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Is Your Email List Dirty?

Are you not completely satisfied with your email open and click-through rates? Maybe the reason for this is that you’re not reaching the right audience but emailing “dead” people instead. In this ebook, Lon Safko shares his story and explains how you can improve your campaign performance by increasing the quality of your email list in just a few steps.

I emailed dead people.

Did you know that there are “dead people lists? Yep. There are lists that are maintained by different services and the United States Postal Service (USPS) that contain physical addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of dead people. I thought I’d put my brother’s information on this list just for fun, but realized it might not be easy to get him back on the “alive” list if there is one.

Here’s what the Deceased Lists folks had to say:

Deceased do not contact registration.

“When you register a name with DDNC, the person’s name, address, phone number and e-mail address is placed in a special do not contact file. All DMA members are required to eliminate these individuals from their prospecting campaigns. The service is also available to non-members of DMA so that all marketers may take advantage of this service to eliminate names and addresses.

A new, updated file is distributed to our members at least once every three months. Therefore the number of commercial contacts from DMA members should begin to decrease within three months.”

Pro tip: Learn more about email list cleaning best practices and improving your email deliverability on the GetResponse blog.

Traps and disposable emails.

Also, did you know that there are services that provide spammers temporary or disposable emails just for spamming? True again! You can get an email, send out a slug of spam messages, and the email disappears immediately after you send your spam message. Sorry… No link to these here.

Also, did you know that there are emails specifically used as “spam traps”? These email addresses are just designed to be used to trap your emails in email spam traps! Why people would sign up for my free information using spam trap emails is beyond me, but they did! All this makes email marketing really difficult. Especially if you are not aware of any of this.

Scrubbing bubbles.

I identified and contacted many different companies that do email scrubbing and decided upon another ESP. I downloaded one of my email lists from my system (DPhP List), in a CSV format (Comma Separated Values), and uploaded it to the system to see what they had to say about it. I was pretty confident that they wouldn’t find anything as I have always taken such care in building my email list.

Here’s what their initial free report showed for one of my lists:


I was glad that they also provided some definition to the terms in the chart above as I have never heard of them.


The address appears to be deliverable, and not a trap (as far as we know), disposable account, etc.

The address is not deliverable – it doesn’t exist, it’s suspended, or its mailbox is full.



The address doesn’t appear to be a trap (as far as we know), but we can’t determine if it’s deliverable or not.


“Invalid domain”; either no DNS records, invalid ones, or there isn’t a mail server listening.


Known trap, monitoring domain, blackhole, etc. A “blackhole” email is one that ends up in a dead letter bin or has been closed.


Belongs to a disposable email address provider, like OK… So here is one example.

Further explanation

Typically, we’ll reject anything but verified and unknown addresses. we’ll accept unknown addresses, because they’re probably good, but we just can’t tell for certain. Because the “unknown” addresses will contain some bounces, we recommend that you add them to your mailings slowly, in order to keep the overall bounce rate low for each mailing.

Similar to unknown addresses, you should expect at least a few bounces, mostly at Yahoo!, which cannot be verified. The older your data, the more often you will experience this. To keep the bounce rate as low as possible, we recommend you add Yahoo! verified results to your mailings slowly.”

What the…! Where did 135 “undeliverables” and 147 “unreachables” come from? And, 12 disposable email address and 2 email traps! In that one list alone! WTF! (Wow! That’s Fantastic)! I had nearly 300 bad emails that were causing my accounts to be shut down and my emails not being delivered!

The fee for scrubbing / cleaning my 6 lists was a very reasonable $50. The fee is based on the size of your lists. It is certainly work $50 to have your list cleaned of all these pitfalls. And, it doesn’t have to be done each time you send an email blast. Once a year or even every two years is sufficient.

You would think that after all of this, I would be good to go? Not so fast!

With a cleaned email list in hand, I sent my first perfectly clean email blast! I couldn’t wait to see the “tracking” report. It would be the first time with absolutely NO hard bounces, traps, or dead people. When the email blast was complete, there were still 366 hard bounces or emails that could not be delivered for a variety of reasons: typo, deliberately given wrong address, company gone, employee or person gone, etc. OMG!

I contacted this provider and asked them “Huh?!” Here’s what they had to say about the 366 hard bounces:

We suggest mailing gradually to ‘unknown’ addresses because we cannot conclusively determine their deliverability. If all of them were included in your mailing, and a high percentage of them were invalid, that would cause a high bounce rate, which could get you flagged as a spammer. As far as Yahoo addresses, and Yahoo! hosted domains are unique in that our standard method of validation, SMTP, does not work, as the mail server says the email is good every time you ask. We have developed a proprietary technique to validate these addresses.

Since the data sources we reference are not designed for validating Yahoo! addresses, they are not 100% accurate. Specifically the method occasionally misidentifies invalid Yahoo! addresses as verified, but when you mail to them they bounce.

The next step in my cleaning process was to take my 366 hard bounces and also remove them from my list.

Lastly, there is another way email spammers are trying to trick the spam blockers including your own filters! Here’s a few spam email addresses I caught with my own name in them:



Did you know any of this?


So, with a hand-cultivated, double opt-in, personal contact email list of 8,567 emails, nearly 700 of these emails were unknown, undeliverable, illegitimate, or disposable emails. The good news is, that once you have your lists cleaned, they don’t usually have to be cleaned again for a while.

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