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Inactive Emails: Ignore Them at Your Peril

Apr 6, 2012   |   2 min read

Knowledge Center  ❯   Blog

How to deal with inactive email addresses is a problem that has generated a lot of debate and commentary. As Mick Griffin on the Email Marketing Tips Blog reported, “We’re hearing it at industry events and on blogs, everywhere the experts are talking about trends.”

Unresponsive email recipients can be a significant drag on the effectiveness of your marketing program. How big is the problem? Email Insider relates that inactives “are typically 30% to 40% of the database for most marketers,” with some reaching as high as about 90%.

Most companies, says the report, “should be deeply concerned that a third or more of their email database is lifeless.”

Indeed, Wendy Roth refers to inactive email addresses as “diseased” and in need of pruning.

Inactive emails can be detrimental in a number of ways. ISPs monitor the amount of interactivity between senders and recipients, and too little responsiveness can harm your reputation and cause you to be blocked or blacklisted.

As Mick Griffin puts it, “Repeated mailings to inactive mailboxes are frowned upon by many ISPs. They consider it bad email marketing practice at best, spamming at worst. Either way, it can affect your domain reputation.”

There also is a cost associated with mailing to inactive email addresses. Even if the cost per email seems small, as Wendy Roth notes, it “mounts up to real money when multiplied over tens or hundreds of thousands of addresses every week or month.”

Inactive emails tax your marketing operation as well. Your segmentation, targeting, testing, and reporting efforts will yield better percentages and results without inactive emails on your list.

Email addresses can be inactive for a number of reasons. Many email services disable images in an email, which make open-rate statistics less and less meaningful. Clicks are hard to come by, and recipients may simply delete the email without opening the images. Some subscribers may not be receiving your emails because they are being intercepted as spam.

What marketers most worry about is that recipients are no longer interested in your products, services, or emails. In these cases, you need to make your emails and offerings more engaging and relevant, and you should test the frequency of communication.

The general wisdom is to make an attempt to reinvigorate inactive accounts through reactivation campaigns. An additional measure is to salvage as many inactive addresses as possible through an Email Change of Address (ECOA) service, and to finally eliminate all addresses that are beyond redemption.

One dissenting voice against eliminating inactive email addresses too hastily is Dela Quist, who argues that customers who appear inactive may still be paying attention, a group he calls “unemotionally subscribed.” To weed out the truly inactive members, he advises running a patient reactivation campaign that segments out subscribers who become active again while prodding the inactives until they appear hopeless.

Whatever your approach, taking action is important. As Email Marketing Report notes, “Culling unresponsive addresses will lead to meaningful and important improvements in your bottom line results and success metrics.”

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