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How to Manage Your Email List Right: A Step by Step Guide

How to manage your email list right featured image

You probably have read a lot about how to grow your email list and we hope you have used the best practices to build your subscriber’s database. But what comes next? How to use this valuable data you have collected? How do you perform email list management?

How do email lists work?

Before looking on methods to optimize your list, you should first get a thorough understanding of how you can get the most out of it.

An email list is the total of people that are signed up to your newsletter. These can be people that signed up after landing on your website, through participation in giveaways and competitions or after downloading your lead magnet.

Your list will contain people with common in your niche offer, and you can further optimize your offering by creating more personalized emails.

As your list will be the foundation of your marketing efforts, you need to learn the best way to manage and utilize your subscribers, a process more commonly known as email list management. This article will help you identify the best methods so you can start doing your email marketing in a more intelligent way that will lead to growth – instead of disappointment.

Step 1. Establish your goal

For starters, don’t ever do anything without a goal. Only with a clear desirable outcome in mind, your email marketing results will be measurable and improvable.

Let us introduce Bill – the friendly pet shop owner. We will use Bill as an example for managing subscribers list in a smart and efficient way. Bill could have many different goals for his shop – both short and long-term. However, he needs to develop a strategy and follow his goal (or goals) in a sensible and consistent way. For example, Bill’s big goal is similar to that of most companies – he wants to grow his profits and expand his business. However, he has several smaller goals that help him get there. At the moment he is focusing on increasing sales for his online store because he believes there is a lot of unrealized potentials.

Step 2. Work on your sign-up form.

Sign up form example with additional merge tags

Merge Tags & Hidden Fields

Even if you already have an online sign-up form, you should revisit it regularly and see if there is space for improvement. Make sure your signup form contains the essential fields, like name and email address, and some more extra fields that could give you valuable insight into your audience. But beware of including too many fields – people may tire of filling in your form and change their mind about subscribing.

For example, Bill is interested not only in his subscriber’s name and email but also in the kind of pet they own. The signup form on his website contains three fields (name, email, pet) and several hidden fields that will help him to better segment his customers – city, signup source (e.g., cats or dogs webpage section), language. Mind that hidden fields like country are detected via IP address and to include these more advanced fields you will probably need programming experience or help from a developer to code your form. On the other hand, you could use different tools and popup services that offer to add these parameters to the signup form.

How do Hidden Fields Work and What Can You Do With Them?

To understand these fields more you must learn to use MERGE tags in your email service platform. These are tags which you can add to your subscriber information so you are able to segment or use them later. Some merge tags are set by default, e.g., email is usually set as MERGE 0 tag and name is set to MERGE 1. Later on, this will help to create more personal emails by inserting name merge tag in the email template. Other merge tags (including hidden fields) like Country or Language can be set up as MERGE3, MERGE4, etc. This will later let you send a personalized newsletter to different segments from your list.

Example of simple Merge tag setup

Updating your signup form

So you have an awesome sign-up form and the subscribers keep flowing in. Does it end there? Sometimes you may realize you need to know additional information about your subscribers in order to send them a truly appealing email campaign. Then what? Not all is lost. Here are some ways how to add new information to your email list:

Add new fields to your email list manually.
Make an offline event and gather information about your subscribers, then add new fields to your list.
another way is to create email surveys to find out additional information about your subscribers. You can synchronize the survey questions with your list – this way it will automatically get updated.

Using Merge tags in survey

NB! Think about how you ask the questions on your sign-up form or customer survey. Remember that the value of the answer has to be usable afterward. For example, it’s useless for Bill to ask how many pets his subscribers have. It’s much more useful to know what kind of animals they have because this will help to create more personalized offers later on.

Step 3. Customize Your Double Opt-In Form

A double opt-in form is a step where your new subscribers confirm their signup and manage their preferences. We strongly suggest using this instead of a Single opt-in process – this will improve your subscriber engagement levels over time, and you’ll see fewer bounces and unsubscribes.

You can adjust the double opt-in process to match your business needs and branding (the form itself, opt-in and confirmation email, thank you page, etc.). And this is where you can afford to ask a few more questions to find out your new subscriber’s preferences by adding a link to survey form. For example, Bill could ask the subscriber to indicate the topics of interest – pet food, toys, accessories, health products. And he could ask to specify the frequency of receiving newsletters and special offers.

Example of manage preferences form

Set Subscription Permission Reminder

Permission reminder is the text underneath the email template that states the name of the company or brand, website ( or event where the person has subscribed. This message will be visible to the subscribers, therefore adding an accurate and detailed permission reminder will minimize a chance for confusion and reduce spam complaints. Believe or not – one of the most common causes for people unsubscribing and complaining is that they don’t remember that they actually signed up for your emails!

Step 4. Create Segments Within the List.

Once you have established your goal, collected valuable subscriber data in your signup form, and imported it into your email marketing provider, creating segments is the easiest part. Always write a clear and descriptive name for your segment to remember what was it about even next year and in two years’ time.

Segment List image

You can use two types of segmentation and add several conditions to each filter:

Segment from a list:

  • Subscriber-based filter – you can segment by name, Registration date, loyalty status, language or any other fieldset in your list.
  • An activity-based filter lets you select only those customers who opened, clicked or opted-in on a specific date or date range.

