Fifty million people changed their email address last year. How many of those old addresses are on your email list right now?

You already know the importance of a permission-based email list. You even practice list segmentation to improve the relevance of the emails you send to your customers and prospects.

But how much time do you devote to cleaning your email list? If your email hygiene is lax, you're greatly limiting the success of your campaigns.

An up-to-date, clean email list can have a big impact on your delivery, open, and click-through rates, not to mention your ongoing compliance with CAN-SPAM laws.

Permission is perishable. Just because you received permission to send emails to a prospect three or six months ago doesn't mean they're still interested—especially if you're an infrequent emailer.

Act quickly when you receive permission to ensure that your email recipients remember you and your service. The older your list, the more likely it needs a checkup.

Has it been a while since your last cleaning? Follow these six steps to polish up your email list:

1. Analyze bounce-backs

After every email campaign you send, analyze the bounce-backs you receive. Identify the different reasons for the bounce to determine next steps (Was your email was blocked? Is the recipient is no longer at that address?). Remove hard bounces from your list. This is also a great way to identify and correct obvious typos in your list (e.g., ".con" instead of ".com").

2. Manage your unsubscribe requests

If you use an email marketing service with automatic unsubscribe, this step is handled for you. If not, you must do this yourself—and not only because you want to maintain a clean list: It's required by law.

3. Monitor your "reply to" address

Many recipients are fearful of using the unsubscribe function as it has been used by spammers as a way of verifying an address rather than as a legitimate unsubscribe. So, be aware of unsubscribe requests coming to your "reply to" address and permanently remove those unsubscribers' addresses.

4. Examine your open and click-through rates

You may think your email list is pretty clean, but look closer. Have your open rates decreased over the past six months or year? Are your click-throughs on the decline?

Over time, people can lose interest in a specific product or service, or they might move or change jobs and no longer require your service, but they haven't taken the step to unsubscribe. These subscribers may meet the requirements of permission-based email, but in reality they're just clogging up your list.

If you cannot re-engage them, it's best to simply remove them and move on.

5. Re-engage inactive list members

Segment your members who haven't opened your emails for the past six months and create some special communications just for them with the goal of getting them to re-engage and open your emails. If that doesn't work, remove them.

Clearly, they aren't interested; and your time is better spent communicating with people who are interested.

6. Rebuild your list the right way

As you weed out the bad emails and unsubscribes, you'll of course want to rebuild your list with new, interested subscribers. It's imperative to grow your list the right way, with permission-based emails.

Make it easy for interested parties to opt in wherever they come in contact with you, your brand, or service—such as on your Web site, in your email signature, at your physical store, etc. It's also a great idea to give them options for the types of communications they want to receive from you (e.g., newsletters, promotions, coupons) and how often (e.g., weekly, monthly).

* * *

If you haven't cleaned up your list in a while, the first time will be a little challenging; but afterward, cleaning your email list should be a simple matter of maintenance. Set aside some time following each campaign or just once a month to analyze your unsubscribes, open rates, bounce-backs, etc., and toss the bad emails out.

Your sparkling clean email list may shrink a bit, but it will outperform your big, old, messy list any day.

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Eric Groves is senior vice-president, worldwide strategy & market development, at Constant Contact (