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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A good email marketing campaign starts with your ability to get clean, active email addresses into your database. Email addresses with syntax or spelling errors can cause hard bounces, which in turn can harm your sending IP’s reputation. These factors all results in the poor delivery of your campaigns and ultimately a loss in revenue.

To ensure that you are only putting properly formatted email addresses in your database, create a few rules behind the email entry field on your website. First, have double entry fields for email addresses and do not allow the second entry field to be pasted into. Upon submitting, your web service should check that both addresses are identical. This should help reduce the number of misspellings in your database.

Next, have the web service also check for common syntax errors in the email address itself. Examples of this are:

• Are there any spaces in the email address?
• Is there an @ [at] sign?
• Is there at least one . [period]?
• Are there at least six characters present? [x@x.xx]

Any of these errors will cause an email to fail upon sending, so have the web service prompt users to correct their entry before proceeding. Effective email marketing requires that users enter correct information. Creating rules for data entry is essential for success.

Once you have a process in place to handle syntax errors, you also need to consider misspellings and typos. Since there are millions of possible errors, it would be incredibly difficult to build a service to handle these. Thankfully, companies like FreshAddress have developed a real time solution for exactly that. Their REACT (Real-time Email Address Correction Technology) software checks the email address that was entered in real time against a list of common misspellings and suggests alternative. Although on the expensive side, this service, and others like it, can greatly reduce the number of bad incoming addresses and save your deliverability.

If you’ve been emailing for a while, you’ve probably accumulated a large number of invalid email addresses. These are most likely caused from soft or hard bounces, and are probably just taking up space on your servers. Chances are that a large percentage of these addresses can be recovered simply by making a small change to the address. Do some research and find a list hygiene service or company to help with this type of project. Again, this could be a costly undertaking, but the number of recovered email addresses could be well worth it. Most companies will do a low cost or free test on a small segment of data so you can try it before committing.

For the hygiene process, you’ll collect all of your invalid email addresses and send them to the vendor of choice. They will then compare it to several other lists of blacklisted and retired domains, known complainers and – most importantly – check for misspelled domains. Once they’re finished, you’ll get a list of corrected addresses or a list with a code of what the address was flagged for. Then you should make any changes to the addresses that are needed and reload into your database.

It’s important to flag all corrected addresses so you can keep an eye on unsubscribes and complaints. Remember, it’s likely these customers haven’t been receiving your emails at all, so you should probably send them some form of welcome message to ease them into your email stream. If your budget allows, perform list hygiene at least once a quarter to keep your email list fresh and active.

Another way to keep your email list active is to use an engagement list. Start by filtering out inactive email addresses – those who haven’t opened, clicked or converted in a timeframe that’s relevant to your business. Send to the remaining customers in your email list for most of your mailings. If you are uncomfortable only mailing a portion of your list, include the inactives from time to time and start a reactivation campaign to re-engage them.

Any or all of these solutions will help keep your email list clean and active. A low number of hard bounces will ensure your IP’s sending reputation and your marketing efforts will benefit from the solid delivery. Email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to engage your prospects and customers. Keep your email list clean and see your results improve.


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