Bigger is Not Always Better

How to keep your digital reputation clean

When it comes to your email list, bigger is not always better. There, I said it. 

The size of your list is no longer the indicator of a thriving business.

Years ago, I was following a business guru who stood on the stage touting her multi-million dollar success from her tens of thousands of followers. She had a lot of people consuming her content, both free and paid, and she made millions selling strategies to small business owners on how to build big giant lists. But I couldn’t help thinking, what good is a large list if the people on that list don’t buy from you?

Every guru tells us to focus on growing our list size but is this really sound advice? Consider these two scenarios and tell me which you’d prefer.

You have 10,000 subscribers. Only 500 of them are “opening” your emails. 300 of them are clicking on links and only 50 of them are purchasing from you.

You have 500 subscribers, 300 people are clicking on links and 100 people are purchasing.

It’s a no brainer right?

Now these are not hard and fast numbers or promises of the likelihood of a 20% conversion rate on a single email, but what it represents is the impact an engaged list of passionate and dedicated subscribers can have on your bottom line.

But wait, there’s more to this story! What if I told you your giant list is actually hurting you? The reality is, the average prospect/customer has a shelf life of approximately 90-100 days. After that, if they have not engaged with your content, their presence on your email list is likely doing harm. Over just a short period of time, when subscribers stop opening your emails and stop engaging with your content, they are unwittingly sending a message to their email provider (gmail, yahoo, aol, etc.) that they are no longer interested in what you have to offer.The email providers job is to prevent junk mail from landing in your inbox. So, if your list is disengaging, their email provider will register your email as spam or junk. But it gets worse. If all of your emails end up in junk or spam folders, your emails may eventually be sent back as bounced.

In recent months, Microsoft (this includes Hotmail, Outlook, MSN and Office 365) has gotten tougher on email marketers.  Users of these email providers who do not engage with email content immediately send back to sender as a hard bounce, thus rendering a potentially well written email useless.

Why does this matter? When a business sends emails to the same recipients over time and there is no engagement, that sender is risking being marked as spam, junk or worse, sent back as a hard bounce. When this cycle occurs with hundreds or thousands of emails, the reputation of the sender is damaged. But, maybe you’re like Joan Jett and you don’t give a damn about your bad reputation. You might want to start. Sender reputation is kinda like your business domain’s credit score. The higher the score, the more likely your emails land in the intended inbox. The lower the score, the less likely they’ll deliver at all. If you are continuing to send emails to people who are not engaging, you are lowering your sender reputation score. The consequence?  Not only are the people that aren’t opening your emails failing to get your content, but so are the ones that would engage with it.

Okay. So how do you fix this? Here are tips to keep your digital reputation clean:

Clean Out Your List – If you have not conducted a list health inventory, I highly recommend this as the place to start. Search your entire database and focus on those on your list who have never purchased and who have also been in your CRM/database for more than 100 days. If they have not purchased or engaged in more than 100 days, remove them. They are taking up space that you are likely paying for with zero ROI. If they decide to return in the future, they can always sign up again in the future. For some businesses, they take the same approach with lapsed customers. If you decide to keep lapsed customers in your CRM for record keeping purposes, I recommend tagging or flagging them as an exclusion. The purpose of this list cleaning is to stop marketing to people who are not engaged because doing so could result in your emails being reported as spam. And whether it’s in a can or in your inbox, nobody likes spam.

Include one clear call to action and engaging content – whenever possible, provide a single call to action and/or some way for your readers to engage with your content. Open rates are not a true and accurate reflection of engagement. They do not tell you if the person actually read what you wrote, or if they liked it. When they click on a link, it tells you there was interest. This is engagement in the simplest form and you can learn something about your readers that will better help you connect and convert them in the future.

Segment your lists – information is currency, and this should be used to the fullest extent possible to provide the most valuable feedback regarding content your customers and prospects want.  Nothing is more frustrating than receiving an email from a company that is of no interest to you. That means, yes, have a general newsletter list, but perhaps give people the option to opt out of the newsletter, but stay on another email list you have, such as promotions, or monthly sales, etc. The more segmented your emails are, the better you can speak to that unique audience, and the more effective your marketing will be.

Provide both value and sales – nobody wants to be sold to over and over again. Don’t forget to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and consider what’s in it for them. There’s a fine balance between providing value and asking for the sale. After a series of sales emails raiding their inbox, even if they’ve bought your stuff, they’ll know that every email you’ll send is about selling something and they’ll tune you out.

Implement a list hygiene campaign and use it regularly – We know that right now, the window for engagement before you risk hard bounces is about 100 days. Create a process, ideally through automation, where when a contact has not engaged with your content (i.e. clicks, replied, purchased, etc) for 100 days or longer, they are brought into a hygiene or re-engagement campaign. This might include a series of value added email content, or it may simply get straight to the point of asking the recipient if they wish to remain on your list. By giving them the option to raise their hand and say yes, or respectfully decline, you are inviting them to gracefully exit your list. Perhaps they’ve just been busy, but don’t want to leave, or their life cycle has run its course. One way or another, you know. They either say yes/no or do nothing (also a no). Create a clear process for cleaning out disengaged and nonmarketable contacts and stick to it every 100 days.  Many business owners don’t even consider email engagement until they run into problems. Whether it’s an issue with excessive spam complaints and bounces, or a recurring pattern of emails not getting to their intended recipients,  these issues come up when sender reputation has already been impacted. You can avoid this by implementing the steps mentioned above. If all this sounds like it could be happening to you and you have questions, let’s hop on a call and discuss ways we can get your email sender health back in shape this holiday season!


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