Email List Management Best Practices: The Complete Guide to Managing a Healthy, Responsive Email List

email list management best practices image

Want to know one of the easiest ways to generate more revenue fast?

Put together an irresistible offer and email it to prospects on your list.

Sounds simple, right?

Everyone has a network. Whether you have 5,000 subscribers, 500 connections on LinkedIn, or just a spreadsheet with 50 of your clients, I can guarantee that you have people who can benefit from hearing about what you’re up to.

There’s only one problem.

When your lists are disorganized, sending an update to your most important contacts can be a nightmare of copying and pasting in Excel—where it should be as simple as clicking a couple of buttons and typing up an email.

That’s where this guide comes in.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to get your lists organized and maintain a healthy, responsive email list that grows your business.

By the end of this post, you’ll know:

  • How to keep your email list clean and filled with only prospects who want to hear from you
  • The #1 feature you need in an email provider (if you just get this one thing right, you’ll be ahead of almost everyone in your industry)
  • How to use tags to manage prospects, customers, and friends—so you can always find the right audience when it’s time to send an email (in 60 seconds flat)

Fair warning: I’m going to show you how to perform each of these actions in Drip. But these strategies apply to any email provider.

Since Drip is free for your first 100 contacts, if you haven’t yet created a free account, now’s a great time to…

Click Here to Join Drip for Free and Organize Your Contacts Like a Pro
 

Let’s begin.

Foundation #1: Choose a “People-Centric” Email Service

Have you ever thought…

“I’ve got all these subscribers that fall into 3 or 4 different buckets. How do I organize them so I can send the right email to the right person?”

The solution is simpler than you’d think.

But before I show you the key to managing subscribers, you need to understand a basic difference between email providers.

When it comes to email marketing, you have two camps.

  • List-centric: Your subscribers exist on different lists. If you send an email broadcast to multiple lists, subscribers receive duplicate emails and you are charged twice for the same subscriber. Most traditional email providers are list-centric.
  • People-centric: You can apply tags to your subscribers, but each subscriber exists only once in your account. This lets you send the right message, to the right person, at the right time (not multiple times)—and reap the rewards of a targeted, relevant conversation.

So, which system is right for you?

It depends.

We have a free in-depth guide to choosing email software that walks you through 10 criteria you’ll probably want to consider.

But the short answer is this.

If your email subscribers fit many different profiles (such as clients, prospects, partners, etc.) … then you’ll probably want a people-centric email marketing tool.

Here’s why.

Eventually, there will come a time when you want to send an email to a hyper-specific segment of your subscribers. And people-centric email tools make this simple, whereas list-centric tools can leave you stuck with choosing between “spray and pray” and not sending that email at all.

For example…

In 2015, Dan Andrews of the Tropical MBA had emailed his list about an exclusive event for million-dollar entrepreneurs. And he wanted to make one final push before closing applications.

Since Dan had already emailed his list, he simply wanted to send a reminder to people who:

  • Had visited the event sales page (demonstrating that they were interested)
  • Had not already submitted an application

Simple, right?

You would think so. But Dan’s list-centric email tool didn’t give him these options.

He was stuck blasting his entire list about the same event again—even though it wasn’t relevant to 90% of his subscribers. (Here’s a podcast episode with the full story.)

With a people-centric tool, on the other hand, you have much more power to filter subscribers.

Like this.

subscriber query 2 rectangle 2

In Drip, you can send specific emails to people who:

  • Are tagged as a “Client” but not a “Friend” or “Media Partner” (in the attributes that you noted when you imported a CSV of subscribers)
  • Have clicked on a link indicating their interest in learning more about your consulting services
  • Have started a trial of your SaaS and indicated during sign-up that they run a Shopify store as opposed to a Magento store (if your software serves both groups)
  • Viewed your software upgrade page in the past 30 days without upgrading from a Free to a Business plan

And the list goes on.

Side note: If you’ve not yet imported your contacts into an email provider, check out this repository of migration guides that will walk you step-by-step through migrating.

The best part is that segmenting your list makes your emails much more profitable.

According to a MailChimp study of 11,000 email campaigns, segmented emails had 14.31% higher open rates, 100.95% higher click rates, and 9.37% lower unsubscribe rates than non-segmented emails.

For most businesses, simply moving to a people-centric tool is the easiest way to improve your email list management. That’s because you can begin to segment your subscribers with greater precision using attributes like tags and events.

And that brings us to…

Foundation #2: Use Tags and Events to Keep Track of Subscribers (and Send Them the Right Messages)

Let’s start by defining tags.

A tag is simply a piece of data you attach to a user. For example, you might tag someone with the name of a product they’ve purchased.

tag 2 rectangle

An event is like a tag, but it includes a date and applies only when someone takes an action.

