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12 email list management best practices for more engagement in 2024

21 min

Want to get the most out of your email marketing campaigns? Then you’ll want to start paying attention to not only how quickly your email list grows but also how well-maintained it is.

Email list management, as that’s what we’ll discuss in this article, is fundamental to achieving strong results from your marketing efforts. Not only will it help you keep your audience engaged, but it will also save you money in the long run.

If you want to learn what email list management involves, how to do it right, and what are the top email list management tools that’ll help you along the way, then keep reading.

Bonus: If you’d prefer this information in a more visual format, check out our infographic at the end of this article.

But first, what is email list management?

Email list management describes the strategy of managing and controlling email subscribers in your lists and segments.

It overlooks various processes, starting from maintaining updated tagging and segmentation to removing invalid email addresses, duplicates, unsubscribes, and unengaged contacts from your list.

Through this strategy, you can send more targeted emails, which is essential to delivering engaging and highly converting email campaigns.

Email list quality vs email list quantity.

Benefits of proper email list management

Email list management isn’t just good practice. It’s a strategy that can put you ahead of other businesses and transform your email marketing program into one that generates an outstanding return on investment.

Here’s what you can achieve through managing your email contacts:

  • You’ll have a better understanding of your audience, including the key segments that generate the most value for your business.
  • You’ll have more reliable data and will be able to send more personalized emails that drive more revenue from your campaigns.
  • You’ll achieve a higher inbox placement rate as spam filters rely heavily on email users’ engagement (more on why emails land in spam)
  • You’ll maintain a healthy list, free of unwanted addresses such as spam traps, unengaged contacts, and fake email addresses.
  • You’ll lower your costs, as most email marketing providers charge you based on the size of your contacts list or the volume you send to.

Now that we understand what email list management is and know its value, let’s go into some best practices you can start working with.

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Best practices for managing an email or contact list

Here are 12 best practices you can use to get started and improve your existing email list management processes.

1. Ensure your opt-in forms are set up properly

Even if you already have an email list, you’ll want to ensure your signup forms are set up properly.

What I mean by that is that not only your signup forms are secure and add new contacts to your email database in real-time, but also that you collect the user consent the right way.

By doing this, you’ll save yourself the trouble of later filtering subscribers who aren’t interested in your offer or never intended to join your list in the first place.

Here are the general rules you’ll want to follow in your signup forms:

  • Be specific and fully transparent about what your users are signing up for. You don’t want to trick people into joining your subscription by making false promises.
  • Ask your visitors only for absolutely essential personal information, like name and email address. In most cases, that’s all you need to send relevant content to your audience, and you can gather any additional information (like company name or birthday) later.
  • Get explicit consent if you’re planning to send marketing emails to your contacts. You can do this by adding an optional checkbox that’ll let users choose if they want to join your list.
  • Provide additional information about how you’re going to process user data, how subscribers can edit or have their data removed, and how they can access your privacy policy information.
  • Ideally, use confirmed opt-in to verify the new email subscribers and filter out invalid email addresses right away.

In addition, on your website or landing page, you may also want to add extra security features that’ll help you filter out bot traffic and avoid the so-called mail bombing. With free services like Google’s reCAPTCHA, you can ensure that your forms will not be compromised and no bots will be automatically added to your email list or customer relationship management system (CRM). And rest assured, with reCaptcha installed, your page will still function properly and let real users submit your forms.

Newsletter subscription form created using GetResponse Forms and Popups Creator – including a reCaptcha and a consent field.
Newsletter subscription form created using GetResponse Forms and Popups Creator – already including a consent field and a reCAPTCHA.

2. Verify new contacts with confirmed opt-in

We’ve briefly touched upon confirmed opt-in, a.k.a. double opt-in, in the previous point, but it’s worth going over this in a bit more detail.

Especially given that it’s considered the gold standard of email marketing by numerous organizations, including Spamhaus and M3AAWG.

