 ways to maintain a clean email list

Keeping your email list as clean as possible isn’t rocket science. Here are five things that can help you manage your email subscriptions.

example of the double opt-in that Nutrition Facts uses for email list cleaning
Here is an example of the double opt-in. Nutrition Facts uses the email/landing page combo to ensure all new subscribers really want to be on their list.

Use a double opt-in process

A basic type of email opt-in is when someone signs up to get messages from you, and you add them to your subscriber database. A double opt-in goes one step further.

After someone expresses interest in receiving your messages, you double-check that they really want to be on their list by making them confirm their subscription. By taking this extra step with your email list cleaning, you know that every new address on your list belongs to someone interested in receiving your content.

sample of an AIGA preference email
This is an email that the AIGA sent as part of an email list-cleaning campaign.

Regularly remove inactive subscribers

When subscribers aren’t opening your emails (or clicking on links), it might indicate they are disinterested. Once a year, consider removing these individuals from your list or sending an email that encourages them to reconfirm they want to continue receiving your messages.


Segment your list

Segmentation is a great way to keep your subscribers engaged. When you group people into lists based on interests or where they are in the customer journey, you’ll be able to improve engagement and reduce the likelihood of folks unsubscribing—or, in a worst-case scenario, unsubscribing and marking your emails as spam.


Keep your list up-to-date

Make sure your subscriber list is as accurate as possible by looking twice at how imports of new subscriber email addresses are feeding into your database. When you’re in there doing this email list cleaning, take a moment to remove invalid and bounced addresses.

example of a HubSpot marketing dashboard you can use when doing email list cleaning
Here is a sample HubSpot dashboard view. It shows performance stats you can check out while doing email list cleaning.

Monitor your email performance

Reporting matters! Watch metrics for your email open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribe rates. These stats can help you identify issues with your email list or content. You can use this info to identify and adjust what’s not working more efficiently.

List cleaning will take your email campaigns to the next level

You must keep up with email list cleaning to run email marketing campaigns that get results. Be proactive. Review and update your email list regularly by:

  • Using double opt-ins to confirm people want to be on your list
  • Removing unengaged subscribers from your database
  • Creating content that provides value to your recipients

These steps will ensure your email deliverability, metrics (like open and click-through rates, etc.), and conversions all trend upwards!

Need email list management help?

If you’re busy and managing your email list feels overwhelming, you don’t have to get into the weeds of email list cleaning by yourself. That’s where we can come in as your partner and help out.

Since 2004, TBH Creative has helped clients across the U.S. run results-driven email marketing campaigns. If you need help, our digital marketing agency’s team can help you implement email list management best practices. We can also work with you to get your subscriber database up-to-date and “clean.” Let’s talk.