How to clean your email list? 5 email automation strategy


If you've ever had an email list, you've probably heard that it's a good idea to clean or prune your list every once in a while, perhaps this concept never really made sense. You've spent so much time building your list, so the idea of voluntarily removing people from it seems crazy or maybe you understand why should do it, but you're not completely sure how. In either case, it's always a good idea to keep your list clean and healthy. 

So, why should you prune your list? Here are the top three reasons

1. To save money and increase ROI

You know very well that subscribers cost money. Most, not all, email platforms charge based on the number of subscribers that you have. If you segment your list, you'll see that many of those subscribers haven't opened or clicked anything in the past 90 days or half a year, if you've been emailing regularly and if they haven't opened anything in three to six months, you are paying for deadweight and not getting a return on that.

2. To have better deliverability

Similar to social media feeds, email servers notice when people don't open or click your emails. The more unengaged subscribers you have on the list, the more likely your emails will bounce or go to the junk folder.

3. To have more reliable email data

It can be easy to get discouraged when you have lots of unengaged people on your list and your click rates and revenue per recipients drop. Those unengaged subscribers are really not adding anything to your business, so once you remove them from the list, the numbers rise and you see a clearer picture

Now, if you're still not convinced maybe you think, "Well, if they haven't opened anything in three months, there is still a slight chance that they'll open later and make a purchase." Of course, there is always a chance but the possibility is very small. For most businesses the downsides that we just discussed simply outweigh that small little chance that the person will turn around and open and convert. However, we have a process for facilitating the chance of someone actually re-engaging before we clean them off the list and that's what we'll talk about next.

How to prune your list? 

Before you actually remove anyone, you need to create a sunset email automation, also called a re-engagement workflow or a sunset unengaged subscribers flow, lots of names, same idea. Here's how to do it.

1. create a segment that will trigger this automation

You want to find people who have received enough emails, in other words they had an opportunity to engage but they haven't engaged in any way in the past 90 days or so. 

2. The goal of this automation is to get the recipient to open or click

Depending on how your email platform works, you either need to create a workflow goal or a flow filter that would exclude people who open or click from this automation. The goal is to re-engage people, so as soon as someone re-engages we take them off this email automation, off you go.

3. Create three emails with three to four days of time delay in between

I recommend making all of the emails plain text or text-only emails, this might seem a little unconventional since being in e-commerce you're used to colorful, beautiful HTML emails. However, remember that we're going after the most unengaged people here, so they need that extra little push. 

Text-only emails are great because:

A) they act as a pattern interrupt. They get someone's attention precisely because the person is not expecting such an email from a brand. 

B) because they pass through the promotions folder filter and land in the recipient's primary box. 

C) because they feel much more personal and conversational. You can even ask a question and encourage responses in these emails, and people will reply, which is great both for relationship building and your email deliverability.

Having two separate paths for customers and non-customers in this automation

Once you start writing emails, you'll realize that it's much easier to write them in a personal way when you have that separation. So, for customers, you would say, "Hey, I've noticed that you've shopped with us last March, but we haven't seen you around lately." And then for non-customers, you would write, "Hey, I see in our system that you've signed up for emails about six months ago, but we haven't seen you around lately. Do you have any questions that I could answer?" The emails in the two paths would be very similar and they would use the same timing, but the language will differ based on whether the person that you're talking to purchased from you before or never purchased the product from you.

Here's the overall structure for the automation:

  • Email number one: "Hey, we've noticed that you haven't been around lately, we really miss you. Since you were away, we've launched X and introduced Y, and I thought that you'll really love these new products. So check them out."
  • Email number two: "Here you want to give recipients a fun fact about your brand, a recent update, or a strong piece of social proof. This is a good place to offer a discount as well, or free shipping on any order" Keep in mind that these recipients will likely shop small at first because they've been unengaged for so long.
  • Email number three: "We've noticed that you haven't been engaging with our emails and we only want to send you the most relevant content. We don't want to flood your inbox, so we'll pause the emails for now. If you want to receive emails, simply click on the link below and you'll be re-added." And the link that you include can simply lead to your home page, but the click will act as a trigger to remove this person from the flow.

In that last third email, you want to give recipients an out, but don't be needy, pushy or mean, simply tell them that you want to be helpful, but you will welcome them back with open arms if they decide to resubscribe.

One way we do this is instead of saying, "We're unsubscribing you" we say, "We're hitting pause on sending you emails"

Use short, direct, personal subject lines. 

Allow about five to seven days at the end of the workflow so recipients actually have time to re-engage, what happens after will depend on your email platform. If you're using Drip, you can add an action at the end of the workflow that will automatically unsubscribe people. 

Here are some that worked really well for us: "Hey, question for you" or "Still interested?"

An alternative to that is to tag recipients or add a custom property and then build a segment with these people. The segment will keep updating automatically and you should exclude that segment from all of your newsletter broadcast sends because these recipients are extremely unengaged. 

They went through your whole sunset flow and they still haven't opened a single email, you can manually unsubscribe this segment every once in a while or you can wait until Black Friday season, email them one more time, and then unsubscribe them. 

Many brands will feel tempted to do this, they are rationale. if they haven't engaged with other stuff, they will engage once we give them 30 to 40 percent off. 

In our experience this doesn't really work, sunset segments like that get three to five percent open rate and they really just don't convert, even on Black Friday. So, I recommend removing subscribers who've completed the sunset automation and haven't engaged right away.

This is it, what do you think? Are you going to go and clean your list now?