Reactivating Old Email Addresses

Posted by Mary Sohn on

There are a number of reasons to consider running a reactivation campaign. You might have culled a significant number of subscribers in a list hygiene bonanza and haven’t had time to reach out to them in a while. Maybe they didn’t fit into any of the subscriber profiles for the emails you were planning. Or perhaps a long-running technical glitch caused a specific group of subscribers to be omitted from your campaigns.

Whatever the reason, if you have a dusty list of subscribers to reintroduce into your email program, here are some considerations:

  1. Mailbox providers are suspicious of volume spikes. They like to see consistent activity on your sending IP address, and may delay or block emails from your IP address if they see a sudden surge.
  2. Depending on how long it’s been since you’ve mailed to those addresses, some may have been deactivated or reclaimed by mailbox providers as recycled spam traps.
  3. Do your subscribers remember signing up for your email? Even if they do, your email program may no longer be relevant to them.

Reactivation campaigns are a close cousin to win-back campaigns. Our May 2014 study on win-back campaigns looked at more than 100 retail senders who targeted inactive users with messaging to reignite interest in the brand. Complete findings from this report can be found here, but here are a few key takeaways and recommendations:

  1. Send a series of emails to give subscribers more than one opportunity to re-engage.
  2. Throttle volume so it blends in with your existing sending volume and gives you a chance to monitor reactions to your campaign (opens, unsubscribes, complaints, etc.).
  3. Use a shorter template with a single, clear call to action.
  4. Test different creative to see which approach solicits the most positive responses.
  5. Use whatever data you have about the subscriber to personalize the email.

However, if your subscribers received only a welcome email (or nothing) and then got radio silence from you for months or years, your approach might have to be modified slightly—especially because the risk of getting your IP address blacklisted is higher. Here are some ideas:

  1. If you have a large, dusty old list of subscribers to reactivate, consider running your list through a list validation service to catch any obvious invalid addresses.
  2. Consider a separate sending IP address for the first email in your reactivation series. Monitor this closely to see if you hit spam traps. As subscribers engage positively, you can move them back on to your regular sending IP address.
  3. Use the “Thanks for waiting” approach that the best receptionists use after making you hold on a phone line for a long time. You don’t even have to acknowledge that there was a mistake. Just let them know that the newsletter is now ready for the subscriber to receive it. If you can sweeten the message with a money-off thank you gift, even better.
  4. Regularly test and modify reactivation email content to optimize for positive engagement metrics.
  5. All reactivation emails should include a very clear “update email preferences” link. The hope here is that people will choose to reduce the frequency of email rather than unsubscribing.
  6. Review recent emails to see what types of content and promotions received the best response. Re-purpose successful creative as part of your reactivation campaign, to put your best foot forward.
  7. When segmenting your reactivation group (as part of your throttling plan), send first to those with the least likelihood of complaining or bouncing (i.e., subscribers with a history of positive engagement, those who are currently active on your website, and the most recent signups).
  8. If applicable, remind them why or how they signed up. I.e. “Thank you visiting our store and signing up for our emails!”

Finally, here are some housekeeping tasks to complete before you begin sending:

  1. Check that your feedback loops are all active so you can monitor your emails for complaints.
  2. Ensure you’ve applied for all relevant whitelists.
  3. Use reputation tracking tools such as Gmail Postmaster, Microsoft SNDS, AOL’s IP Reputation Check, Yandex Postoffice, or Return Path’s Email Optimization Suite to make sure that the reputation of your email program is protected.
  4. Check with your legal team to verify that it’s still ok to send to those old subscribers.

In conclusion, don’t give up! Work with your team to plan an ongoing reactivation campaign to give your subscribers a chance to come back when they’re ready to re-engage with your brand.


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About Mary Sohn

Mary brings years of advertising experience to email and views deliverability data from a marketer's perspective. In her spare time, you'll find Mary eating through Canada's best diners, drive-ins, and dives (without the justification of a reality TV show). Follow Mary on Twitter @juenology for a haphazard glimpse into her life as a hungry-for-food email specialist.

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