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The Golden Rule of List Management

There are a number of schools of thought when it comes to email list management. One is that permission, once given, never expires. The other believes permission has a time limit of six months, a year, two years — everyone thinks something completely different when it comes to appropriate list hygiene. So what’s the best answer?

This is where I’m proposing a new “Golden Rule” of email list management: Email unto others as you would have emailed unto you. If you were a prospect, would you be okay with receiving that email? It’s a simple, quick rule that can help you make a quick decision in any situation, such as:

“Should I purchase this list?”

Think of it this way: if 100 companies you’d never heard of obtained your information somehow and started sending you emails without your consent, would you want to receive those emails? I’d wager you’d find it really frustrating to have your inbox filled with unwanted emails. You’d probably be more likely to delete those emails — or worse, report them as spam! Same with your prospects. If they’ve found themselves on a purchased list, they likely receive a lot of unsolicited mail to that address. One more piece of unsolicited mail just won’t cut through the noise, so it’s not a good use of your marketing budget to even bother purchasing a list.

“Should I email that prospect from over a year ago?”

QUICK — what did you have for breakfast on June 21st of last year? Oh, you have no idea what in the world you had? Exactly. Same principle applies here. That prospect you haven’t emailed in over a year has no clue who you are. Even worse, they definitely have no clue how they opted in to your marketing to begin with, so from their perspective you’re spamming them! Old lists are a huge trigger for both bounces and spam complaints, so we definitely don’t recommend mailing older prospects right off the bat. Instead, we recommend running a permission pass to remind prospects who you are and ask if they’re still interested in receiving email from your company. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it reminds those prospects who you are so you can actively market to them again.

“These prospects signed up to win a tablet, now I have prospects to send marketing emails to!”

I’m still waiting on the day where I sign up for these and actually win that iPad, free t-shirt, or whatever else I’m trying to win instead of accidentally winding up on a mailing list I never intended to join. If I’m signing up somewhere to win a tablet, I’m not interested in the marketing; I’m interested in winning something. That’s not to say you shouldn’t run a contest or a sweepstakes to grow your list, but please include an opt in checkbox on your paper forms, your Pardot forms, or any other form for the sweepstakes. Nothing’s worse than getting email I never wanted to receive, just because I signed up to win something cool.

“The prospect agreed to my crazy long Terms and Conditions (that they have to agree to), and somewhere in the middle of that document, I added something about them opting in to receiving emails.”

This one drives me nuts. When was the last time you read the full Terms and Conditions for anything you signed up for? It’s the biggest lie on the Internet: “I have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions”.  Nobody has time to read through those insanely long documents just to sign up for a service. At that point, I’m being forced to sign up for a mailing list I never wanted to be on, so to me, that mail’s unsolicited and is more likely to have me report them for spamming. Alternately, I’ll just sign up for that service using a fake email address, so I can still use the service, but won’t get marketing emails. That’s better for me, but it’ll dirty up your database FAST! It’s best to have a Terms and Conditions box, but also include a box asking users if they want to opt in to further communications. Better to have them tell you outright that they’re not interested in your emails, than have them tell you they’re not interested by clicking “report as spam” and negatively affecting your sending reputation!

“I haven’t emailed this prospect in 10 hours, time to send them another email!”

This is where our awesome email recency and frequency rules really come in handy. How annoyed would you be if you received multiple emails from one specific company…or even one specific person, multiple times per day? You’d probably want to opt out fast, because they’re filling up your inbox and driving you insane! The golden rule of list management is perfect in this case: just think about how many emails you’d want to receive in a specific timeframe from one person, then apply that to your marketing. Be honest! Is a daily email about your sales really the best way to keep people engaged and interested in your product? Probably not. Multiple emails a day? Definitely not!

“I collect email addresses at my retail stores or my online store so they’re basically opting into marketing, right?”

Full disclosure: it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize the physical stores I shopped at were collecting my email address to send me marketing emails. The emails would start coming days or weeks after I shopped there, so it took me forever to connect my shopping behavior to those emails I was now getting from that retail store. On top of that, I wasn’t being told why those companies needed my email address for me to complete a transaction. That’s not a great way to collect subscribers. One company really impressed me with their opt in process. I went to Michaels the other day for yarn (of course!), and when I got home I had this lovely opt in email sitting in my inbox: It was a real “wow” moment from a company I love. Asking me to opt in to their marketing instead of automatically doing it and offering me a coupon? You bet I’ll be opting in to their marketing and opening their future emails — I was so impressed!

michaels opt in email

This all being said, there is no one “silver bullet” when it comes to knowing exactly how long permission lasts or precisely how you should curate your lists. The best advice I can offer from a database management and sending perspective is “Would I be okay with receiving this email?” and applying that to your whole marketing strategy.