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.

  • I just deleted all my cold subscribers. I often ask my subscribers to interact so I feel that if they haven’t done so in more than a month, they’re probably not interested.

  • Great lessons here, just switched over from Mailchimp and I’m findint it so easy already to prune my list and get it more focused.

  • This is great! I didn’t know you had this feature. Is there a way to automate this process rather than having to go through and do it manually?

    • Hey Wayne! We actually want to keep it manual. It allows you to review and interact with those cold subscribers one last time and stay connected to your email list.

  • Serena@Thrift Diving

    Awesome feature! I do this in Get Response but it has to be done manually with lots of drop downs and honestly, I’m sure I’ve deleted some people who should NOT have been deleted! You always have to watch the dates. But I like the cold feature with Convertkit!

  • As always, ConvertKit knows email marketing! I love that you talked about the difference between single vs double opt-in (and it’s great to know there is no ONE right answer) 🙂

    • I love that you came and read this post, Victoria! Thanks for the comments and all the kind words.

  • January Mae Tan

    Hi Val, Thanks for the tips on single versus double opt-in, and the cold subscriber filter. Love Convertkit! ?

  • Thanks. I didn’t know about the cold subscriber breakup email . Looks really useful.

    Is there a way to double opt-in people who have purchased a product? I’m using gumroad and customers get added automatically to my list. I send them a welcome email inviting them to unsubscribe but they are not really opted-in…

    • What I did here was not add them to my Newsletter segment, I just have them in a separate tag ‘Customers who bough X product’ and I have a sequence for them, the last email of the sequence invites them to click a link that adds them to my newsletter.

      If they don’t click it, that’s it, they don’t hear from me again.

  • Ricardo J. Whyte

    Sorry for the potentially silly question but when I send out a broad cast, if the people respond where will their response go?

    • No silly questions, @ricardojwhyte:disqus! The replies go to whatever inbox you enter in the “from” field.

  • Kate Kordsmeier

    Is there a way to see a different version of cold subscribers, like for example subscribers who haven’t opened the last 10 emails? Thanks!

  • Howard Milstein

    But is it compatible with more popular WordPress subscribe apps.. or how appealing is their own?

  • Margrit Pearl

    hi. I recommend Zero Bounce for cleaning an email list. it has very good features also mentioned on their site.

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