Marketers struggle with list growth because of things like poor hygiene and subscriber quality. Tackling them can ensure that your emails go to the right places.

One fact about email marketing will never change: Success rides on the quality of your email database. All your shiny innovations – behavior triggers, mobile optimization, real-time messaging, 1:1 personalization – won’t make back their costs if your emails don’t go to top-quality addresses and your list sucks.

This shouldn’t be a revelation (and if it it, we need to talk), but I’m going to repeat it until more marketers invest time and money in acquiring email addresses of customers who truly want to hear and buy from them.

What marketers say about list quality

Yes, quality is on many marketers’ minds. “Increase email list quality” is the No. 1 list-building goal for marketers in 2016, according to a study Adestra released this year. “Increase email list size” came in third. Read on to find out what the lowest-ranked goal was and why you should pay more attention to it.


But, marketers don’t feel great about their list-growth strategies. Only 9 percent said their list strategies successfully overcome the many barriers to list growth. More than a third (36 percent) said their strategies aren’t working at all.

At the same time, though, 59 percent of marketers said they thought list quality was increasing. So, somebody else must be doing something right.

Barriers to list growth and how to overcome them

Here are the top four hurdles marketers cited for their list growth, and what can be done about them:

Lack of an effective list strategy (44 percent)

Marketers get so involved in tactics that they either ignore or forget about the overall strategy. Before you start an acquisition program, develop your strategy, and then figure out whether tactics like an (Read more...) address-capture form should be part of it.

Follow my primary commandment: “Know thy customer.” Also, determine your KPIs, as well as the metrics you will use to measure success.

Poor email subscriber quality (40 percent)

Poor list quality usually happens because you didn’t follow that commandment I just laid down, so I’ll repeat it. Know thy customers.

If you’re a B2C marketer, take a tip from your B2B buddies: Start qualifying subscribers on your landing pages instead of throwing the field open to anybody with an email address.

Adding a popover or lightbox capture form is becoming a popular tactic, but does it bring in the kind of subscribers who are going to convert for you? You’ll get volume, but not necessarily volume that will do you any good.

Instead, use that form to send subscribers to a simple landing page where you ask some qualifying questions. This helps customers decide if your email is right for them.

Inadequate list hygiene practices (36 percent)

There’s no excuse anymore for running a dirty email list. The email industry has a special niche of list validators that vet new addresses right at opt-in.

Plus, we have a lot of information available from deliverability experts about good list hygiene and avoiding problems.
good-hygieneISPs have also become much more transparent about getting email into the inbox. It’s all out there for you.

Just a few minutes on Google or a chat with the deliverability experts at your email service provider will send you in the right direction.

Inadequate list segmentation data (36 percent)

I hate to tell you this, but it’s your own fault. That’s because you’re not asking the right questions that will get the data you need for good segmentation.

The average customer will give up all kinds of information in order to get relevant content, but you have to ask appropriate questions.

For example, it’s appropriate for The Gap to ask its consumers’ pants size but not if it also asks them what model of car they drive.

Three to five appropriate questions should elicit honest responses, especially from people who are already interested in your brands or products. You don’t have to get all of your data at once, either. One or two questions at opt-in should be enough to start segmentation. Then, use progressive profiling to follow up and get more data.

And now, a word about attrition

Coming in at No. 7 on our marketers’ list of goals was to “reduce email list attrition.” This deserves more attention because attrition goes along with acquisition.

High attrition forces your acquisition program to work twice as hard, replacing your lost subscribers while trying to attract new ones. Learn why subscribers leave. That’s as important as knowing why they opted in.

If you don’t know, you’re just wasting your acquisition budget.

Ryan Phelan is vice president for marketing insights at Adestra.

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