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Subscriber email list management explained (with 12 best practices)

Gabija Trimbel Gabija Trimbel
· 17 min read · Email marketing · Feb 4, 2021

Would you rather work with a team of 50 unmotivated people or with just 10 people that enthusiastically support you from start to finish? I’d choose the latter. You?

We often get fixated on size rather than quality—and this is certainly true when it comes to our email lists. Surely more people joining your list is a great thing, but not when your email performance and email deliverability numbers take a toll because half your subscribers are inactive. 

Maintaining a quality email list is often an overlooked part of email marketing, yet it’s exactly what will bring email success in the long run.

A healthy list with active subscribers will result in more engagement, higher deliverability and fewer chances of ending up in the ever-feared spam folder. Here's how to do email list management right, including 12 best practices.

Email list management is the process of maintaining a healthy list. It’s a regular routine of weeding out the inactive subscribers from your contact list. You need to do this often because people’s engagement can change over time.

Subscribers sometimes lose interest along the way, which will hinder your marketing efforts. When this happens, it’s better to unsubscribe them from your list. We’ll explain why.

With every email campaign you send out, the Email Service Providers (ESPs) like Gmail and Yahoo will keep track of a number of things.

First, they track spam complaints. When subscribers hit the “Mark as spam” button in their inbox, that’s bad news for you.

Second, they’ll look at the opens, clicks, unsubscribes and inactivity. If your subscribers love what you’re sending them and interact with your emails, you have nothing to worry about. If the engagement is low, you need to take action! Low (or no) engagement of inactive subscribers will impact deliverability for the active ones.

Finally, ESPs will pick up on bounced emails, which happen when your email doesn’t make it into the subscribers’ inbox (aka it ‘bounces’).

Remember 👉
  • Hard bounces are when the email doesn’t get there for a permanent reason (such as a typo in the email address)

  • Soft bounces are for a temporary reason (such as their inbox is full)

You want to keep your bounce rates as low as possible because ESPs will take them into account (they have eyes everywhere)! Regularly cleaning your email list will get rid of any sneaky typos or invalid addresses, and keep those bounce rates down to a minimum.

Quality email subscribers are those recipients that open, read and show interaction with your email campaigns. By interaction, we mean any type of subscriber action, such as clicking on a button, answering a survey, visiting your website or buying a product.

To maintain a quality email list, it’s important to make email list management part of your strategy. Especially because it’s easy to clean up your list. With just a few clicks or a simple re-engagement campaign, you’ll find out exactly which subscribers won’t bring any value to your business.

It’s better for your marketing performance and ROI to have fewer, higher-quality subscribers who really care about you and your business, rather than masses of email addresses who don’t engage with your content at all.

It’s not necessarily about the number of subscribers you have; it’s about how much they engage with your newsletters.

Later in this article, you’ll learn how to perform email list management, increase your open rates and reduce bounce rates.

As with many things in life, quality is usually preferred over quantity. The same goes for subscribers! It’s more profitable to have 20,000 subscribers with a 30% open rate, rather than having 100,000 subscribers that only result in a 3% open rate.

Open rates comparison

With that said, even the best list will lose its value over time. Some email subscribers will bounce, some people will unsubscribe and some might even mark your email campaigns as spam.

While MailerLite helps you clean up inactive users, it’s your responsibility to take care of the rest. These 12 best practices below show you how you can take control and boost reader engagement in your email marketing strategy.

So without further ado, here are 12 tried-and-tested ways to help you boost clicks and conversions, lower bounces and keep your email list as clean as a whistle.

1. Validate your email list

When growing your list, one thing is inevitable: you’ll sooner or later have invalid email addresses on your list. It happens to the best of us and it’s not a problem at all, as long as you validate your list periodically.

It’s important to identify inactive inboxes as they are the perfect catch for spam traps. When a spam trap email address happens to be on your list, this can result in a significant decrease in your sender reputation—leading to your future campaigns landing in the spam folder.

