Email List Hygiene

Beyond the Bounce: A Guide to More Effective Email List Validation 

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Want to obtain and maintain a clean email list? I’ve got two words for you: List validation.  

 And now, here are a lot of additional words to help you get better at it.

List validation is the key to sending your carefully crafted email campaigns to valid, relevant contacts that (hopefully) convert into customers. It’s a critical component of a successful email program. 

But marketers often overlook key steps that prevent them from getting the most value from the time they spend validating their lists—and from the money they spend on list validation solutions.   

So, let’s explore some solution-specific features and general best practices users can keep in mind to get more value from their list validation procedures.  

What is list validation? 

In a nutshell, list validation means validating your subscriber list to ensure you’re including only accurate, valid email addresses when sending your campaigns.   

List validation tools like Validity BriteVerify can help identify if the contacts you’re sending to have the likelihood of being valid or undeliverable, Plus, they’ll give you some idea of why the address falls into either category.   

Note the use of the term likelihood—no tool will ever be 100 percent accurate 100 percent of the time. However, reputable providers should aim for at least a 97 percent accuracy rate.   

How to best use list validation  

There are two main ways to use a list validation tool.  

1. Check addresses at the point of sign-up

Include a near real-time API look-up of the email address that has been entered into your web forms or other electronic entry points and return results quickly.   

Many tools allow you to customize the message that is returned to the user so you can stay on brand. Is your brand more traditional? Use language that suits the brand like “invalid—try again.” Or, get creative if it aligns with your company voice, with something like, “Oops, something isn’t quite right,” for example.  

The advantage to this type of look-up is it prevents most invalid addresses from ever making their way onto your list. It’s also nice to “set it and forget it” and get peace of mind that this is being taken care of upfront.  

2. Use bulk verification  

The second option is to run a bulk verification of email addresses that are already part of your sending database. This can be a great sanity check prior to launching a re-engagement series, or a way to understand why you are seeing an increase in bounces when deploying to your list.  

When running a bulk upload for verification, feel free to omit addresses that have engaged with your brand in the past 3-6 months—you already know they are active addresses, no need to check their validity.   

We’re often asked how often bulk verification should be completed. Much depends on your list acquisition practices. But generally speaking, if you’re not performing a near real-time check at the point of sign-up, you should certainly process a bulk upload after an influx of new users signs up, especially if there hasn’t been previous activity from those users.  

January is a great time to check out the new addresses that came into your system during the holiday season. As mentioned, this should also be done prior to any re-engagement or re-permission campaigns. Outside of that, we recommend checks at once per quarter or semi-annually at minimum. 

Types of classifications 

So now that you’ve run the process, let’s look at what each address classification means and how best to apply the results.  

Valid: The address was validated as one that can receive email. Feel free to include these records in your deployments.    

Undeliverable or invalid: The address was determined to be invalid. This could be due to an SMTP error (like a bounce), maybe the address is not configured to receive email, or the receiver tells us that the address is not reachable. In this instance, you would likely see additional subclassifications to explain that the address, domain, or account itself is invalid. A full mailbox will also be flagged as invalid in our BriteVerify tool because that email address is likely abandoned or on the verge of abandonment by its owner. These records should be suppressed from sending as part of your segmentation strategy.  

Risky: A few subclassifications here would include Accept All (typically business addresses or receiving domains that have additional internal filtering to manage incoming messages), Role Addresses, which would include aliases like postmaster@ or sales@, and disposable address, which are temporary, throw-away addresses that will expire. Read more about disposable addresses and the impact they can have on your email program here 

B2C senders should avoid sending emails to these risky addresses. However, B2B senders can consider deploying to the “Accept All” group in a thoughtful way. This group should be monitored closely for additional engagement metrics like clicks to determine if they remain on your list long term.  

You may also receive a status of Risky – unknown 

Occasionally there could be intermittent connection issues that would prevent the validation of an email address. Some receivers prevent the validation service from performing their tasks resulting in this status. The records that result from this validation status can be deployed to, but should also be monitored closely for any bounces—and for positive engagement metrics to determine if they should be included in your sending practices until you have the chance to attempt to validate them again.   

Google’s inactive policy  

Remember that Google inactive policy updates went into effect in December 2023. Per this policy, Google will deactivate accounts that have not been actively used or logged into in the past 24 months—making regular list hygiene even more important. 

General best practices would be to email only records that have exhibited some sort of activity (clicks, purchases, etc.) with your brand in a shorter timeframe (12 months max, usually). 

However, we recognize that some industries need to reach back further in their segments. For example, most people are not buying vehicles or going on extravagant vacations on an annual basis, so it makes sense that these industries would need to reach less active email addresses, which makes list validation even more critical.   

Keep your list in tip-top shape

The main thing to remember is that clean email address lists are key to better IP and domain reputation, and overall email program health.   

Mailbox providers note whether your brand is emailing inactive or invalid email addresses. If you are, this can be seriously detrimental to your email deliverability.   

Top takeaways:  

  • Run list validation at the point of sign-up in near real-time to catch most invalid email addresses before they make themselves comfortable on your list.  
  • Bulk validation for older, less active email addresses, quarterly or semi-annually, and especially before reaching out to them in a re-engagement campaign.   
  • Clean lists can result in better deliverability.   

For a fast, affordable way to keep your lists in tip-top shape, check out BriteVerify, the industry’s longest-standing contact verification solution. Create your free account now and receive 500 complementary credits to get started!