Tips for sending to an old email list

There are times when you may be tempted (or legally required) to mail to an old email list. It is a convenient but risky tactic to use when seeking ways to increase revenue. The typical outcome for sending to an old email list is poor inbox placement and a damaged sending reputation. 

It is always best to try and keep subscribers engaged with your email program but there will always be subscribers that stop engaging for one reason or another. The last thing you want to happen is for your active subscribers and buyers to miss your next campaign because your old email list is landing emails in the spam folder or being blocked by the mailbox providers.

If you do choose to mail to an old email list, it is important to manage the risk to your sending reputation as much as possible. Weigh the potential risk versus reward of sending to an old email list as there may be long-term negative consequences to your business.

Tips for sending to an old email list:

Start with a clean list
Use a list validation service to remove problematic data prior to deployment. Ideally, run your list just before you start sending.

It allows you to:

  • Purge unknown users, role accounts and disposable email addresses.
  • Get an idea of the quality of that old file. If you have a high ratio of unknown users, proceed with caution. This is going to be a good indicator that your list may also have a higher number of spam traps.

Despite rumors you may have heard, list validation services are not able to identify spam traps for you. This defeats the purpose of spam traps in the first place, which is to allow mailbox providers to identify senders with poor list acquisition and list hygiene practices.

Consider quarantines and send strategically
Now that you’ve done what you can to clean up your list, you need to be very careful about how you proceed. This is especially the case with segments of your list that have been suppressed from receiving messages from you for an extended period of time. In addition to a greater likelihood of containing spam traps, your old list is also going to be more likely to trigger spam complaints from users and show very low engagement. The combination of these factors is a great way to raise a red flag with mailbox providers and negatively impact your IP address and domain reputation.

That being said, you want to be careful with the IP addresses and domains you use to send. There are two primary approaches to this:

  1. Send many small volume campaigns over a long period of time and intersperse these campaigns with high-engagement messages to good quality subscribers. By balancing small portions of the bad with large portions of the good, you may see minimal impact and actually get some of these poor campaigns into the inbox. Using this approach, you want to select high volume IP addresses. If you follow this approach, monitor your inbox placement very carefully. If you see a drop in performance, reduce the volume to the old email list or resort to option two below.
  2. Designate a specific IP address and use it to quarantine mailings to the old list. If you have to do a single large blast or email a high number of old/inactive subscribers in a very short period of time, you may need to use this approach and potentially sacrifice an IP address for the safety and performance of other IP addresses. If you go in this direction, consider mailing to your most recent/best addresses first as those will have a higher likelihood of making it to the inbox. As your send continues, mailbox providers may start routing messages to the spam folder or may even start blocking your messages.

If possible, test
Send a small test deployment to a random portion of your old email list.

  • Watch your results carefully to determine how to proceed with the remainder of the list.
  • If you’re sending to an old list by choice, review the engagement level of the campaign as well as negative metrics like complaints and unsubscribes.
  • If you see minimal engagement and conversion rates you may want to use this as evidence that a broader send may not meet your expectations for success.

Monitor and react quickly
Once you’re ready to deploy to your old email list, whether it’s one big blast or several smaller segments, it’s important to monitor performance carefully.

  • Loop in your Email Service Provider (ESP) so they can help with damage control if needed.
  • If you’re working with Return Path, let your account manager know what you are doing. Watch your inbox placement, complaint rates, reputation, and bounce logs.
  • If performance suffers, consider pausing your deployment and rethinking your strategy.
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