But how do you spot an inactive email? Sadly, your own pair of eyes will not have these superpowers, but email validation tools do. These tools will scan your list and pinpoint exactly the emails that are inactive, abandoned or show any other red flags that can hurt your deliverability rate.

We recommend MailerCheck, our preferred email verification partner that integrates seamlessly with MailerLite. Read how the MailerCheck integration will help you keep your list clean.

MailerCheck email verification tool
​Email validation import done right

Make sure that you filter and leave out the bounced emails when uploading your list into a validation tool.

As your total price depends on the number of emails you verify, it doesn’t make sense to check the emails of which you already know are not in use.

Many email tools will let you export a list that doesn’t contain any bounced email addresses. If this isn’t the case, you can import the complete list, validate all email addresses and pay a little more.

2. Opt-ins: single versus double

When you’re operating under the GDPR, you have to use double opt-in to collect email addresses. However, when your law states that you can choose between a single or double opt-in, we still recommend you to choose double opt-in for your signup forms and pop-ups.

With a single opt-in, people need to add their email address and click “Subscribe”. This action alone adds them to your email list. 

With double opt-in, each new subscriber automatically receives a confirmation email with a URL to verify that they’re indeed the owner of the email address. This method results in more quality subscribers because everyone that verifies shows you that they really want to receive your newsletter. Double opt-in also lowers the risk of spammers being added to your contact list.

3. Provide frequency options

Everyone's schedule is different. Make it easy for people to fit your content into their schedule by offering frequency options. These options can be showcased:

  1. Below the signup form or pop-up, so people can select their preferred choice directly when signing up.

  2. On a landing page that also serves as a subscriber profile (also named preference center).

  3. In an email.

All of these options work similarly. Based on the option subscribers click, they'll be added to (or removed from) a specific group so you'll know exactly who wants to receive your newsletter when.

Read more about how frequency options work on the custom unsubscribe page.

4. Send personalized welcome emails

Say hello to new subscribers with an automated welcome email series! We love welcome emails because they're a ridiculously easy marketing automation to set up, and they’re super effective. 

Their timing—sent directly after someone subscribes–is what makes these types of emails so well-read. On average, welcome emails have 4x the open rate and 5x the click-through rate of a standard email marketing campaign.

Start each new subscriber relationship off right with a personalized email. These workflows will let you engage with new subscribers and help to get to know your audience better. 

5. Segment your email list

Keeping a clean list has everything to do with keeping readers engaged. This can be done by segmenting your list, so that you can send personalized content that fits each reader’s interests. 

Since not all of your readers are interested in the same content, it’s wise to segment your email list and send targeted emails. Plus, with MailerLite, you can have unlimited email lists. 

You can segment readers based on engagement, location, age, gender, topics of interest—you name it. Whatever segmentation lets you send more targeted content. 

In our ultimate guide to email segmentation, we’ll dive into how to segment your email list for your target audience the right way.

6. Let people unsubscribe if they want to

Now, don’t take it personally! Sometimes people are just not interested in what you have to say anymore and need space for something new. Unsubscribing is completely okay, and you can easily make new friends.

Good friends give people space. And since you’re a good person, you’ll need to add an unsubscribe link in each email footer and in every email you sent out.

Make sure it’s visible and easily clickable. Hiding this option does not only show bad manners but can also backfire in the form of a spam complaint. These spam reports could then be submitted to various blacklists, which will hurt not only your reputation but also the reputation of the email tool you’re using.

7. Offer alternative ways to stay in touch

Preferably, you want to keep subscribers on your email list. It's the most direct marketing channel and you don't need to worry about algorithms that could affect your visibility. However, if people are determined to unsubscribe, you can suggest them to keep in touch via other channels. On the unsubscribe page, ask people to follow you on any of your social media channels. This way you'll still be able to reach them in the future.

Win-back readers with your unsubscribe page

An optimized unsubscribe page can really save the day! This page can make people change their minds, rethink their decision or decide to keep in touch via an alternative marketing channel. Find out how to create an effective unsubscribe page.

If you’re a MailerLite customer, you can create a page with our unsubscribe page builder.