In his Drip review post, marketing automation expert Brennan Dunn explains why events are so powerful for businesses:

The problem with tags is that they don’t hold any data about the circumstances of when a tag was applied, or why it was applied. Tags are either there, or they’re not there.

Tagging people as “Customer – Product A” is all good and well… until you find yourself needing to find people who become a customer of Product A between January 1st and 30th… With Drip events, you get the action performed (like “Purchased Product A”) [and] the date and time it happened.”

Events might seem like overkill.

But eventually, you’re going to want to see data on how many people on your list bought a product, joined an email course, or became a lead within a specific time frame. And that’s the kind of information that can help you double your revenue.

For example…

Let’s say I run a SaaS startup and I want to see all the software demo leads I’ve generated from LinkedIn advertising in the past 30 days.

And let’s suppose I’m tagging leads with “LinkedIn Demo Prospect” when they submit a demo landing page I’ve set up specifically for LinkedIn visitors.

tag only skitch

If I use the tag “LinkedIn Demo Prospect” and decide later that I want to find leads who requested a demo from LinkedIn between April 1st and April 30th, I’m out of luck. That’s because (as Brennan points out) tags won’t let you filter based on time.

But events are different.

Let’s suppose I fire the event “Requested a demo from LinkedIn” in addition to my tag.

linkedin ppc with event skitch

Now, I can easily find a cohort of all LinkedIn PPC leads who requested a demo in February.

Like this.

query events skitch

This lets you:

  • Find past customers who left your service prior to a big product update, so you can email just those folks with a reactivation campaign (e.g. “Here’s everything we’ve added since you left”)
  • Track how your PPC leads are converting into sales month over month
  • Email a small segment of leads with a short survey … without blasting your entire list

And tons more.

If your business depends on generating qualified leads, this data is invaluable.

For one thing, it’s a competitive advantage: most companies don’t use any automation at all, let alone tags and events. And even if you don’t need this data now, when you do decide you want to dig up reports or send hyper-targeted campaign, these segments will only be a few clicks away.

Note: If tags and events seem like a lot to wrap your head around, don’t worry. A good starting point for managing your list is simply tagging each subscriber “prospect” or “customer.” If you’re a Drip user, we’re always happy to give you some guidance on our free Drip Mastery Live coaching calls.

Foundation #3: Set up a System to Clean Your Email List (So You Maintain a High Sender Reputation)

With time, any list will accumulate subscribers who stop opening emails.

If you have enough disengaged subscribers on your list, you’ll see lower open rates and eventually a lower sender reputation.

The solution?

List pruning.

Pruning your list to remove inactive subscribers is a basic tenet of email hygiene.

There are two steps to removing subscribers who no longer want to hear from you.

  1. Find a segment of subscribers who haven’t opened your past 15 emails.
  2. Unsubscribe them—or send them a reengagement campaign to give them one last chance to stay on board.

Easy, right?

Unsubscribing a large chunk of your subscribers can be scary. But chances are, if someone hasn’t opened your last 15 emails, they’re probably not interested in hearing from you. And performing this pruning action will keep your sender reputation in good standing.

In Drip, you can clean your list in under 2 minutes with a simple prune action.

Here’s how it works.

First, go to the Subscribers tab and click Pruning Operations > New Pruning Operation.

pruning skitch

Next, type in “15” to find all subscribers who haven’t opened any of their past 15 emails.

pruning 2 skitch

Finally, click Prune Subscribers and you’re done.

List cleaning isn’t the sexiest topic when it comes to marketing. But if you want to maintain 20% to 30% open rates (or more) and keep your sender reputation high, this is a necessary 5-minute task that you should schedule once every few months.

Plus, when you clean your list, you can be sure you’re not getting charged for subscribers who aren’t adding any value to your business.

Most email providers charge based on your number of contacts, so list pruning is a good way to keep your expenses as low as possible.

Manage Your Email Contacts Effortlessly with Drip

Managing a healthy, responsive list that increase your value per lead doesn’t have to be difficult.

In fact, email list management largely comes down to the tool you use.

If you need a people-centric, easy-to-use email provider to organize your contacts, now’s a great time to…

Click Here to Join Drip for Free and Effortlessly Manage Your Email Lists
 

Question for the comments: What’s your #1 challenge when it comes to managing your email list? Let me know in the comments below.

  • Another GEM! I am using Drip, so I am good with #1. I have used tags & events mentioned in #2, but reminded me of using more events 🙂 #3, Have used pruning before – love it. 🙂

    • Zach Grove

      Thanks for reading, Anil. 🙂