Cleaning Up Your Mailing List

Catherine Foster
Catherine Foster, Earth Prayer #4. Mixed media metals on Embossed Woven Metals, 27 x 25 inches. ©The Artist

Catherine Foster's recent email caught my eye. The entire message — without her address and signature block — is included here.

Dear All, I am updating my list for my newsletter Catherine Foster Art Studio. At one time we were connected through email contacts, organizations that we both belonged to etc.  Please please if you do not wish to be on my list unsubscribe below. I so appreciate your help in getting my list cleaned up. Thank you, Catherine Foster

To unsubscribe click here.

I like it because:

  • It's short and easy to scan.
  • It's sincere. She's not trying to sell me on anything.
  • She says that there was a connection at some point, but subtly admits that the connection might be weaker now.
  • She provides a link that automatically takes you off her list without your having to ask her awkwardly to remove her name.
  • She thanks you for your help in getting her list cleaned up. She's not aiming for quantity, she wants quality. She wants the people who really want to be on the list to hear from her.

There are always ways to improve email messages. For instance, I think I might have reminded people what it means to be on my list: what I send, how frequently, etc. I'd also include my privacy policy.
Of course, it's much easier to see this when it's not your own email.
What are some ideas you have for cleaning  up a mailing list or moving your list to a new system?

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16 thoughts on “Cleaning Up Your Mailing List”

  1. First, I LOVE the metal kimono illustrating today’s post.
    At first I thought, ‘Yeah, cleaning up the mailing list is probably a good idea.” But then I had a second thought, “No it’s not. my list isn’t so huge and any one of those people might still be interested in reading what I have to say – and maybe even passing along my information and links to see my work.”
    So in the end, I’ve decided not to clean out my mailing list nor to ask people to unsubscribe themselves. It might be a fine idea for someone in a different set of circumstances, but not for me. Yet.

  2. I had the same gut response as Patricia. Why – in the email world – would I want to encourage people to think about unsubscribing? If this is a snail mail list, then perhaps, for financial reasons I would do this, but…?
    Every email I send (using Constant Contact) includes the unsubscribe link. As it stands, I send out to galleries who have not purchased my work in many years, but I can only assume they are getting some pleasure in seeing my offers since they appear in the stats as having opened my email.
    One long time client who had retired some years ago was thrilled to be getting my emails when I first activated my Constant Contact Campaigns. She just liked “hearing from” me. I put her on my list, not knowing if she was even still around at all. She was and we have had some nice connections! And who knows – someday she may 1. come out of retirement or 2. see a great location and think of me and forward my email to help my business. THAT is an unknown marketing path that I would never encourage stopping.

  3. Alyson Stanfield

    Patricia and Mckenna: I think some artists have email addresses from before they realized that, legally, people needed to opt in to a list.
    Other artists might switch email providers and use it as an opportunity to get the list in order–a one-time-only thing.
    Do you think it sounds like she’s encouraging people to unsubscribe?

    1. AHA! Context is everything as usual. Catherine may have some justification. I just can’t see what it is on face value. As for the “Opt-in” to avoid being illegal, I just read the entire CAN-Spam Act and the “opt-in” is not part of the act and is not even addressed per se.
      Here is the link:
      I also read the actual law as written – the link to the plain-English version is a mirror of the legalese version. But here is the actual Act:
      Suffice it to say, having the clear and easy opt-OUT available in your emails is all that is required. Your relationship with whomever you send your messages to must be legitimate, but procurement of an address may be as simple as a phone call during which an email is given for any purpose – a business card exchange is “permission”. It is assumed that you have a relationship. Grabbing a business card without some kind of acknowledgment could be a violation. So best to have a Real Connection. And honestly, why bother putting someone on your list who has no idea who you are or what you represent: THAT will result in a bad relationship anyway.
      With my Constant Contact account, CC does all the heavy lifting to make sure I am in complete compliance. They would “audit” my account if I ever imported hundreds of addresses. Their entire business model requires compliance or they don’t have a business anymore – the BIG servers would start blocking any emails from their site if they were seen as a continuing source of spamming activities.
      All that aside, you ask if I think Catherine’s encouraging people to unsubscribe. Yes. “Please please” is strong. And clearly there is only one reason for the entire contact: inviting people to disassociate. What makes little sense to me: networking is very very important and anyone who you have had any contact with is officially part of your network. Heck…THAT is the entire reason for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on – ad infinitum; to create connections.
      If anyone wants to stop getting her emails, she must, legally, remove them within 10 days. CC does it instantly and furthermore it sends a message instantly to the person who opts-out confirming they will receive no more emails. I am blocked from ever trying to enter THAT email address again.
      So legally, she is within the law to send emails to anyone she has had any business/social connections with – but one would be wise to get permission. Etiquette inspires most of us to do the right thing even when no law has been written.
      Meanwhile, if this letter from Catherine is to weed out those who don’t want to subscribe, there is another hurdle in the way. She cannot be sure of its efficacy. Is it received – and – is it opened? Again, I can track with CC and see who opens my mail, however not 100% who open will be recorded. So I can never be sure if everyone has seen/opened/read/digested ANY thing I send and no one else can either. But as long as they can effortlessly opt-out, I know I am in compliance and they stay on my list – forever.
      WOW… too long, but that’s what happens when I spend an hour looking on line for “opt-in rules”. I just had too much information.
      Who is not a shill for CC, just a happy client. I believe most of the email marketing companies are similar and provide that extra protection by being overtly compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act.