8. Deal with inactive subscribers

Though we’re in favor of letting people go when they start ignoring you, email marketing experts have varying opinions about whether you should keep inactive subscribers or remove them completely.

Those in favor of cleaning up your list argue that:

  1. From an economic point of view, keeping inactive addresses can become pointless: they only increase your list size without contributing to any potential gain.

  2. They can damage your sender reputation. Email deliverability can be affected by engagement metrics. A high number of inactive subscribers means a lower open rate; and a lower open rate can result in ISPs treating you as a potential spammer. Removing inactive subscribers can therefore technically result in higher open rates and better sender reputation.

Cleaning up your inactive subscribers

With MailerLite, you can keep your list fresh by automatically unsubscribing any inactive email addresses. Here’s how to do it from your dashboard:

  • Navigate to the Subscribers tab in your top menu

  • Go to the Clean up inactive section

  • Here, you can unsubscribe anyone who has not been active for the last 6 months by clicking Unsubscribe

But before you clean your list, there’s one thing we recommend you do. Read on to see in the next section!

9. Use re-engagement email campaigns

Before you clean your list, it’s a good idea to run a re-engagement campaign (also called: a win-back campaign). A campaign like this will help you determine whether subscribers are not interested or if they in fact want to stay in touch.

A re-engagement email campaign is a strategy that you can use to wake people up and double-check whether readers want to stay connected or not. This gives subscribers a chance to voice their opinion before you unsubscribe them yourself.

How to send a great win-back campaign

Head over to our article where we explain how to create an effective win-back campaign to convince inactive readers to stay on your list.

Win-back re-engagement email campaign example - MailerLite

10. Don’t buy email lists

You can’t storm into someone’s home and expect them to welcome you with open arms. They’re more likely to kick you out or call the cops.

The same goes for bought email addresses. Though it seems tempting to add hundreds of email addresses at once and quickly grow your email list, in reality, you’re wasting your money, risking your sender reputation and potentially ending up with a hefty fee.

At MailerLite, we don’t allow people to use purchased lists.

11. Send relevant content to keep a healthy email list

If you read the previous point, you might have wondered how to send relevant content. It’s a challenge to keep your content fresh and continuously send newsletters that resonate with your subscribers. Over time, you’ll build up a portfolio of email templates that work for you and your brand.

To help you write killer content that keeps your audience interested, we’ve created the ultimate guide to crafting content that people care about.

12. A/B test your campaigns

Sometimes though, it’s hard to know exactly which content your subscribers will go for. That’s why A/B testing is your best friend: it takes out the guesswork and lets you statistically prove which version of your email will perform the best.

For example, you might try one version of your email with an emoji in the subject line, and one without. These two versions will be sent to two small samples of your contact list. The ‘winning version’ (aka the subject line which gets the highest engagement) will be sent automatically to the rest of your subscribers.

A/B testing helps you to keep your subscribers active and engaged by sharing content that really resonates with them—which spells good news for your email list!

Check out our ultimate guide below to get top tips on A/B testing your newsletters.

Keeping a clean email list will send you well on your way to good deliverability, strong email stats and happy subscribers. To learn all the ins and outs of managing your list with MailerLite, here’s a great tutorial from Marcin.


To sum up, email list management is the keystone of a successful email marketer. If your email subscriber list is tainted with invalid addresses, spam traps, inactive and/or unengaged subscribers your results will not be optimal. Even the best newsletter content will not save you from declining email stats in the long run.

The tips mentioned in this article will make sure your email list stays in good condition year-round. You’ll enjoy a high-quality subscriber list and can be sure that you’re investing your money in email subscribers that have the potential to become long-time customers.

How often do you normally clean your email list?

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2020, and has now been updated with new insights about email list management.

Gabija Trimbel
Gabija Trimbel
I’m Gabija, Deliverability Manager at MailerLite. I spend my days making sure that your emails are delivered. Email deliverability is a complex and fascinating aspect of email marketing that constantly keeps me on my toes. To be honest, sometimes I wish I had an easier job like a rocket scientist or ninja master.