The new year is a good time to clear out what doesn’t serve us, and for email marketers, your contact database is a smart place to start.
Effective email marketing requires more than just determining what emails to send and to whom. Data hygiene and email deliverability are key components of success.
Many companies don’t have the steps in place to regularly verify, validate and purge their databases of invalid email addresses. Most also don’t segment their audiences—another essential step. As a result, databases grow, but they don’t produce the desired results.
Here’s an example of what often happens: Prospect Joe Smith whose address was acquired five years ago, has never engaged but still gets emails. There’s a good chance he’s not even using the email address you have. It usually takes a long time for an inbox to reach capacity and can be identified as inactive, so you can easily keep emailing someone who isn’t “there” anymore. Also, abandoned addresses are often converted to spam traps, creating further risk.
Companies send out increasingly high volumes of email excluding only unsubscribes and hard bounces but continue to send to inactive and unengaged addresses. It’s far from a good recipe for success. That’s why thoughtful email address verification is essential.
What Is Email Address Verification?
Email address verification is the process of ensuring the email addresses you have in your database are valid, reachable and don’t pose a risk. Email address verification alone does not solve all targeting, deliverability, and data hygiene issues, but it is necessary to get the results you want.
There are a variety of email address verification tools on the market, and each uses a different approach. Most follow a similar process to verify if the address exists and determine if it poses a risk. The typical verification process first validates the domain, then the individual email address. It identifies risks like disposable email addresses, spam traps, bot submissions and undeliverable addresses.
These factors can all cause severe email deliverability issues and may result in damaging your domain reputation and flagging your IP addresses—all good reasons to verify that the people you are emailing:
- Are at the addresses you have for them;
- Have legitimately opted in; and
- Don’t pose a risk.
Choosing the Right Tool
When choosing an email verification tool, include these steps in your evaluation:
- Ensure the tool has a secure file upload process. Protecting your data is paramount, so never email files containing personally identifiable information (PII). If you find a tool that says, “email us your list and we’ll verify,” rule it out as an option.
- Perform a proper security audit of the vendor with your IT and legal teams. Before importing PII data to an external source, your organization’s legal and technology experts should communicate directly with any prospective vendor to ask all necessary questions and ensure security requirements are met.
- Discuss your plans to cleanse your database with other revenue teams. The reality is that this process will reduce your database size, and in many cases quite significantly. You don’t want your sales and account teams to be blindsided by the decreased database size. Clearly communicate the importance and benefits of clearing out bad email addresses.
- Exclude hard bounces and any internal contacts when preparing your list for validation. (One caveat: If you are a large organization with a lot of internal contacts in your database, you may decide to leave internal contacts in your file.) These steps will determine the total number of email addresses you will be verifying, which is important because vendors charge for each address. Pruning your list down to include only those you wish to communicate with will save money.
Email Address Verification Tool Options
There are many email address verification tools available. Based on our experience and research, the following are worth considering. This is not an exhaustive list, and they appear in no particular order.
This is an email address validation tool that will sort your database into lists. The cost is one of the lowest, which makes it very popular. I find it catches most issues and is best for mailbox provider domains (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail). The output is easy to understand and action.
With NeverBounce, like MillionVerifier, you can do a bulk, onetime cleanse. The results I have collected are equally good for company email addresses and mailbox provider addresses. NeverBounce uses a one-to-one credit system. You purchase one credit for every contact you want to validate.
From the data I have gathered, KLEAN13 has the most success with company domains. It also identifies spam traps and “complainers”, who are people classified as marking all commercial emails as spam, which is a bonus to know. Like NeverBounce, Klean13 uses what it calls “Kredits.”
Kickbox is another reliable tool equally good for mailbox providers and company email addresses. You pay by list size. The results are easy to get and review. Kickbox’s Sendex Score ranks the quality of an address using proprietary algorithms.
Actioning the Results of Email Validation
After you’ve picked your tool, it’s time to cleanse and begin the purge.
Each tool provides a guideline on what to do with the results provided. This is the most critical part of validating the addresses and requires analysis and auditing. The table below is a general summary of the types of classifications you will see in the results, with my recommendations, which you can use as a guide for action.