  4. It’s a lot easier to “unsell” yourself to a potential client who is overwhelmed with email than to “sell” a new client into reading your email. This advice about cleaning out your email list is absurd. I normally agree with most of what advice is given here Alyson, and I love your book btw, but If someone doesn’t want to get email from you they already know the drill, a simple email back with the word REMOVE, or UNSUBSCRIBE.
    We don’t need to specify this, the internet has been around for a while, people are not stupid.

  5. Gosh I guess I looked at this email a lot differently than you guys did. I liked it so much that there was no way I was going to unsubscribe–even though I didn’t subscribe myself in the first place.
    Mckenna: You’re right! It’s not part of the law and I shouldn’t have said that.
    Cojo: People STILL don’t know how to unsubscribe themselves to my emails. Promise.
    I think we just need to remember that this is something Catherine felt necessary for her list at this time.
    I apologize if it was inferred that I wanted you to ask people to unsubscribe to your list. That wasn’t my intent. I should have been clearer.

  6. I read this post with interest yesterday…and what do I receive today, but an email from the Big Cartel customer service called…yep..”We’re cleaning our mailing list”.
    Like Catherine, they don’t want to bother people if they no longer wish to receive their newsletter updates.
    Personally, I’m in agreement with McKenna and Patricia – why would you want to remove anyone!

  7. Hi, there! Having just taken an email marketing hosted by Constant Contact I am eager to comment on “Cleaning Up Your Mailing List.”
    The type of unsubscribe message you posted is considered a “best practice” and inspires trust in readers. Email messages with an unsubscribe note at the TOP of the email have a LOWER unsubscribe rate than those without. (I don’t remember the exact number but think it’s somewhere between 8 and 15% fewer unsubscribes.)
    Counter-intuitively, ALL the marketing email you send should carry an opt-out function at the top that reminds recipients why they are receiving email from you.
    In other words, your instinct was spot-on, Alyson.

  8. Nicolette Tallmadge

    Well, I’m preparing to switch systems and I’ll also be cleaning out my mailing list at the same time…so this article came at a perfect time for me. As to the question of why you want to clean out your list, one thing to remember is that just because people are on your list, doesn’t mean they’re reading your emails. With every email campaign I send out, there’s always a core percentage of folks who actually open the email *and* act on whatever it is I’m communicating in the email, whether it’s visiting my blog, visiting my Facebook page, or purchasing something from my website. Those are the folks I was to have on my list, not the ones who trash my messages without even reading them.
    Counting on people to unsubscribe from your mailing list doesn’t always work either. They might somehow find it easier to delete your messages instead of unsubscribing (strange, but it happens all the time). They might funnel your messages into a “Read Later” folder that they never get to. Or they might have signed up for your list using an email address they almost never check. They’re just as lost to you as those folks that actually unsubscribe. Why waste your energy with that?
    Having a lot of people on your list is useless of those people don’t even open the emails you’re sending them. It’s better to have a smaller, more active list where the folks you’re emailing to are actively engaged with you and what you’re doing and will actually *open* your emails than a large list of folks who don’t *do* anything. At least that’s my take on it.
    The cool thing about the email example Alyson showed us is that it pointedly allows subscribers to recommit to being on the email list. If they find the list interesting and useful, they don’t need to do anything. If they feel like the list has lost it’s usefulness for them, then they can exercise their right to leave. The list becomes culled down to those who actually want to receive the messages and those that don’t want the messages don’t get them anymore. Everyone’s happy. Nothing wrong with giving those who don’t want to be on the list anymore an exit.

    1. I still don’t see the point. I know for a fact that people DO open some of my emails and place orders AND IT DID NOT REGISTER AS AN OPEN EMAIL IN MY STATS. Check out your email programs if you are using commercial vendors, like Constant Contact. Not all opens are reported.
      I have had 4 galleries order this year who I had not “heard” from in over 2 years. One actually had not connected in over 4 years! Had I made the “decision” for them and removed them from my list – well…. THAT makes no sense to me at all.
      Nicolette poises this series of what ifs:
      Counting on people to unsubscribe from your mailing list doesn’t always work either. They might somehow find it easier to delete your messages instead of unsubscribing (strange, but it happens all the time). They might funnel your messages into a “Read Later” folder that they never get to. Or they might have signed up for your list using an email address they almost never check. They’re just as lost to you as those folks that actually unsubscribe. Why waste your energy with that? ~~~~~~~~~~
      I submit to you, Nicolette, that it would take a great deal more energy for me to go through my hundreds of email names and decide the fate of each one. It take zero energy for me to just send them emails forever and let them do whatever it is that they do.
      AS for letting them make a decision themselves as this subject originally suggested, I am pretty sure that the gallery owner who had not ordered in 4 years may very well have made a snap decision and unsubscribed. Had I done what was in the sample letter, the result of my “encouragement” for them to make a permanent decision would have cost me and my gallery business income. WHY would anyone in business encourage disconnecting?
      It just makes zero sense to me.
      I spend a fortune in advertising to get new galleries and inquiries from potential galleries. Just because someone only window shops once in a while and doesn’t enter your world and spend money doesn’t mean you should shield your window from their view.
      Mckenna Hallett