With proper email list management, you’ll be able to filter out the unengaged email subscribers no matter where or when they start to become unresponsive. However, confirmed opt-in can help you ensure that only quality contacts join your list in the first place.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1. In your signup form, you notify the new contact that to join the subscription fully, they need to verify their email address by clicking the link in the confirmation email.

Here’s how Further does it on their newsletter signup thank you page:

Newsletter signup thank you page informing users that they need to verify their email address.
Thank you page informing users about the need to confirm their subscription

Step 2. They receive a confirmation that contains a single link that verifies their submission. If they successfully click it, they get added to your list. If they fail to click it, they’re not added to your list.

Here’s what the confirmation email from Further looks like:

Confirmation email from Further.
Confirmation email from Further

Thanks to this, even if someone makes a typo or provides you with a fake email address, it won’t affect your email program’s success. That’s because such users will never click on the verification link and, therefore, won’t be getting your future communication.

While confirmed opt-in helps you build a healthy email list, there’s also another benefit to it – it gives the Internet Services Providers (ISPs) like Gmail or Yahoo! a signal that you’re a solid sender and that your messages are legit. In other words, it helps you build a strong sender reputation, improves your email deliverability, and helps your messages stay away from spam folders.

3. Greet your new contacts with welcome emails

When new subscribers opt into your contact list, their engagement and interest in your brand are at the highest level.

After all, they’ve made a deliberate decision to fill out that form and provided you with their email address because you’ve caught their interest. And now they’re eagerly expecting your next move.

The best way to make a good impression on your new subscribers is to send them a stunning welcome email – or even a whole onboarding email sequence.

Example of a well-designed and engaged welcome email from Magic Spoon.
Example of a well-designed and engaging welcome email from Magic Spoon.

Here’s what you can achieve through a good welcome email (series):

  • Confirm to the new recipients that the subscription was processed well.
  • Thank the new contacts for joining the list and entrusting you with their personal information.
  • Set the tone for future communication and inform them about the frequency and topics you’ll be touching on.
  • Deliver any content you’ve promised them in the signup form.
  • Provide tips and useful links for the best way to start exploring your brand or website.
  • Confirm the sender address they can expect to hear from you in the future, so that they add it to their safe sender list.

On top of that, since welcome emails get exceptionally high engagement rates (average open rates above 68% and click-throughs over 16% according to our Email Marketing Benchmarks study) they can positively affect your sender reputation in the Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) like Gmail or Yahoo! eyes.

Pro tip: Setting up a welcome email is simple, and considering its effectiveness, it’s a must-have for any business.

With an email marketing tool like GetResponse, all you need to do is pick one of the available email templates (or build one from scratch), fill out your copy, and customize the message to match your branding. Then, use an Autoresponder feature and set the message to go out on day 0. It’s that simple!

Welcome email templates in GetResponse Email Creator.
Free welcome email templates available in GetResponse Email Marketing.

4. Master your tagging and segmentation

Other effective email list management techniques are tagging and segmentation.

Tagging lets you assign tags based on the recipient’s actions. For example, if they used a discount code from your welcome email, you could assign them the tag “welcome-offer-converted.”

Segmentation, however, divides your audience into smaller groups that share common traits. For example, if you have an online store, you could split your audience into two segments – customers who provided you the marketing consent and customers who didn’t consent to receive marketing communications.

Naturally, there are many more ways you could segment your audience. If you’d like to learn a few others, check out our detailed guide to email segmentation.

The purpose of both tagging and segmentation is to get to know your audience better and to be able to tailor your communication to their needs. By doing so, you can increase the effectiveness of your campaigns both in terms of ROI as well as deliverability.

Contact card view in GetResponse displaying recipient's tags and activity
Contact card view in GetResponse displaying recipient’s tags and activity

5. Reactivate unengaged subscribers

Do you have unengaged subscribers? You know, people who haven’t opened any of your emails or didn’t click any of the links in, say, 90 days?

