How to Clean and Re-Engage Your Old Email List

Is your email list currently hanging on life support or, worse, without a pulse?

Have you not reached out to your list in more than 6 months, a year?

Or maybe you have a 1000 or more contacts on your list but you get a click through rate of only 10% or less?

Have you tried making sense out of it only to slam your laptop and rail at the hopelessness of it all?

Since you are reading this page, I am certain that the above conditions might apply to you. However, if you think your situation is too far gone to be salvaged, think again.

For many small business owners, a messy and outdated list is probably worse than tax season. It is much easier to relegate it to the background where you never have to think about it. But, taking such action in this digital age is akin to business suicide.

The task of cleaning up your email list isn’t just another terrible chore on your ever growing to-do list. It gets easy once you know the exact steps to take and this article is all about showing you those steps.

Not just for the neglected

This guide is not only for those with disorganized or tangled lists. If your email list is somewhat active, you can also benefit from these tips.

Just because a recipient subscribes to your content does not mean they will be subscribers forever. I am sure you have received mails from contents you have outgrown. And I can bet the next step you took was to unsubscribe, delete or mark as spam.

Well, when that also happens to your content, you have an email list filled with liabilities. And what is the proper action to take with liabilities? The correct answer is NOT, “ignore them?”

You look for ways to get rid of them. Finance 101! Don’t don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that, I kinda dropped out of that class so ended up in remedial finance until I found someone to help me make sense of it all.

So let’s figure out how to eliminate the liabilities in your email list.

I guarantee that by the end of this article, you will know what to do to keep your email list fresh as a baby's bum, free from the clutches of spam hell, and ensure that your emails are delivered to your recipients and, most importantly, opened.


Let’s go to class

What is email list clean up?

Cleaning up an email list is simply keeping an active or warm email list and getting rid of inactive or cold contacts from your email marketing campaigns. Regularly engaging in email list clean up ensures that your emails are received by people who are interested in your contents. It also eliminates the risk of your emails being labeled as the forbidden s-word.


engage email list

Why is it important?

Nowadays, Email Service Providers (ESPs) are ‘nosier’ than ever before.

Okay, but what does this have to do with this seemingly unpleasant chore?

Well, ESPs have figured out ways to decipher what people love to see in their inbox. They do this by checking the emails you are sending and the response it provokes from the recipients on your mailing list. For instance, if a recipient of your email reports it as spam, this info is duly noted by your ESP.

In addition, these “nosy” guys calculate inactivity, clicks, opens, unsubscribes and other weird tech algorithms measurement that happens with every email you send.

In other words, your ESP monitors how your subscribers engage with your emails.

Do they opt not to display images in your email? Maybe they read or skim through your contents? Do your subscribers roll their eyes and immediately click delete as soon as your email appears in their inbox without even opening it?

All of these actions are closely evaluated by your ESP except, uh, the rolling eyes thing, I hope. If the above situations continue over time, it could severely hurt your reputation with your ESP and could also get you blacklisted

Can you now see why it is important to always track and monitor your email lists?

Benefits of a clean email list

But it is not all about what your ESP is currently doing. There are also incentives that accrue to your business courtesy of a clean email. Some of the benefits are given as follows:

Reduced cost: When you send out emails, your ESP charges you according to either the number of subscribers on your list or the number of emails sent. What this means is that every inactive contact on your list is burning a hole in your pocket.

To put it in plain words, your messy list is costing you money! Get the scissors and start snipping asap.

Fewer bounces: When an email bounces, it means it did not get delivered. And old email lists tend to experience this a lot because of invalid email addresses, technical errors, or full inboxes.

Getting too many bounced emails can hurt your standing with your ESP. Thankfully, cleaning up your email list reduces this occurrence by a significant percentage.

Better open rates: Statistics have shown that having lots of inactive subscribers adversely affects your open rates. So if you want higher open rates, take out the mop and start cleaning.

engage email list

Email Marketing 101

Let’s take a moment to chat about some buzzwords.

I talked about the s-word earlier but I will elaborate more on it.

The worst thing that can ever happen to your email is for it to be flagged as spam. Keep this in mind as you read this article.

How can you know if your emails are already chilling in the spam folder?

This is where the overall condition of your emailing list matters. Businesses with a healthy roll call keep their readers engaged and satisfied. Satiated readers who love the contents they receive, in turn, keep the list warm and reduce the risk of emails being labeled as spam.

What is a warm email list?

This is a catalog of your audience that has given you permission to mail them and are regularly reading your emails. In addition, you have sent them content in the last four months.

What is a cold email list?

This list is one wherein there has been no communication between you and your email list for about four months or more. If you cannot remember the last time you sent an email to your subscribers, you definitely have a cold email list on your hands.

How do I scrub my email list?

Finally, we have gotten to the main purpose of this article.

I know it would be so easy to chuck this task into next year like you do your regular chores. After all, you have been doing it for quite a while now and business is still moving fine. Right?

Who are you kidding hun? An outdated list has the stink of dirty dishes left to fester for a week. Whether you do it now or keep postponing the D-day, one thing is certain, you won’t be able to hide the stink for much longer.

Enough talking, it is time to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work.

For many small business owners, a messy and outdated list is probably worse than tax season. It is much easier to relegate it to the background where you never have to think about it. But, taking such action in this digital age is akin to business suicide.The task of cleaning up your email list isn’t just another terrible chore on your ever growing to-do list. It gets easy once you know the exact steps to take and this article is all about showing you those steps.

Find out the cause of death

I told you this was not going to be easy. So don your scrubs, tie your facial mask, don’t forget your hair, get your scalpel and let’s do this autopsy.

