Email List Size: Measuring Up Depends On Value, Not Volume

Does size really matter? It does, but not in the way you think.


When it comes to your email list, bigger is not necessarily better. You may have hundreds of thousands of subscribers on your file, but if a large portion aren't opening, reading and clicking on your emails, where's the value in that email address for your business?


"Finders-keepers" seems to be a common email marketing mantra for growing an email file. Once subscribers have opted in, the assumption is that they will want to receive email from you forever. As long as they don't opt out, you might as well keep sending, despite what the growing number of inert non-responders on your file may be telling you.


That's why it's refreshing to see what happens when marketing mavericks buck trends, challenge preconceived notions about file size as it relates to data quality and scrub the heck out of their lists. We were delighted to see Ken Magill's article for DIRECT about how CBSSports.com recently completed an across the board re-subscribe effort of their email lists.


According to the article, subscribers had a deadline for responding to an email series of opt-in requests or were removed from the file. CBSSports.com bravely wielded the ax and chopped the dead wood. While the size of their lists shrunk considerably, their response rates actually increased (and presumably, complaint rates declined significantly as remaining subscribers actively requested continued email). We commend CBSSports.com for being rebels...with a cause!


Of course, you might not be ready to undertake a full re-permission effort for your file. But there are a few baby step strategies you can employ that will have similar effects and help improve the quality of your email file and the subscriber experience, as well as boost response rates. Here's how:


  • Send a win-back campaign to non-responders. Take a scaled-down approach and focus on reengaging the non-responders in your file. Create a series of touch points that bring inactive subscribers back into the fold. Set strategy guidelines (decide if non-responders are those that haven't opened, clicked or purchased) and choose a timeframe (determine if subscribers are considered inactive after 60, 90, 180 days, etc.). Ideally, chop the dead wood that reveals itself. At the very least pull back on mailings to the less active group until you can re-engage them.
  • Make subscription management easy. Use a preference center as part of the sign-up process so that subscribers can choose what they want to receive from you and how often. This can also include options to receive third-party offers.
  • Consider using the unsubscribe flip. When subscribers request to opt-out, give them the option of receiving different types of email or even just less email from you, rather than opting off your file all together.
  • Encourage feedback. While it's difficult to create a "dialogue" through the email channel, foster an interactive subscriber experience through surveys, polls, "tell us what you think" links and prominent placement of customer service or "contact us" links. Ask subscribers what they want, and be prepared to give it to them.

For some people, bigger will always be better. But smart marketers know that when it comes to your email list, value will always trump volume.