Spring Cleaning Your Email Database

Spring is the best time to clean your email marketing database of invalid email addresses, re-permission subscribers and remove email deadweight. Especially after the year we just had when more emails were deployed during COVID-19 meant more competition in your target’s inbox. This week, we’ll discuss how to address invalid email addresses. Next week we’ll get into what to do after that for deeper spring cleaning.

What is an invalid email address?

An invalid email address is either:

  • An email address with an invalid syntax that isn’t in the correct email format (anything@anything.anything),
  • An email address that might be the valid email format but something nonsensical to get by form submission validation (1@1.com),
  • An accidental typo in the email address when collected or
  • Was a correct email address at one point but the email was closed (like if someone left an organization).

None of the above are deliverable email addresses and likely have been bouncing in your email service provider (ESP) platform and have gone unnoticed until now. Keeping these bad email addresses in your database is a bad idea.

To prevent your team tasked with sending email in your ESP from accidentally attempting delivery to invalid email addresses, we recommend the following steps in this order:

  1. Run a search/query in your ESP to source all email addresses who have bounced at least once in the last 180 days and export.
  2. Using an email validation tool like Neverbounce, Validity’s BriteVerify or FreshAddress, import your list and run a validation report. Once you get results, then:
    1. Move all true invalid email addresses to your ESP unsubscribe or opt-out table in the database. Doing this instead of simply deleting the records will prevent anyone from importing back in any bad emails by accident and attempting to send to them.
    1. Request that your ESP flag the valid records as valid so the system resumes delivery attempts to those email addresses.
  3. Segment the newly revalidated records in your ESP into their own bucket/list so you can keep a close eye on if they’re still bouncing or if the issue that made them previously bounce has been resolved.

Resume sending to revalidated email addresses, and after 3-4 email sends, if they still aren’t deliverable, they will again be flagged as invalid in your ESP database. Each ESP varies on how many bounces in a specific time frame will invalidate the records (e.g., three consecutive bounces over an 11-day time frame).

If the email address is a good email address, you can send an email to it directly from your work email, but if your ESP is not able to deliver an email successfully, then there is likely something preventing emails sent from the ESP from getting through filters set up on the recipient’s side. This can happen for a number of reasons that are out of your control, but you can do something about it.

If you see that you have more than one subscriber email with the same domain getting reflagged as invalid in your ESP, there is likely something about your emails when sent from your ESP that the recipient’s email server flags as spam. We recommend having your email administrator send an email to abuse@ and postmaster@ the bouncing domain and request that they whitelist your domain. If they agree to, you will need your ESP to remove the invalid flag from the record once again so delivery attempts to that email address will resume.

Here are some possible reasons that your domain could be getting bounced by incoming email servers:

  1. You do not have the proper authentication (SPF Record, DKIM, DMARC and BIMI) of the ESP to send email on behalf of your domain.
  2. The recipient email server has filter rules on the number of emails allowed into their network in a single deployment or a limit on the number of emails that reach their server daily.
  3. Your email sender score is below a particular threshold.
  4. Your domain is on a real-time blacklist (RBL).
  5. The IP address associated with your ESP platform is blacklisted.

Email deliverability is often an afterthought and many times forgotten until there is a glaring issue to resolve. If you are interested in spring cleaning your email program and not sure where to start, let’s talk.

Jenny Lassi • March 30, 2021


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