The terminology may vary slightly across tools, but the classifications are similar. Business decisions about the actions should be documented and include:
- When the audit was conducted
- Why it was conducted
- Who was involved in the decision and who made the final decision
- What action was taken
- When the action was taken
By doing this, you begin tracking your cleansing efforts, and if any questions arise later, you can easily share this document. Remember to keep the tracking document current. Questions always arise later, so a record is valuable, especially since the document may outlast people involved. In addition, you should track all addresses, with the unique ID, if possible, on a secure and compliant master list, including the verification tool used and the date of verification.
|Verified/ Valid||Keep (if it meets engagement criteria)
Only keep verified and valid email addresses if they are engaged and active. Verified and valid means the address appears to be good and fit to receive emails, but it isn’t a green light to email unengaged contacts. A good strategy for audience targeting and clear exclusions is still absolutely required.
|Undeliverable/ Invalid||Suppress and/or Delete
Opt out undeliverable/invalid email addresses from all communications, and if your marketing automation platform (MAP) allows it, convert them to a hard bounce. Suppress or delete these from all systems that could potentially email to the address.
|Spam Traps/ Bots/ Complainers||Suppress and/or Delete
Follow the same instructions for “Undeliverable / Invalid”. These are high risk addresses that are dangerous to email and should be eliminated from all systems.
|Disposable||Suppress and/or Delete
The action for disposable addresses may require internal discussion but understand that disposable emails will eventually stop working.
|Role||Audit Engagement Data to Determine Action
These are alias addresses like info@ or group@ or accounts@. Often, internal distribution lists are not maintained by the company, and some of them are not configured to accept external mail. I do not recommend emailing role addresses. However, there are business decisions to be made, so auditing engagement is important. Review sends in the last 30 to 60 days. If delivery was successful and the email was opened and clicked, consider keeping. If there is no engagement, opt out the address and discuss how to handle those aliases going forward. They could pose a risk, so use this as an opportunity to create a policy.
|Unknown||Audit Engagement Data to Determine Action
Review sends in the last 30 to 60 days. If delivery was successful and the email was opened and clicked, consider keeping. If there is no engagement, opt out the address and suppress. Sort the data by domain to help organize analysis.
|Catch-all/Accept-all||Audit to Determine Action
Audit email sends and engagement for the domains identified by looking at total sends, total delivered, hard bounce rate, soft bounce rate, and open and click rates. If the hard and soft bounce rates for the domain are under 2%, you can continue to email the addresses, but follow all best practices for audience targeting and exclusions. If you see spikes in the soft bounce rate for these domains, look at the engagement of individuals. Suppress anyone who has not had any successful email delivery, then opt them out. Keep the rest.
Most MAPs provide the reports I have described above.
Your first email address verification is going to be the most challenging. However, the benefits far exceed the effort, allowing you to focus on those contacts who want and can receive your emails. Documenting and referring to your reports will make subsequent verifications easier.
After you’ve cleaned up your database in your MAP, it’s important to update all systems with email addresses across your tech stack. If you keep the deleted records in your CRM, note the action in the CRM records. These notes and early discussion with your sales and account teams are critical to the process of purging and deleting email addresses because it has effects throughout your organization.
Post-Validation Best Practices
Remember, email validation is not the answer to bad marketing practices. It is important to not email your lists for the sake of emailing them or just because they haven’t unsubscribed. Engagement-driven communication will keep your IPs safe and your domain reputation intact. Make sure you include purchase data in your review of “engagement”. There should be a wholistic profile of your database, customers, and prospects alike. Spam traps are common, and they do open and click emails, after all it is a mailbox. But if there is no purchase, no “regular” behaviour, they shouldn’t be qualifying for your campaigns. Good opt-in practices also reduce risk—ask people to confirm who they are. Every email you send goes out to the audience with some risk as you do not know how or if they will respond. Reduce the risk by doing your best to ensure you are capturing quality contacts, maintaining your database health, and eliminating stale contacts.
Tegrita Can Help
The Tegrita team has developed proven practices for regular database maintenance, which many of our clients are using to improve engagement—some by up to 150%.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you with the validation process, custom audit actions and help you optimize audience targeting practices. If you want help selecting an email address validation tool, we can do that! We do not partner with any of these products, so our recommendations are unbiased and completely customized to your needs.
About the AuthorMore Content by Mythili Viswanathan, PhD