Inactive Addresses: Which Ones Should Go?
By Ken Magill
One of the biggest challenges email marketers face is how to identify addresses that have become so inactive they’re dangerous.
As ISPs reportedly increasingly use engagement metrics such as opens and clicks to determine whether incoming email is wanted or not, inactive addresses are becoming more of a liability.
Too many inactive addresses can result in the mailers’ messages being filtered as spam.
But how does one decide which inactive names should go? After all, inactive doesn’t necessarily mean ineffective. Just because an email didn’t draw a click doesn’t mean it didn’t result in a sale.
Yes, inactive addresses can trigger spam filters. Yes, mailing to some inactive addresses drive sales outside the email. And yes, we’ve got a problem.
As Heather Goff, senior deliverability consultant at email service provider Responsys, pointed out in this newsletter in a report in November, marketers who send to files with 50 percent or more addresses whose account holders haven’t clicked on or opened a message in over a year run a significant risk of getting their messages filtered as spam.
“If over 50 percent of your distribution list has not clicked or opened a single email in one year, we’ve seen major ISPs filter all the incoming email, even that going to engaged subscribers,” said Goff. “ISPs tolerate even less inactivity from high-volume senders with list sizes in excess of 1 million subscribers.”
But cleaning out all the addresses that haven’t drawn an open or a click in more than 12 months can result in significantly reduced sales. So how does a marketer tell which inactive addresses should stay and which should go?
According to Tom Sather, senior director of email research for email deliverability and security company Return Path, marketers must look beyond clicks and opens to determine which email addresses are truly inactive—especially given that most email marketing managers have no idea how the list or lists they manage were built.
“Most [email] marketers are probably walking into a situation where a dozen other marketers have managed the list before them so they don’t know how names have been acquired or how things have been handled in the past,” he said. “That’s the majority of the problem with many marketers today. They’ve inherited a lot of problems they don’t know how to deal with.”
According to Sather, there are many ways a marketer can tell if an email address is truly bad.
“If you have a website log-in, check when was the last time they logged in,” he said. “Or if you’re selling something, when was the last time they bought something from you? A lot of sites now have apps for smart phones and those apps have log-ins. When was the last time they used that?”
Sather also recommended having call-center operators ask for email addresses so the customers can be tracked to a campaign.
Sather also pointed out that Boulder, CO-based Connection Engine’s services can be used to see which addresses on a marketer’s file are at least owned by active buyers in the seller’s market.
“You can tell that at least they’re not a spam trap,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Sather recommends testing.
“If you do decide to suppress inactive addresses, look at other measurements,” he said. “Did your app usage decrease? Did your website traffic decrease?”
Likewise, Sather said: “Look to see if there’s an increase in website traffic after an email goes out. And if you have a retail presence, look to see if there’s an increase in store traffic.”
Sather also recommends win-back, or reactivation campaigns, but urges caution.
“There are a couple important things with win-back campaigns,” he said. “One is to decrease frequency. Probably mail a win-back campaign to them quarterly. You should also probably have a rule such as after a year if they don’t respond then maybe you want to consider removing them entirely.”