Optimizing Your Small Business Email Lists

By Dave Pelland

Email marketing is playing a larger role in the success of a growing number of small businesses, but the results of your email campaigns will largely depend on the quality of your distribution lists.

To get the results you want from your email marketing efforts, you need to make sure your list is up-to-date and segmented properly to reach the right customers and prospects with interesting, targeted offers.

Staying Current

One of the most important factors in the health and effectiveness of an email list is making sure it's current and reflects your customers and prospects accurately.

According to industry averages, about 30 percent of addresses become outdated or invalid during the course of a year. People can change addresses or lose interest in your products or services, and if they do, they should be removed from your lists.

Sending emails to inactive addresses or people who haven't interacted with your company in years is more than just a waste of time – it can actually harm your efforts to reach legitimate, active customers.  Most email newsletter services, for example, pay attention to the percentage of messages that are delivered successfully, and the percentage of users who actually open your messages.

If you have a higher-than average number of messages that can't be delivered successfully, your list's quality scores will decrease and it may become harder for your messages to be delivered successfully. Since lists with low quality scores tend to be correlated with spam messages, your mailings might be sent to the back of the outgoing message queue or may have a higher chance of being blocked by your customers' Internet service providers.

To reduce this potential problem, it's important to update your list on at least a quarterly basis. Your email service providers can probably help you generate a report indicating which email addresses haven't opened a message in a given period (such as six or 12 months). You may be able to reengage these customers by sending an offer or discount. If they don't respond, they should be removed from the list.

Segmentation Success

Instead of sending a message indiscriminately to everyone on your list, it's usually more effective to divide the list into discrete customer or prospect segments that are aligned more closely with their interests or past purchases.

For instance, a sporting goods retailer may wish to distinguish people interested in basketball from those who are into fishing. Since those groups are likely to have different interests and different equipment needs, each customer is more likely to respond to an email containing an offer targeted to their hobbies.  Segmenting a list and delivering targeted offers can increase response rates by as much as 50 percent.

Depending on how much information you've collected about customers and their past purchase, your email provider will be able to segment your list by a wide range of criteria, such as time since last purchase, location, gender, interests, and other factors.

The time-since-last-purchase information can be helpful in a few ways. For example, you may wish to reward frequent customers with a loyalty offer or discount. Conversely, you may wish to attract someone who hasn't ordered in a while with an offer.

By taking steps to update and segment your list, you can improve your results and turn email into a marketing platform that helps your small business grow.

Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. His experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank.