Waking up the old addresses

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]As more people are getting into or starting to properly do email, many brands are trying to monetise lists where some of them have not been touched for over 2 years, sometimes even 5-10 years.

While this is not illegal or anything, there is the risk that many of the older ones have since died and due to not being emailed for so long, the sender has missed the hard bounce on some addresses which have since been turned into a trap by an ISP. Then hitting them could severely harm inbox placement and/or invoke harsh throttling on high volume sends.

Personally, I’d say write off anything old than two years but as a deliverability bloke I’m cautious, as a marketer you might not be that paranoid so will keep the list as it is.

I’ve had a few thoughts about how best wheedle these out of the list and I reckon they key to it is to stagger it out by engagement and consider sending less content more frequently.

Two segments:

  1. Everyone who’s a year old or less would start ‘engaged’.
  2. The rest – Everyone else would be ‘disengaged’.


The ‘disengaged‘ could to go on a 3 month email dial down, where your mission is to get them to open/click an email so you know they are alive, any activity would then put them into the engaged list.

  1. This could be weekly/bi-weekly to start with (1st month) and those who don’t engage then make a change for month.
    The content needs to start very soft and remind them who you are and how you know them.
  2.  In month two try more audacious subject lines and louder offers, less content more emails etc.
  3.  For month 3 try some plain text, try a different email address, even put a count down in the subject line and/or content. Tell them that their on the way out in the subject just in case it tips them over and they are fine with getting the emails but not opening – like I am with Amazon!

    Anyone left not doing anything, get rid of them – just for the first bulk list of the old ones though!

  • Make sure you send in tiny batches and as slowly as possible, eg: no more than 10k per half day at 2k per hour. This will help avoid massive consequences from the hard bounces.
  • Make sure you have an unsubscribe link in the top right as well as the bottom .
  • Make sure you have an easy change of address process from the email, if you are emailing an old address or their now junk address, once you win them back you’d rather them give you their main address.

Ensure that while you are doing this, you are also emailing your engaged regularly too to help balance out the engagement.


For the ‘engaged‘, while some may still be surprised at getting the email, especially if you are exploiting the soft-optin, there is better chance of them remembering you.

After 6 months of normal sending, anyone who has not engaged an email or the site (purchased, filled a basked, logged in etc.) should then to go into a 6 month re-engagement process where you change the strategy,

eg: first 3 months send different dates/times, less content more emails – even give them a choice to change weekly emails to a monthly digest?

If there is still no engagement then consider putting them on to the old disengaged 3 month dial down and see if you can kick them back in to life.

You then have to decide what to do with the people who were engaged but are now are ignoring you even after all of your attempts to wake them up.

Some people say, keep emailing:
If the address is live – which is should be because you’ve had it less than than year after they gave it you, the recipient might just be busy or you are still emailing their junk address.

In this case, I can’t argue with the keep emailing tule, you’re not really doing much harm and if your engagement strategy is working, these people should be a minority so should not harm your reputation.

The important thing is to clean out the inactives from the list of people who are very old, do this efficiently because you want the dead ones gone.

If you have the opportunity to see IP stats like Hotmail SNDS, you can get an idea of how many spam traps you have from Hotmail (+live, msn etc.) and Return Path’s tools can give you that and more.

I’m not saying this is tried a tested method and I’d be more than happy to have other perspectives. This is merely a logical measured concept from my own experiences of the consequences implemented by ISPs when too much old stuff is hit too quickly and not cleaned out.

Happy to discuss it further 😉