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Is Your E-Mail List Clean or Dirty?

  |  June 13, 2005   |  Comments

The hows and whys of e-mail list cleansing.

I've talked a lot about getting email delivered and presented strategies for working with ISPs. Today, the topic is list cleanliness -- or lack thereof. A basic reason your email may be not getting through is your database is dirty.

The folks at FreshAddress, an email building and updating firm (much like Return Path and DirectMailers), shared some case histories illustrating how they've helped turn clients' dirty lists into clean, deliverable ones that produce results:

  • Leading hotel chain. A leading hotel chain had 1.5 million email records that consistently yielded very high bounce rates. Efforts to reconnect with past customers were becoming less effective with each passing month as the list grew older and more stale. Using FreshAddress' email change of address (ECOA) system, the company was able to update 155,000 records with deliverable email addresses. The hotel was able to reverse the trend and see positive results from its email program.

  • Online publisher. An Internet publisher had an old but working list of over a million records on a hard drive. The company wanted to see what it could salvage to use email to generate revenue. Most would simply delete such an old database. Instead, the publisher was able to identify, correct, and update almost 70,000 records. This cleaned segment now provides viable revenue and more than justified the cost of cleaning the list.

  • Rewards provider. A rewards provider had a bounce problem with 250,000 records. Using the ECOA, it corrected 52,750 email addresses (21.1 percent of the bounces). The list is now useable again.

The lesson is simple: you've got to spend time, effort, and money to keep a database clean. Otherwise, it will vanish over time.

"You can expect, on average, to recover 5 to 20 percent of your undeliverable email database, depending on age. The key is to regularly run your list through an updating service so you can reconnect with your customers before your competitors find them," said Bill Kaplan, CEO of FreshAddress. "It's like preventative medicine; take some now to keep your bottom line healthy." Kaplan suggests quarterly updates to keep lists squeaky clean.

Chances are you spent a fair amount of effort and money to build your database. If those names performed well for you in the past, keep them clean. Doing so minimizes bounces and customer defections; Increases open and click-through rates; and minimizes chances of being blacklisted.

The NCOA process typically performs the following types of hygiene on your list:

  • Identify e-addresses that are no longer deliverable ("dead" addresses).

  • Identify and correct obvious typos, such as bfoley@hotmial.com or ssmith@yaho.com.

  • Identify test and prank records, such as asdf@yahoo.com and test@msn.com.

  • Find and remove records such as abuse@hotmail.com that somehow snuck into your database.

  • Remove duplicates (you'd be surprised how many there are!).

These services typically charge a nominal one-time analysis fee, plus a charge of $0.40 to $1 for each record cleaned, depending on volume.

If you think about it, the cost to reconstitute a clean, ready-to-mail, no-bounce list may be significantly lower than acquiring a new customer or prospect with an online acquisition program. Do the math and figure out whether having a clean, deliverable database of consumers who have maintained a relationship with your company is worth the investment.

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Paul Soltoff

Paul Soltoff is the chief executive officer of SendTec, Inc., a direct marketing services company specializing in customer acquisition. SendTec combines extensive direct response experience with proprietary technologies to produce scalable results. Principal services include performance-based online marketing, offline direct response marketing and direct response television. SendTec represents advertising agencies and advertisers such as RealNetworks, AARP, Monster.com, AAA, Punch Software, MyPoints, Grey Worldwide, CosmetÍque Cosmetics, Columbia House, and Euro-Pro. Prior to starting SendTec, Paul was a founder and EVP of Saatchi and Saatchi's DRTV division in New York and has over 25 years of advertising, media and direct marketing experience.

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