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So you’ve built an email list. Congratulations! Building an audience is one of the most important pieces of getting your message out to the world.  Unfortunately, you may have noticed that your hard-earned subscribers aren’t exactly engaging. When this happens, it might be time to clean your email list.

What does it mean to “clean” your list?

Specifically, we’re talking about the act of removing people from your email list, but this concept can be applied to anything. It can mean shutting down a social media channel, unfollowing a ton of people, or even switching up who you serve.

If this sounds counter-intuitive, stick with us. It can be hard to let go of audience members you’ve worked for, but cleaning your email list can actually help your business.

Brightly colored cleaning supplies against a pink background

When to shrink your audience

As your business shifts and grows, odds are your audience will also shift and grow. We’re constantly evolving as business owners, and as a result you may outgrow your original audience and need to clean your email list.

We’ve been there ourselves. When we first started to build our list, we served entrepreneurs who were new to business. They were still figuring out their voice, still figuring out their services, and still looking for their first clients. That’s changed.

These days, we serve leaders who have established businesses. They’ve been around the block more than once and are looking to spread their message to more people through a goal-driven content strategy.

Some of our early audience members have stuck around and grown to fit our current audience. Others were no longer a good fit, and became less likely to open our emails, engage with our content, or buy our services. 

We were cluttering up their inboxes, and they were negatively impacting our stats. The best way to move forward was to part ways by cleaning up our email list.

What do you do when your audience has changed?

Shifts and pivots happen all the time in business. When an inevitable change arrives, be open and honest about your business’ evolution with your audience. Give them a chance to decide for themselves if they want to stick around. 

There are a couple of ways you can accomplish this:

Revitalize Your List With an Automated Engagement Sequence

With so many other moving pieces to your business, you don’t have time to make sure every subscriber feels engaged all the time. At least, you don’t have time to do so manually. 

Luckily, most email platforms allow you to create automation sequences that can help you clean your email list. These sequences are amazing tools for making sure all of the subscribers on your list are engaged.

An automated engagement sequence is a series of emails triggered to send when someone has not opened an email from you in a certain amount of time (say, three months).

When the sequence is triggered, a value-driven email is sent. If they open the email, then they go back into the regular list. If they don’t open the email, they can receive one or two more reminders before they’re automatically removed from the list.

Boom. Your sequence runs in the background and your list is automatically being trimmed of those who are no longer a good fit.

Mail and profile icons super imposed over hands typing on a laptop

Clean Your Email List With a Manual List Cull

Sometimes the automated sequence isn’t enough. If you have a feeling your audience isn’t engaging, it may be time for a manual list cull. This is where you give your entire list an option: Stay in or opt out.

Before a recent list cull, we sent several emails that were designed to help people decide whether our list was the right place for them.

In the end, we sent three or four emails along these lines. They were the first step in a list cleaning process that allowed us to embrace a list filled with the right people. At the end of a week or so, we cut everyone who chose not to engage with our emails. 

A word of warning: This is a more aggressive list cleaning technique. You may very well lose good contacts when you do it. But if your automated sequence isn’t doing the trick, or if you’re undergoing a larger shift, it may be worth trying.

As we move forward, we’re focusing on growing our list with the right people, rather than relying on vanity metrics—because the number of subscribers you have is meaningless if they aren’t opening your emails.

Why a smaller audience could be helpful

While cleaning your email list and embracing a smaller audience may seem strange, it actually brings quite a few benefits to your business. Here are just a few things that a smaller list allows you to do:

  • Cultivate deeper, more personalized relationships.
  • Create more guided email content, based on real, in-the-moment needs.
  • Continue to nurture your relationships as you scale.

Can you create meaningful relationships with a larger list? Of course. Segmentation and automation (and amazing relationship-driven content platforms like MemberVault) allow you to maintain engaged audiences even when they’re large.

But a small list with solid performance will always beat a huge list with no performance. When you build a firm foundation of engagement, a deep understanding of your audience, and a responsiveness to their needs, it makes it easier when you’re ready to scale.

Three pairs of hands type into various devices

How to clean your email list without hurting any feelings

No one wants to feel kicked out, excluded, or left behind. 

Transparency is one of the most effective messaging techniques, and this is true for shrinking your audience as well as growing it. Make sure you are sharing openly and freely and give your audience every opportunity to be a part of your list. It should be no surprise to them when you stop showing up in their inbox (and if they choose to resubscribe, make it easy for them to do so!).

Want to watch the video version of this blog? Click here.

Optimize Your Email Marketing with a Strategy Intensive

Now that you’ve cleaned your email list, the next step is to make sure your emails are providing value, deepening connections, and helping you meet your goals. 

When you book an Email Marketing Funnel Intensive, our experts take an in-depth look at your strategy and help you design an optimized funnel that nurtures new contacts and boosts conversions.

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