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Education Business: Get maximum deliverability by keeping your mailing list in tip-top shape!

This week I've been helping a client to bring their mailing list over from one email marketing provider to another, and we've used the opportunity to go postal on their mailing list.

Not even sorry about that pun 🤣

List cleaning isn't the most glamorous of subjects, but neglecting it will result in the Kim and Aggie equivalent of FILTH everywhere, in the form of unengaged subscribers.

Unfortunately, email service providers like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo and the like are protective of their users, and are on the lookout for nasty little spambots - and they have more in their ghostbuster-style email zapper kit than just a spam complaint button. They are able to look at your sender domain to check it is reputable, as well as your deliverability ratings - opens, clicks, and emails that are deleted before reading. They also check your subject lines to make sure they don't scream 'I'm a spammer and I want to steal all your passwords'.

So, I thought I'd share with you HOW I know what unengaged subscribers look like and WHAT to do to avoid them.

You're welcome!

What does a filthy list look like?

(More gif heavy than usual in here - as soon as I think of dirty, I think of cleaning, and from there my mind goes to the Black Books episode with the cleaner...)

To business.

When looking at a list that hasn't been kept in order, finding disengaged subscribers can feel like a bit of a hefty task, but really it's just a case of working out two things:

  • what metric you are measuring their engagement by

  • the time period you think needs to go by before you would count them as disengaged.

Metrics to measure engagement by are things like email opens (though these have become less reliable since the latest Apple iOS update), link clicks in emails (a much better measure of engagement but harder to quantify what 'good' looks like), website visits (easy if you have site tracking switched on), last purchase if you have e-commerce integrations and, perhaps if you are an education business selling courses or tuition, a date like the last course attended could work.

Most businesses use email opens presently, and until we know what the fallout of the Apple iOS changes look like in more detail, it's probably a good place to start.

Time periods are harder to judge, especially when one works in an education business that is affected by the seasonality of attendance - having a 60-day timer is not going to be helpful if all your customers stop opening emails over the long summer break. For the purposes of a one-time list clean though, I would say that 6 months is a good indication - certainly no more than a year.

Once you have your metrics, it's a simple case of using your email marketing provider's search function to search for anyone who does not meet your criteria for an engaged subscriber. So, for example, a search for anyone who has never opened an email is probably a good place to start, especially anyone who's been on your list for a month or more and never opened one. Mailchimp, whose product I generally dislike, make this kind of search supremely easy by giving subscribers a star rating based on deliverability metrics. Just be careful that their metrics match your own before blithely deleting anyone who's at 2 stars or less.

It can feel hard to unsubscribe people who haven't unsubscribed themselves, but screw your courage to the sticking place and do it. Your deliverability rating will thank you, I promise.

Alright, I cleaned my list despite the trauma of deleting subscribers. How do I avoid doing it in future?

There are a few things that you can do to keep your list clean without having to pile through it once every six months and do a mass unsubscribe which, let's face it, doesn't feel good.

First off, you can set up an automation that will do it for you! ActiveCampaign give you one pre-built that you just have to set the timers up for, which will tag your subscribers based on engagement - recent activity, engaged, inactive, and disengaged.

Now, set up an email re-engagement automation so that when a subscriber gets to 120 days (for example) without opening an email, they go through a sequence of emails designed to get them opening again. If, by the end of the sequence, they haven't opened an email, you can unsubscribe them (unless you have another way of attempting re-engagement like Facebook ads, in which case the automation can tag them to be added to your next ad campaign).

Either way, once they have been through a re-engagement sequence that has not been successful, you should, whether you unsubscribe them or not, STOP sending them emails. Sending emails that you know are not going to be opened is bad for everyone - they clutter up your subscriber's inbox and they massively impact your sender score.

Overall, though, what we want is to keep those subscribers from ever reaching an inactive status, and we can easily do this by following a few simple rules:

  • Let new subscribers know what they can expect from you in terms of how often they'll get emails and what will be in them

  • Live up to the expectations you have built. If you said you'd send an email every week, jolly well send one. If you said it would be packed with value, make sure you do that!

  • Don't do acky spammy things! If you're sending something you wouldn't want to receive, think twice before sending it off into email-land. If you're about to set off on a big launch and you're going to be sending loads of emails, warn people beforehand, and offer them a way of opting out of those particular emails to avoid unsubscribes. It's common sense for the most part!


My name's Katie and I help education businesses to systematise and automate where they can so that they can personalise where it's important!

If you'd like to learn more about smoothing out your business processes and freeing up your time to concentrate on what's important, I've got two opportunities for you:

1. Book a call if you'd like to have a chat about your business and how I can help you to automate and systematise, particularly when it comes to email marketing.

2. Join my list for weekly emails with tips, thoughts and general musings on owning an education business, life (and an unhealthy number of nineties references in the form of gifs).

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