How to Increase (and Decrease) Your Email List Quality

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Maintaining an active, engaged email list is a top priority for most savvy business owners. And we’ve all heard it before: “The list is where the magic happens!” But how do you know you have a quality list? What does “engaged” even mean?

Here are some top considerations for your email list you can put into action today:

Purchased Email Lists


This is a no-no, okay? Purchasing email lists might sound like a good idea at first, but consider the impact. Sure, you have a big list of, let’s say 50,000 subscribers right up front. But the trouble is that they didn’t choose to be on your list. A vast majority of those emails will go straight to the SPAM folder, many more will mark them as SPAM once they’re opened, and then another large number will unsubscribe immediately. So even if you’re left with a few thousand in the end, they aren’t people who are choosing to hear from you.

Purchased email lists are like the opening act at a big concert. They’re playing to a whole bunch of people who didn’t want to hear from them and are generally tuning them out. Sure, they might sell a few albums from some nice listeners but those concertgoers are really there for the main act. So be the main act, the one they choose to hear from, and get those direct opt ins to your list.

And speaking of choice, let’s talk about that opt in.

Single Opt-in Versus Double Opt-in

list quality tweet

A widespread debate in the email marketing world (though not in Canada, and possibly some other countries, since a double opt-in is required by law there), the single versus double conversation is a big one. So let’s consider a pro and con of each:

Single Opt-in Pro: removes complexity from the opt in process
Single Opt-in Con: less control over SPAM or bot addresses signing up to your list

Double Opt-in Pro: subscribers take extra steps to ensure they are there which typically leads to better engagement rates
Double Opt-in Con: unconfirmed subscribers remain unconfirmed (and not engaged with your emails) until they take action on that confirmation email

There’s no one right answer. At ConvertKit, we offer both options and see our customers using both within the same account. Some incentives require that double opt in while for others the single opt in makes sense.

Which brings us to List Engagement.

What is an engaged list?


Sending bulk emails (like you do in ConvertKit) relies on so much more than hitting send. Each of those emails are being received by various email providers on the subscriber end: GMail, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, etc.

Having a highly engaged list is a big consideration when it comes to getting those emails to your subscribers. Each provider looks at every incoming email and will weigh a variety of factors like subscriber engagement, overall percentages of subscribers who open your emails, how many move that email directly into a folder, the actions they take on your emails, and more.

So what’s an engaged list, exactly? One that opens your emails, clicks links inside, replies to you, and regularly interacts with what you’re sending.

By maintaining an engaged list of subscribers, you’re telling those email providers that your emails are ones worth sending straight through to that inbox – which is where you want your emails to go anyways!

Which all leads us to our final point: maintaining a clean email list.

How to clean your email lists


A “clean” email list is one that’s full of highly engaged subscribers who clearly want to hear from you. You can clean up your email list in a number of ways. If you’re a ConvertKit customer, you have a Cold Subscriber filter in your Subscriber settings which is handy. We define cold subscribers as anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked an email in the last 90 days and has been subscribed for at least 30 days. By creating a breakup broadcast for your Cold Subscribers, you give them a chance to re-engage one last time before you say “see ya later” and clean up your list.

Maintaining a quality email list is not only in your best interest, but the best interest of your subscribers. After all, if they aren’t opening, reading, and responding to your emails, why junk up their (already overstuffed) inbox?

What actions will you take to increase your list quality? Drop your best tips in the comments below and then share this post with at least one other smart business owner you know.


sketchnote illustrations by Matt Ragland

Val Geisler

Val is a yogi, mom, military wife, and avid podcast fan. She is ridiculously obsessed with sharing and creating content that actually makes a difference in the world, connecting with her fellow bloggers, and doing more with less effort. Val is based on Columbus, Ohio (O-H!) and can often be found oversharing on Instagram at @lovevalgeisler.

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