Email hygiene?

Brad Cannon | 01/15/2019

Back in August, we talked about email reputation, and that just like everything on the internet, it’s a continual evolution.

Internet service providers are the entities that make the digital world go ‘round, and they’re a lot like your OEMs. They make the rules. And just like the OEMs, if you want to play their game, you have to understand that it’s their ball, their court, their rules, and their referees. Whether or not any of us like it, that’s just how it is.

As I shared a few months ago, email reputation is a critical element for your overall email deliverability. There are a lot of factors that play into the quality of your reputation with ISPs (internet service providers), IP reputation, domain reputation, engagement metrics, bounces, spam reports, and overall list quality.

This month, I want to dive into one major component of email reputation that impacts all the others, and you have a great deal of control over. List quality.

Just like in the printed mail world, your list is the foundation of the success or failure of your marketing. If your list (audience) is bad, timing and message become a moot point.

So what makes for a good list?

For starters, I sincerely hope that by now everyone knows that you never buy an email list. Purchased email lists are garbage. Never buy one.

In a perfect world, we would all harvest our lists using double opt in. That’s where someone signs up to be on your mailing list online, and then gets sent an email at that address to confirm they really want to receive your emails and that there wasn’t a typo.

We don’t live in a perfect world, so it’s not always going to work like that. Most often in a dealership, we harvest email addresses looking eyeball to eyeball with someone because we ask for it at the parts or service counter and in the sales department. And that’s fine.

Now, in the same way that people change physical addresses, they change email addresses, too. The difference being that there is significantly less commitment to an email address than there is to a physical one. 

The numbers show that in a 12-month period, up to 30% of any given email list becomes invalid due to people changing accounts, providers, abandonment, or any number of other reasons. That’s a pretty astonishing number, actually. 

So what? Who cares? What’s the harm in sending those emails anyway?

With the daily volume of email worldwide, and the fact that there is more spam email than legitimate, ISPs have begun to tighten the screws when it comes to email. They have the ability to measure your engagement metrics. Things like hard and soft bounces, opens, clicks, and spam reports are measured for your account. If you have a high volume of hard bounces – and you keep sending to them – providers assume that you are completely inattentive to best practices and begin to throttle your delivery. If you continue to send emails to people who have reported you as spam your deliverability will tank. 

Hard bounces and spam reports are relatively easy to deal with. Any reputable email provider is going to pull those from your list for you, after all, it makes no sense to send an email to a closed mailbox or someone who reported you as someone they never want to hear from.

The trickier (and more emotional) part of the equation is when dealing with engagement metrics. Sending to people who NEVER open your emails (and subsequently never click in them) are people who aren’t engaged with you. Sending to unengaged (or as the ISPs say, uninterested) recipients is a party foul. The opinion of the ISPs is that you’re taking up resources for a DOA message and they don’t have time for that. As a result, you can see your deliverability suffer.

Sometimes this is a function of right message/audience/time and can be fixed with better content. Sometimes it’s inbox abandonment, disinterest, or some other factor that causes them to not engage. 

Here’s the part that’s hard to hear: To maintain the highest level of deliverability, with the best likelihood to get your message to the intended inbox, sometimes you have to let the bad ones go. I know, it’s tough. Especially when we have to work so hard to get our employees to collect email addresses in the first place, the last thing you want to do is draw a line through any of them. But the bad ones aren’t responding anyway, and only potentially bring down the good ones too.

So how does one go about handling this? Through a sunsetting policy. A successful sunsetting policy identifies customers who haven’t engaged in a given period of time, and sends emails specifically designed to re-engage them. Emails with subject lines like “Hey, haven’t heard from you in a while,” “Hope everything is okay,” or “Breaking up is hard to do.” The idea is to have a subject line that gets the email opened (engagement) and then ask them to click a link to confirm that they still wish to get your emails (deeper engagement). 

This ensures that they actually do still check that inbox, and that they want to receive your marketing. ISPs love it and you stay in their good graces. If after a few of these attempts you still get no engagement, pull them from your list. Emails sent to them will have proven to be a waste of time anyway, since they aren’t engaging with you. ISPs love it when you pull them from your list, and will have better delivery rates – not to mention much more accurate numbers when it comes to your actual email stats.

ISPs have one more tool in their toolbox when it comes to understanding how good a job you do at list hygiene. Spam traps. These are pretty insidious, but very clever.

There are two types of spam traps: pristine spam traps, and recycled spam traps. Spam traps are designed specifically to identify bad actors in two different ways.

Pristine traps are email addresses set up by ISPs that have never existed before. They belong to the ISP. There are only two ways an email can get into a pristine account. Either someone fat-fingered an address and it ended up there, or a spammer is carpet bombing email addresses and this one was caught in the blast. If fat-fingered, a proper sunsetting policy would remove the email address due to lack of engagement. No harm, no foul. A spammer will keep blasting the address. Someone with little to no active list hygiene will also keep sending. The ISP will begin to throttle the sender over time, and eventually completely blacklist the them.

Recycled spam traps were once legitimate email addresses, but at some point were abandoned or cancelled. ISPs will light these addresses back up and monitor what activity they get. It’s possible that they could receive emails from wherever the previous address owner was subscribed – but again, over time those emails should stop if the sender is using a good sunsetting policy. Spammers could have found these addresses any number of ways, but because they’re acting in bad faith will continue sending. Again, over time they all get throttled and eventually cut off.

There’s no question that email is one of the best possible ways to market to customers, even with the evolution it is undergoing. With a little bit of attention to detail staying within the guidelines of best practices isn’t really that hard. If you’d like help with that, give us a call: 877-242-4472.

Talk soon,


PSM Marketing

825 Highway 74 South
Peachtree City, GA 30269
Tel: (877) 242-4472
Int: (770) 692-1750
Text: (770) 692-1750