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How to Clean Your Email List

*Updated: June 23, 2022

My email list had grown to close to 4,300 subscribers, yet my open rate was faltering. A friend told me, “It’s time to clean up your email list.”

Ack: The thought of having to clean an email list sent shivers down my spine. I certainly do not want folks to receive my newsletter if they are not opening it, not seeing it, or are no longer interested. Some folks sign up for contests or they sign up and never come back for one reason or another. Newsletter and email fatigue is a real phenomenon, folks.

When you know how to clean your email list, it’s quite refreshing: Out with the old, in with the new, and keep the folks on your subscriber list who genuinely want to be there. What good is a social account or a newsletter subscriber database with 10,000 people if the volume of engagement is mega low?

Sometime around March or April, blogger clean-up posts will invade the Internet. Here at BlogPaws, the start of a New Year, however, is a great time for an email list clean-up.

This blog post will provide tips on:

  • How to grow an email list and email list management 
  • How to clean your email list 
  • How to decrease your unsubscribe rate
  • How to stay out of the SPAM pile
  • How to increase your email open rate

woman typing on computer next to a cat laying in front of a laptop | How to Clean Your Email List

How to Grow an Email List and Email List Management

In 2016, I set out to grow my email list and to remove subscribers who no longer belonged on my list for one reason or another. I am happy to report I accomplished both and increased my open rate.

The number one tip for growing an email list is to start with incredibly valuable content. Though it sounds like common sense, without quality content targeted to the right demographic, open rates will be low and engagement even lower. We’re all in a hurry these days, and we have even less time to wade through a long, tedious email. If you promise valuable content that delivers, your subscribers are likely to stick around.

Be conversational in email. Over at Smart Insights, the experts are saying that people are generally turned off by the more salesy emails of the past. Instead, focus on creating personalized, plain text emails that sound as though you are having a conversation with the reader one-on-one. This will gain their trust and make it easier to direct them through your CTA to your content that helps/educates them. 

Add a non-intrusive lightbox form to your site. A lightbox or popup box appears somewhere on your website, perhaps as an overlay, and encourages readers to subscribe to your newsletter. As you know, numbers do not lie, and my numbers are telling me that people sign up for my newsletter, open the newsletters, and stay with me! I get quite a few sign-ups to my blog newsletter with this technique, and I am not alone.

Offer a valuable incentive. For many, the days of a one-pager in exchange for an email are long gone. People want something of value. The days of giving an email address away for next to nothing are over. Promote this offer on your social media channels.

How to Clean Your Email List

Regular email list cleaning is important. Remove non-engaged and inactive users. The first time I did this, I felt like I was pouring weed killer over a bed of roses. It hurts, but you do not want people on your list who truly do not belong there. I am switching newsletter services this year, but when I last did this in the fall, my present newsletter service provided the tools to clean up and scrub my list.

Check with your newsletter provider for the tools in place to help clean up your lists. If your provider doesn’t have an option, you can use a free email list cleaner or an email list cleaning service. 

Before removing any hard-earned subscribers, consider a re-engagement campaign to try and pique their interest. You would include something to recapture their attention and bring them back on board. If this fails, you can either ask them if they want to remain on your list and include a way for them to opt-out, or you can simply remove inactive subscribers from your lists.

Manage the bounces: Email lists, like blogs, have a bounce rate, including hard and soft. A soft bounce has to do with a ‘temporary’ deliverables issue like the server is down or the recipient’s inbox is full. You can retry sending soft bounces. Hard bounces, however, deal with a permanent deliverables problem. For example, an invalid email address will create a hard bounce. Too many bounces can lead to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) blocking your messages. Also, your email newsletter analytics will be affected by bounce rates.

How to Decrease Your Unsubscribe Rate

People need to care about what you have to say. Having 6,000 subscribers means nothing if the content isn’t solving their problems, meeting their needs, or otherwise giving them a reason to stay on that list. What’s the benefit of joining your list? “Join my newsletter now” isn’t a benefit. “Help Your Dogs Live Happier and Healthier” is a benefit to the reader as long as you deliver on it.

Don’t send too many emails: Not only is this annoying, but it comes across as salesy.

Funnel new people into your newsletter and make up for any folks who unsubscribe by using the Facebook action button or creating Facebook call-to-action ads to drive email sign-ups.

If you have a large number of folks who unsubscribe in a short period of time, examine what took place right before that action. Did you send a newsletter out? There must be something about the newsletter or its frequency that led to the unsubscribes. Find out what happened and fix it.

Increase Your Newsletter Open Rate

  1. The subject line must be engaging.
  2. Write valuable content that is quality and targets your demographic.
  3. Send the right email at the right time.
  4. Do not buy email subscribers: You can and will get in very hot water.
  5. Offer subscribers a discount on something with email sign-up. Then send that email right away.
  6. Create an email welcome sequence to guide new subscribers into your newsletter list. 
  7. Create a marketing funnel.

How to Stay Out of the SPAM Pile

The folks at Mailchimp have some spot-on tips for keeping out of the SPAM pile, including:

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 became law on January 1, 2004. According to the FTC, if you violate the law, you could be fined $11,000 for each offense—that’s $11,000 for each email address on your list. ISPs around the country have already successfully sued spammers for millions of dollars under this law. If you send commercial emails (generally sales or promotional content), you should familiarize yourself with the requirements of CAN-SPAM.

A few key points of the law include:

  • Never use deceptive headers, From names, reply-to addresses, or subject lines.
  • Always provide an unsubscribe link.
  • The unsubscribe link must work for at least 30 days after sending.
  • You must include your physical mailing address.

If someone reports your email newsletter as SPAM, and enough people, in turn, do so, you will receive an automated warning message in addition to an abuse report being created and sent to your email program and ISP.

Stay out of the SPAM pile. Be clear and transparent.

cat laying in front of an open laptop pin | How to Clean Your Email List


You might have received emails from a company or bloggers asking you to whitelist your email address so their valuable messages do not end up filtered.  If you are using GMAIL, you might notice that many emails go to the “promotions” or junk folder. You want your emails to be whitelisted so they show up in the user’s main tab.

Over at the AWeber Email Service blog, they talk about an easy way to get acquainted with new subscribers and help to get your email address whitelisted. They say:

Reach out to new subscribers with a special question. Two special questions, actually.

Make your first follow-up message the welcome message that includes any links or attachments or information you promised them for signing up. Then follow up the same day asking the person to let you know if they received the download/information/gift and what they thought about it. This is not only great customer service, but people will reply to let you know, and that action will whitelist you.

But even better, the next day send another follow-up message and ask a simple question guaranteed to get a great response: What is your biggest problem with ______?

Just fill in the blank with the topic of your business product or service. People love to share their problems, especially with an expert and someone who might be able to help them out.

Each email service has its own tips and recommendations for getting whitelisted, so perform due diligence with your newsletter provider.

Don’t Stop Now

Link to your blog’s signup landing page within your email signature. This is one of the most often overlooked ways to promote a quality email list. On the flip side, I sometimes see an email signature to rival the Gettysburg Address. Keep it short!

Do you have a blog newsletter? Do you clean your email list regularly? 

We invite you to share any email-related questions in the comments below.


Carol Bryant is the Marketing and Social Media Manager for BlogPaws and runs her own blog, Fidose of Reality, and its fundraising arm, Wigglebutt Warriors. When not busy playing with her Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, she stays far away from cooking. Her trademark is her mantra and is tattooed on her arm: My Heart Beats Dog.®

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