    2. Nicolette Tallmadge

      Hi Mckenna,
      Some interesting points you’re making. I guess I just don’t feel that simply allowing people the choice on whether they want to unsubscribe from my list is the equivalent of “shielding my window”. I’m not closing down my website or my blog or my Twitter account or Facebook page or ceasing to send out regular postcards through the mail. Many of the folks I see in my list also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or my blog. Plus, you have to give people that option with every email you send anyway. While I’d much prefer people remain on my list, part of the deal with maintaining the list is giving the people the option to leave if they want to.
      My criteria for an “active” participant is more than whether they purchased something in “X” amount of days, months, or years but also things like, are they visiting my blog after I mentioned it my newsletter? Are they responding to questions I pose in my newsletter? Are they leaving their opinions and comments on my Facebook page or blog after I ask for it? I’m not looking for people to click on a link *every* time I send one, but it can be a good indicator when you see some activity from your members.
      I take your point about open rate as people who don’t receive the HTML version of your newsletter will not be counted..but it’s a standard indicator and is better than guessing. I watch for more than just opens, I also watch click throughs and forwarding rates as well and the service I use gives me a good idea on who’s not only opening my emails, but also who is clicking on the links and passing emails along to others.
      I do understand your point about the effort it takes to clean your list, but it doesn’t have to require you to go through and pick individual list members, nor is it something that I would do every couple months. I don’t clean my list that way and I’d never suggest others to do it that way either because of the things you pointed out.
      I’ve had an email list for about 8 years and this is the third time I’ll be cleaning out the list. First time was to comply with spam laws, the second time was to clean out dead email addresses. This time because I’m switching over to a new service. The process doesn’t have to be all that time consuming. You simply send out an email to those on your list and ask them to unsubscribe or resubscribe. Those who choose to resubscribe or choose not to unsubscribe remain on your list.
      Again, the choice is up to your subscribers…it’s ALWAYS up to your subscribers. If your subscribers truly enjoy hearing from you, why would they unsubscribe? Like Alyson mentioned in the original post, she received the email, felt that the contact with this artist was too valuable to unsubscribe, so she didn’t. I submit that most of your customers will feel that way if they like what you’re doing. If they decide to unsubscribe, maybe you didn’t have them to begin with.
      Also, once your list reaches a certain size, there may be a cost factor to consider as well. Hit a certain number of subscribers and you’re in another pricing bracket. Should I pay an extra $15 per month for the 10 subscribers that don’t open the messages or even click on the links in the message…and haven’t for 4 years? For me it’s better to first determine if they really want to be on the list or see if it’s a matter of something else, like a dead email address. I have some people on my list that’s been subscribed for 4, 5, or 6 years or more. They’ve opt-ed in multiple times under different email addresses because they’ve changed email addresses and instead of changing their address on my list or unsubscribing their old address and resubscribing with the new one, they’ve simply decided to resubscribe multiple times. Even though the option to change their email address was a the bottom of every email they received. (Alyson’s quite right that there’s still a segment of the population that’s not too savvy about this. Either that or they don’t want to take the effort to do it themselves) It doesn’t take too many of these folks to artificially inflate your list…especially if you have a list that’s at least a few years old. What benefit is there to send emails to these addresses if no one is listening? It’s not a matter of being cheap, it’s a matter of spending money that’s not likely to get you a return.
      Perhaps the real issue here is how the email was worded…instead of asking people to unsubscribe, the better option was to start off with the points Alyson said should be in the email (why you should remain on my list, privacy policy, etc) and then give them the option to unsubscribe if they really want to…not start off with please unsubscribe.
      Whoa…this turned out to be much longer than I expected..but this is a great topic to discuss!

  9. We use an email list cleaning and email validation service to clean our email list. We have over 400,000 subscribers and we have used software before which proved to be ineffective. You have to make sure the email list cleaning service you use is reliable and removes all the hard bounces otherwise you will be blacklisted. There are low priced services that offer a free trial if you google it. weve been using for over a year now and have had no issues with Mailchimp. They offer a free trial.

  10. Pursuant to Roshan’s comment, I do have a strict and long protocol to clean up email lists. In the past I used to spend long hours doing so, until I found, a few months ago, a real FREE open source. Since then this is my first step to start cleaning my email lists. It’s a multilingual sponsored tool and its website URL is
    It works as a breeze to me and since, as I said, it’s sponsored they don’t charge me anything and save tons of valuable time!

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