Wednesday, 8 March 2017

What's the best way to clean an email list?

Cleaning your email list will help reduce bounce rates and improve deliverability.  If you've never had a list of emails validated the options can be confusing.

Here's a helpful guide to the options out there, the steps to go through and points to consider when having your list cleaned. The article finished with top tips as useful memory joggers.

Choices for email validation

To a great extent, your choices depend on the number of emails you have and how often you need to check them. Consider whether you are cleaning lists from time to time, or checking emails live via an API on say, web forms or a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.

A note about free email checks

If you've just got a hundred or so addresses to check once in a blue moon there are free services to use that can save you a couple of dollars.

With all things, you pay for what you get. If the website offering free services looks dubious, move on to another that you can trust. After all, your data is valuable, so don't share it with just anybody. Look for valid security credentials when you choose a provider.

We offer 100 checks free when you register.
Other reputable providers (we rate a handful of companies in this category) also let you check some emails for free, over a period of time. Terms vary; some companies don't really deal with very small lists and ask for a lot of information up front. Have a look around and see what suits you.

From time to time we get customers using our free 100 service to check thousands of emails. It must take ages to manage the process of cutting pasting and building a fresh list. Typical prices across the industry for less than 1,000 emails are $10. So before you spend ages cutting and pasting and validating emails over a period of a couple of weeks, consider if your time is worth $10!

One-off use - or do you need a subscription?

Are you checking a list infrequently, or do you have a rolling programme of regular checks?

One-off services allow you to upload your data and pay a flat fee, based on how many emails are on it.

Alternatively,  you can subscribe to a service for regular use. If you take out a subscription, look for one that lets you change the level and unsubscribe whenever you want, so you don't waste money.

There are differences in fee calculations between providers. Some will charge for the total number of rows on your list, others will give you a price after an initial check has shown whether you have a lot of obvious bad addresses or duplicates. So be prepared to be charged for a slightly different amount than you expect.

Let's explain that in more detail.

A good service provider will run your list through an initial scan, to check for obvious errors. They identify first big stuff first, then drill down into the addresses to check more subtle characteristics.

Syntax errors are very easily detected. For instance, if your 'email address' has no @ signs it isn't an email address. emailvalidation#emailhippo.cog is a syntax error. If it couldn't be an email address to begin with, you shouldn't be charged.

Duplicates are also easy to spot. Don't use a service that charges for duplicates, unless you are savvy enough to de-duplicate your data first.

How do you get your emails to your email validator?
It depends whether you're uploading a list, or using an API.
To be frank, if you need to use an API to check email addresses in real time and you don't know how to do it, you shouldn't be doing it. Hand the job over to someone who knows how to add code to your website / CRM process. An API enables live email validation, which will help stop bad email addresses getting on to your system. It's often used for web forms.

If you need to upload your emails to be checked, you'll need to get your emails into a file. Most providers of email checking services look for files that are .csv types. There's a link here about how to save an Excel sheet into a .csv file as that's a very frequently used path.

The thing that's often overlooked is how to get the data back onto your system. 

If your emails are part of a CRM or sales contact system you'll need to be able to export and import data and be confident with how to cope with changes that may have happened to your system records in the meantime.  The best advice we can give you is to a dummy run with a secondary database. Make sure you understand the import settings before you do this for real.

Customers often upload data that isn't just email addresses, so we have a feature called 'Matchback'. Matchback lets our customers upload an unlimited number of columns (so all sorts of data, not just email addresses) and receive back their data in exactly the same order, with our results appended in extra columns. This makes it easier to load back up into any system. We don't know of anyone else who has a 'Matchback' service.

If you are anxious about downloading, sharing and uploading checked email addresses, take time and do a test run first.

Learn what the results tell you

It's great to have your emails checked - but what will the results tell you?
Make sure you understand what the results are and what the implications are for your decision making. If you're checking emails for a marketing campaign, you need to know what the results are telling you. For example, will you send an email to addresses that are 'Catch-all' and hope that they are opened? The detail for results varies between providers, so make sure the provider you choose gives you enough detail to enable you to tkae decisions. After all, you're checking your emails for a reason, so the results are vital.

Top Tips

  • Check your details - how many emails, how often and why?
  • De-duplicating your list makes sense
  • Look for security certificates when choosing a provider - your data is valuable
  • Do a dry run - especially if you're uploading data into a live system
  • Understand the results and choose a provider that enables you to make decisions

For more reading about our email cleaning results, read this article
Here's a link to a useful article about how to download data from Salesforce 

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