What is List Hygiene and Why Does it Matter?

By Johnny B. Truant

Mailing List

Today’s question is about list hygiene.

(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the Smarter Artist Podcast)

If you’ve never heard that phrase before, you may be wondering well, what is list hygiene and why would I care?

Even once I explain what it is, you may be wondering why I would care.

Here’s basically what list hygiene is.

We always advocate that authors or artists of any sort build a list.

We would prefer an email list, that’s where the one where hygiene, in our instance here, is going to be the most applicable.

But you could also technically have a list in a Facebook group.

That also counts as a list.

A group of people who are paying attention to you and you’ve gathered them and they’ve come to you to be part of your group.

mailing list imageWe prefer that you’d own your list, which is why we like the idea of an email list on an email service provider.

But regardless, that’s a group of people who’ve opted in, in some way, shape or form, hopefully, to be in your sphere of influence.

They want to hear what you have to say.

So, that’s great except that not all leads are created equal.

We have one major list magnet, trying to get people on the email list is to get Invasion free or Invasion and Contact free. That’s our most popular series.

Or sometimes when we’ve given away Invasion as part of a big push, we’ll make Contact free, which is the sequel, and they have to join our list to get Contact. They can’t just get it for free anywhere.

Those are the sorts of things that build the list, but there is a certain type of person who only wants free books, or they want free books kind of disproportionate to the amount that they want to pay attention to you.

Some people will join that list and they’ll get their free book and they’ll kind of go, well, I don’t want to hear from you otherwise. Thanks for the book, sucker!

I’m imagining that, I don’t think they’re actually saying “Thanks for the book, sucker”, but I always feel a little resentful when somebody just wants the free thing, which I shouldn’t.

I know, it’s spreading the word.

But the point is there’s that kind of person and they aren’t going to respond to your emails and necessarily buy your books.

They’re in it for the free thing.

There’s also people who kind of get tired of you, or they liked your book but when they’re on the list they’re like well, I don’t want to hear chatty things from you. I don’t want to hear from you every week or every two weeks just with you talking about stuff.

Or if all you do is send new releases, they may say, well, I don’t want to just hear about new releases and be sold to all the time.

There’s all sorts of different people in the world, and the end result is that people don’t all respond to your emails.

So list hygiene is the process of getting those people off of your list.

Sweeping autumn leaves off a walkwayBecause they can either be neutral, which is a downside, or they can be actively negative.

That’s a minority but there have been cases where we’ve sent out emails and then somebody will just complain over and over again. Why are you swearing in your emails? So, we’ll just unsubscribe them. You’re right. You don’t want to be offended by us, we’ll just take you off.

There are reasons to take people off of your list or to encourage them to unsubscribe because they just kind of don’t belong.

But you also want to get off those neutral people because if they aren’t responding in some way, shape or form to your emails.

When your list gets big enough and you have a large enough percentage of people who never clink a link, they never even open an email, it starts to matter.

They don’t engage with you in any way at all, and all they’re doing is they’re being a passive recipient, then that would degrade the deliverability of your list and you’ll start to notice you go into more spam folders.

Let’s say you have Jenny, who’s very responsive. Jenny wants to hear about everything. Jenny will click the links.

And then you have Bob over here, forget about Bob. You have thousands of Bobs. You have a bunch of people who never respond to anything.

The presence of all those people who don’t respond makes your list unhygienic, meaning a small percentage of people will actually respond, and then Jenny who actually wants her stuff and will click, might not get your email because your deliverability suffers.

It doesn’t suffer to just the people who don’t respond, it suffers to everybody overall.

You’re more likely to go to spam, even for the people that want to hear from you.

And plus you’re just paying for it.

Pretty much every email service provider, certainly once you get to a certain size, is going to be charging you more for larger lists.

So, if you have a list of 1,000 people and you have a list of 100,000 people, 100,000 is going to cost you a lot more.

That’s great if that’s a responsive list. But if it’s 90% unresponsive, you’re just paying extra money for nothing.

You have 99,000 people who are doing nothing and just costing you money.

So, here’s how you handle list hygiene.

Some of the things that we’ve done, and this isn’t prescriptive so do your own research.

Maybe if somebody hasn’t opened an email ever, you might consider getting rid of them.

We’ve actually heard that “opens” aren’t a great metric because sometimes that pixel that indicates whether somebody’s opened an email doesn’t always fire.

“Clicks” may be a better metric. But if somebody’s never clicked a link in your email and you’ve had them on your list for five years, maybe you get rid of them.

So, decide on your metric and say okay, they haven’t clicked a link in six months, I’m going to get rid of them.

The one additional think I would say about this, rather than just cleansing your list by whatever metric you decide, is consider sending that group a re-engagement email.

cloud sync on a cell phone screenJust to make sure there’s no mistake.

Just to make sure that they’re aren’t passive and are still interested. They might always read your emails, they might never click any links but they might say hmm, Dead City, that’s interesting to me and I want to read from these people.

I never click the links but then the next time they’re on their favorite bookseller, they may be like oh, I remember Dead City and click that link.

So, they want to be on your list and they’re good, but you don’t have anything to show that, you don’t have the click.

It’s usually worth sending an email to that group before you get rid of them, and say do you want to be here, I’m noticing you’re not engaged. I don’t want to waste your time, blah, blah, blah. Give them a link to click there.

If they don’t click that link, saying yes, I do want to be on this list, keep it short, just to the point, then you remove them.

But if they do click the link, now they’ve clicked a link and they want to be on your list.

In doing that you may cut your list by half or three quarters and it may be kind of an ego check, like oh may, I had all these people, and now I have just a small fraction of these people.

But all you’ve gotten rid of is the dead weight and they weren’t helping you at all, they were just costing you money.

They were costing you deliverability.

List hygiene is the process of getting dead weight off of your mailing list.… Click To Tweet

I would rather have a list of 1,000 people who are really, really engaged, than a list of 20,000 who really aren’t that engaged at all. Consider that, keep your list hygienic.

Johnny B. Truant is the author of the Fat Vampire series and The Bialy Pimps, in addition to everything he has written with Sean at Realm & Sands.

Johnny and his family live in Austin, Texas (after several years of planning to move and complaining about life in northern Ohio).

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