Typically, this lack of engagement stems from:

  • People ignored several of your emails, and the ISP started filtering your messages into the spam folder.
  • People are no longer interested in a given category or already bought a product that serves their needs.
  • People have moved to another location or changed jobs, and your offer’s no longer relevant or even reaching them.

It’s natural, and you shouldn’t be upset that this happens. However, you shouldn’t just ignore it and continue targeting your audience in the hope they’ll suddenly become interested or engaged.

You should be aware that ISPs pay a lot of attention to how engaged their users are with your content. If a significant number of your recipients show no interest, a large share of your emails will be either delivered to the junk folder or not at all.

Therefore, what you should do is make sure that you regularly reengage your unengaged subscribers either through manually sent campaigns or, better yet, automated sequences.

Here’s an example of a marketing automation workflow inside GetResponse that’d help you run this type of campaign on autopilot:

Reengagement marketing automation workflow.
Reengagement marketing automation workflow

Note: In this workflow, we’ve used a segment that includes people who’ve been on our list for more than 180 days and have been recognized by our system as unengaged (their engagement score was -3).

As an inspiration, here’s an example of a reengagement campaign sent by MVMT to subscribers who’ve become unengaged. For more, see these remarkable win-back email campaigns.

Reengagement email campaign from online retailer, MVMT.
Reengagement email campaign from online retailer MVMT

6. Automatically remove unengaged subscribers

So, what happens if your re-engagement campaigns don’t succeed? Ideally, after several failed attempts, you’d either suppress these contacts from your future mailings or remove them from your list altogether.

While this may seem like a drastic approach, especially for small businesses where every lead counts, you should consider just how much bad deliverability could affect your bottom line. It’s almost always less expensive to attract new contacts who’d be happy to do business with you.

So how do you do this? There are two ways to carry out this process – the manual way and the automated way.

The manual way requires that you search for these contacts just the way you’d do when setting up segments. For example, here we’ve looked for contacts who haven’t opened any of our emails in the last 180 days and have been on our list for more than 180 days.

Contacts who've not opened any of our emails in the last 180 days.
Contacts who’ve not opened any of our emails in the last 180 days

Once we’ve found this segment and failed to re-engage them, all we need to do is select them all and click the action – “Delete from list.”

Now, the automated way requires an automation workflow. It could be a standalone workflow or just an add-on to the re-engagement workflow we created in the previous step. Here’s what this could look like:

Removing contacts from the list through a Marketing Automation workflow
Removing contacts from the list through a Marketing Automation workflow

This process is much easier, especially if you have a big scale, but it can also backfire, so be careful. You don’t want to set your workflow conditions too strictly, as it may turn out that you’ll remove more contacts than you’re acquiring through your lead generation efforts.

Read more: Email list cleaning best practices

7. In every email, remind subscribers they opted into your email list 

The average email subscriber on your contact list receives 416 emails per month from other lists they’re subscribed to. So you can imagine how easy it can be for them to forget they even signed up to receive your emails. 

And if they don’t remember they subscribed, chances are they’ll stop engaging with your content or, even worse, report your email as spam. This will damage your reputation with mailbox providers like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.

This is where permission reminders come in. In every email you send, remind your subscribers that they chose to receive your emails by signing up on your website or landing page and that they can easily opt out if they want to.

A permission reminder is a short, simple statement that reminds the reader who you are and how they ended up on your contact list. And they’re usually in the footer. Here’s a good example of a permission reminder from the New York Times:

Permission reminder in the email footer
Permission reminder in the email footer

Regardless of where you are in the world, there are privacy laws that you must follow. For example, in Canada, there is the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). In the United States, there’s the CAN-SPAM Act, and in the European Union (EU), there is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

And these laws simply don’t tolerate spam and require you to have explicit permission to send marketing communication to your contacts. So if your subscriber forgets they opted into your list and chooses to mark your email as spam, you could get penalized.

Although, once you’ve gained initial consent to send emails, you’re not required by law to include permission reminders. But adding them to your emails will help you ensure compliance, boosting your deliverability rate and your subscribers’ confidence in you.