Segment based on a single campaign’s results – choose one campaign from your list:

  • Subscriber-based filter – segment the recipients of the campaign by any necessary subscriber data.
  • Activity-based filter – here you can select not only the openers and clickers of your campaigns but also filter those emails that bounced and send a special campaign for them.
NB! One List to Rule Them All. To avoid mistakes and manage your subscribers easier, we suggest working with different segments of one list, instead of creating many lists and juggling between them. For example, if you have one list, you cannot accidentally add a subscriber who is already on that list. However, duplicate emails are often not indicated between lists. Also, if someone unsubscribes from a list he might still stay on another list and keep receiving your emails and feel annoyed. For these reasons managing several segments within one list is a more neat and convenient strategy.
However, making separate lists is a good idea when you are managing more than one independent brand or project.

Step 5. Send Out Your Campaign and Analyze Feedback

Create Personalized Campaigns

Let’s take a few steps back. Remember the clear goal that you specified in STEP 1? Keep it in mind when you segment your list and prepare your email campaigns. In email marketing, one size rarely fits all so use the power of segmentation to create personalized campaigns.

For example, Bill never sends info about cat products to dog owners – makes sense, right? He uses the data he has gathered and keeps his goal in mind. As he wants to increase sales for his online store, he creates a discount coupon that only works in his e-shop and sends it to his subscribers. He segments them according to the pet they own and sends a personalized coupon to each segment.

Email marketing automation is a very helpful tool if you follow a strategy similar to Bill’s. For example, Bill could set an automatic trigger that would send this coupon out every time a new subscriber joins his list or is added to the respective segment. Furthermore, Bill can automatically set up different follow-up emails for those who didn’t open the first email or opened it and didn’t click on the coupon offer.

Track Your Results

After you have sent out your campaign, dive deep into its report to see what worked well and what didn’t. If you see a lower open rate for one or several campaigns, rewrite your subject line to make it more relevant and appealing. If the open rate is good, but the click-through rate isn’t, think about how relevant this message is to your audience. Could the offer be more enticing? Was the timing good? Maybe you need to adjust the way you communicate with this segment?

Most email providers let you examine not only a specific campaign’s report but also List growth and activity, average open and click rate, what devices and email providers are your subscribers using and where are they located. You can also investigate an individual subscriber profile, track engagement, see activity history and even save notes.

A/B split testing

If you have doubts about anything in your campaign, there is a simple solution – A/B split testing. You can test practically anything, from the sending time and subject line up to the color and placement of your CTA button. Remember – each subscriber segment is different so don’t apply the results of one test to all your list. In order to know exactly what works and what doesn’t, make A/B testing your routine practice.

Step 6. Revisit Your Email List

While you’re being busy sending out wonderful email campaigns, your list may live a life of his own. Subscriber lists and segments are similar to living organisms – they constantly change, evolve and deteriorate. If you want to do top-notch email marketing and maintain a good brand reputation, you can’t be sloppy when it comes to your list hygiene.

List Quality Check

Keep an eye on these factors to be sure your email list is still performing well:

  • Make sure your email provider automatically removes nonexistent emails (hard bounces) from your list. For example, Mailigen removes hard bounces and refreshes the list every time you send out a campaign. These subscribers are no longer counted in your reports or subscription plan.
  • Keep an eye on the long-term engagement of your list. If lately, you see significantly lower open rates, you may be sending emails to inactive email addresses, or the recipients may no longer recognize you as a sender.
  • High unsubscribe rate. This metric speaks for itself – your subscribers are no longer interested or are even annoyed by the content you send. Maybe it’s even irrelevant to what people have subscribed for.
  • High bounce rate, a lot of spam and abuse reports. It is possible that your list contains many inactive addresses, or people have not subscribed to your list in the first place.

Track engagement levels for good deliverability

Your sender reputation and email deliverability are lowered by non-activity or low engagement from your users. Main webmail providers like Gmail are using engagement data to decide if they should deliver your emails to an inbox or spam folder. So if 50% are inactive readers, Gmail thinks your message is not important and moves it to the junk file.

How to keep your email list fresh?

First, make sure your database is free from non-existing addresses. Remember – it is better to create a shorter list with an engaged audience than keeping a long list of subscribers, who will not open your campaigns and lower the deliverability of your emails.

Then spend a whole day going through your list reports and analyzing which part of your email campaigns should be improved. For example, try changing your subject lines to more attractive and relevant ones. Set A/B tests for your sender name and sending time. Update your email content and make sure it looks great on mobile devices.

Furthermore, you can set a condition that subscribers who haven’t opened your emails, automatically drop in a Segment named “Inactive 6 months”. It is easy to create a segment like that using segmentation by campaign activity. Then create an enticing re-engagement campaign for this segment, offering them true value, e.g. free educational materials, early access to your new product line, free shipping, or a discount. You can also use this tactic in any other situation where you feel uncertain about the mailing list and the subscribers’ willingness to receive marketing emails from your organization.

Learn more about re-engagement campaigns.

Know the time to say “goodbye”, meaning if certain contacts are no longer interested in what you send, let them go and unsubscribe them manually. This is the essence of Email list management and it will help you keep an engaging audience and a higher percentage of open-rates.


We hope this step-by-step guide will serve as an inspiration and motivation to start managing your email list in an efficient way. Start following these steps today and you are guaranteed to see your engagement rates and overall email marketing success rise.

Furthermore, with the holiday season around the corner, you have ample opportunities for experimenting and finding the best method to talk to your audience. When your list is in order, start segmenting and sending irresistible Holiday offers to your subscribers! For more insight on this topic, get our Holiday Email Marketing Checklist.

How to Manage Your Email List Right: A Step by Step Guide
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