8. Automatically remove bounced email addresses

There are two types of bounces – soft and hard bounces.

The soft ones are usually temporary and mean that a mailbox couldn’t be reached at a particular moment, e.g., because the mailbox is full. The hard bounces, on the other hand, are permanent. They mean that the email address is unreachable because it’s, e.g., non-existent or invalid.

Even though soft bounces don’t always mean trouble, they may indicate a wider issue. And as a reputable sender, you don’t want to have high bounce rates – no matter if your bounces are hard or soft. That’s because high bounce rates show to the ISPs that your email list management practices are not up to the standard.

And what could ISPs do if they see that you’re acting like that? They could postpone your email delivery, temporarily block your delivery, or block you permanently until you’ve made changes to your practices.

Now, if you’re using email list management software, in most cases, you don’t need to worry about bounce handling. Tools like GetResponse manage bounces automatically and remove invalid email addresses and other contacts that cause hard bounce after two attempts and those who return a soft bounce after four attempts (in some specific situations, like mailbox full, after 30 days).

On top of managing bounces for you automatically, GetResponse also provides you with real-time analytics through which you can see how your email marketing campaign is performing. One particular report shows you in-depth information on your bounce rate and breaks down the types of bounces (also by domain) that were returned in your send-out.

Email bounce rate report inside the GetResponse Email Analytics dashboard.
Email bounce rate report inside the GetResponse Email Analytics dashboard.

9. Use a scoring system to gauge engagement

When you use a scoring system to gauge the engagement of each subscriber on your email list, you’ll be able to measure their engagement rates.

If your email marketing software lets you do this, it’s a goldmine. 

For instance, in GetResponse, you can allocate individual scores (say, 10 points) to each contact or subscriber that performs certain functions. In the same way, you can deduct points from their engagement scores when they don’t take certain actions set by you. 

Adding and removing scoring points based on contact activity in Marketing Automation.
Adding and removing scoring points based on contact activity in Marketing Automation.

So higher scores equal healthier and happier subscribers or customers.

And when you combine a scoring system with automation workflows, you can:

  • Assign points to selected activities and behaviors.
  • Assign points to users with particular attributes (e.g., not using a free email domain)
  • Build reward programs for the most valuable subscribers.
  • Use scores reflecting engagement and value as you refine individual subscriber profiles.
  • Create early warning systems to trigger the result of declining engagement.

10. Send personalized email sequences based on your scoring system

Assuming you’ve set your email software to give subscribers ten points for each activity they perform, you can trigger certain emails to be sent to them since they’re engaged and responding to your campaigns.

For instance, you can set up a scenario like this in your email automation software: 

Marketing automation workflow with three follow ups checking if the user visited the check out page.
Marketing automation workflow with three follow ups checking if the user visited the check out page

When a subscriber gets at least 40 scoring points > send them an email persuading them to buy your online course. If they don’t buy the course or reply to your email in two days > send them a follow-up email. If they don’t reply in another two days > send another follow-up email. If they still don’t buy > don’t send any more emails and subtract their scoring points.

Sending emails to your subscribers based on their engagement scores will further help you send emails to the right people at the right time. And this will increase your engagement and conversion rates.

11. Use A/B testing to determine what works

If you’ve been doing marketing for any amount of time, you’re probably familiar with how A/B testing works. But if not, A/B testing or split testing is an experiment where you create two (or more) variations of the same campaign to see which one works best. 

At the end of your experiment, the variation that wins becomes what you keep working with to get the best results.

With A/B testing experiments, you can measure the performance of your emails to determine which is most effective. And here are some examples of elements to compare:

  • Subject lines
  • Headers
  • Hero shots
  • Main offer
  • Length of emails
  • How color affects your conversions
  • Layout styles
  • Headlines and content
  • Images and videos
  • Navigation elements

The more you run testing, the better you’ll understand your target audience and the better your deliverability, engagement, and conversion rates will become.

GetResponse has an entire section dedicated solely to A/B tests. Creating beautiful messages is a breeze with our state-of-the-art editor.

If you’re interested, here’s what the AB test configuration looks like inside our tool.

Split testing functionality allowing you experiment with your email campaigns.
Split testing functionality allowing you experiment with your email campaigns
Split testing experiment configuration - choosing your audience size.
Split testing experiment configuration – choosing your audience size

Heads up, you can choose to have the winning design be sent out automatically to the rest of your audience. This will save you time and help you launch your email campaigns more efficiently.

12. Switch email service providers (ESP)

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many email list management best practices you use. Switching email service providers may be your best bet.

One of the biggest reasons to switch is deliverability. If your deliverability rates are low, you can try some best practices to bump it back up. But if, regardless of anything you try, your rates still remain low, then you should consider switching your email service provider.

Naturally, when moving between providers, you’ll want to make sure that you migrate the essential information like:

  • your email templates,
  • contacts along with contact tags and other personal attributes,
  • segments and suppression lists,
  • forms and landing pages,
  • automation workflows.

On the other hand, you’re better off if you skip these during your migration:

  • contacts who unsubscribed from your lists,
  • contacts who bounced and should have been removed,
  • contacts who reported your emails as spam.

And if you’re ever considering switching to GetResponse, it’s easy to migrate contacts from your current provider into your GetResponse list. You can add thousands of contacts along with their custom fields within minutes. 

Email list management software to consider

Now that you know all the list management best practices, it’s time to go over the key tools that’ll enhance your marketing strategy:

Forms and popup software

These tools will help you build your subscriber list the right way, using modern form designs with plenty of targeting options.

Most popular options: WisePops, OptiMonk, and GetResponse.

Read our detailed review of the best popup software tools.

Email marketing software

Your email marketing platform will help you manage your email lists, run email marketing campaigns, and report on your results. Most email marketing tools will also help you grow your email lists and keep the data up to date.

Most popular options: GetResponse, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact.

Read our detailed review of the best newsletter software.

Email validation software

In case you’ve got an old subscriber list or people are making errors when signing up through your forms (a common issue with paper forms), you’ll want to use email validation tools to verify them first before importing them into your email marketing tool and CRM.

Most popular options: ZeroBounce, Bouncer, and Kickbox.

Read our in-depth review of the best email validation software.

Customer relationship management

CRMs are used to keep all the data about your contacts and your interaction with them in one place.

Most popular options: ZOHO, Zendesk, and Salesforce.

Read our in-depth review of the best CRMs for real estate agents.

Improve your email marketing through email list management

Email list management is an essential part of any email marketing strategy. And with it, you will increase your ROI and improve your contact list quality over its quantity. 

Good thing you have this guide for free. Now, go on, use what we’ve shared here to get your email list organized. Keep sending relevant and personalized email campaigns to your subscribers! The improvement in the bottom line will make all your email marketing efforts worth it!

And if you’re considering switching to a new email marketing provider, you’re welcome to try GetResponse – completely free. Equipped with our tools, you’ll find email list management easy and enjoyable.

Grab this infographic and stay on track

Want to save this information for later? Grab our free infographic highlighting the methods we’ve described in this article and use it to stay on track with your email marketing campaigns.

To download the infographic in full resolution, head over to our GetResponse Resources here or click on the infographic directly.

12 Email List Management Best Practices - infographic.
12 Email List Management Best Practices – Infographic. Click the image to view the infographic in full resolution.

Michal Leszczynski
Michal Leszczynski
Meet Michal Leszczynski, Head of Content Marketing and Partnerships at GetResponse. With 10+ years of experience, Michal is a seasoned expert in all things online marketing. He’s a prolific writer, skilled webinar host, and engaging public speaker. Outside of business hours, Michal shares his wealth of knowledge as an Email Marketing lecturer at Kozminski University in Warsaw. You can reach out and connect with Michal on LinkedIn.