I know, I tend to tilt towards the dramatic, but I really need you to grasp this. And if using analogies will make this sink in, so be it!

Ok, let’s move on...

The very first step in cleaning up your email list is to evaluate what caused the death in the first place.

Before your subscribers got frozen in their new abode in Siberia (don’t roll your eyes!), it used to be sunshine and flowers. As a responsible business owner, which I know you are because you are reading this, you have to figure out what caused their interest to drop off. Here are a few common causes that decrease email engagement:

Missing the mark: You started off giving helpful tips and information about your business then veered into sharing news about the coming domination of the lizard aliens. I, for one, welcome our new lizard overlords but I highly doubt your subscribers shared that enthusiasm. Besides, the coming is supposed to be a secret, you loudmouthed betrayer!

Becoming silent: You defaulted on your promise of constantly engaging your audience by going ghost. Your moves were so sleek that even Casper, the friendly ghost, had to take notes.

Inability to stand out: Your emails were the most boring piece of bore in boredom country. In fact, subscribers opened your email only during bedtime cause it was guaranteed to knock them out.

Turning into a salesman: Your emails were only filled with sales and promotional stuff. For you, it was all about getting the benjamins, not adding value to your audience.

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Reach out to your subscribers

Now that you know what caused the slow demise of your email list, it’s time to resuscitate. Note that this resuscitation will require you to re-enact your own version of the Prodigal son. So get ready!

Contact your list of subscribers and confirm that they are still interested in what you have to offer. Without this vital piece of information, you might as well be winking at your crush in the dark. Don’t look at me funny, high school was tough.

engage email list

Yep, that's me in high school...


Do use one of the following methods to cull this information:

  • Send a link to people that have opened your email in the last four months or more and ask them to confirm if they are still interested in continuing their subscription.
  • Offer different subscription options to your audience. For instance, ask if they want to sign up only for a course or they prefer receiving every email your business sends out.
  • Check that the email addresses on your list are current and that your subscribers are not interested in updating their options.

When you do this, it becomes much simpler to engage your subscribers which can easily convert into sales and patronage of your business.

But if this still sounds like too much work, you can enlist the services of online companies that have experience in email clean ups. Virtual A Team uses and recommends Active Campaign. In addition, you can get other options from AWeber, MailChimp, and Constant Contact.

engage email list

Re-engaging a cold email list

How about re-engaging an email list colder than Cruella DeVille's heart? Is all hope lost or do you need to sacrifice Dalmatian puppies to get them going again?

Hold on and stay far away from those babies, you budding monster! You can totally get your email list popping again.


Turn it into an event. Sit and think, what can you do right now that offers significant value to your subscribers while also reminding them of those good old days when they happily joined your subscriber’s list.

Still stumped? Here are some great emailing ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Do an eBook or white paper giveaway. The item being given out should contain templates, interviews, or other types of valuable information that will excite your readers.

Send an invitation to a planned webinar or Facebook live event where you will be providing exclusive and relevant information coupled with answering questions. For those who miss the event, send them the recording free of charge.

Develop a course that runs for as long as you want it. This multi-part course sent in an email should typically explore the aspects of your expertise or business that readers will find interesting. Use this strategy to nurture and grow your email list for a particular duration of time.


But irrespective of what campaign you decide on, keep this in mind:

  • Give value. I cannot emphasize this enough.
  • Remind your subscribers of why they chose you in the first place and why they should still stay.
  • Include a call to action (CTA).
  • Make it personal.

But I am worried that these tips won’t work with my cold subscribers, I can hear you saying. Well, Buttercup, there are many ways to kill a rat. Or is it mouse? Anyway, pick one.

engage email list

So, if your subscribers are still wary or suspicious of what you are doing to woo them back, it’s time to use plan B which includes the following:

  • Social media. Duh!
  • Push notifications. Yes it works.
  • Phone call. I can hear your objections but do you want your email list back or not? Get over yourself and make that call, chop chop!
  • Personal email from your email client. Don’t overdo this, just send only one.
  • Pop-ups on your website if they still visit your site.
  • SMS. Hey, it’s all or nothing and no channel is off-limits.
  • Include a call to action (CTA). Tell your subscribers what you want them to do.

Pro Tip

Don’t hold anything back. Go all the way. Craft your offer in such an exciting and interesting way that it reignites your audience interest immediately.

How to keep your revived list constantly warm


Your subscribers are fully back and active in your fold, so everything can now go back to normal.


I know it might be tempting to tick off the accomplishment on your to-do list, promptly forget about them, and proceed to your next task. Major spoiler, that is a terrible thing to do.

Don’t allow the euphoria of gaining back your subscribers to overwhelm you.

To keep this trust that have been re-gifted to you, maintain a commitment to implement a plan that will ensure that your subscribers never return to Siberia. And please, for the love of all that you find holy, DON’T let your readers down again if you still plan on having an active email list.

Back to the issue of drafting a plan.

Before implementing your email strategy, you have to set out a plan you can commit to so you don’t crash and burn. Do you plan on sending out contents daily, weekly, biweekly, or monthly? Whichever one you pick, ensure it is something you can stick with for the long run.

Pro Tip

Under-commit to your subscribers and over-deliver.

engage email list

Also, since a lot of time has passed, the needs of your customer has obviously changed along with it. Therefore, desist from just picking up conversations from where you left it as if you didn’t disappear into thin air.

Don’t be that weirdo from high school, whom you reconnected with after 10 years of lost contact, that is still interested in talking about what Katie did to her locker in Grade 9. Just don’t do that!

So what am I trying to pass across? First find out what your subscribers want. Psst, Virtual A Team can help you in gathering the intel. Then, use that information to provide content that is tailored directly to your audience.

Here are some tips you can implement to ensure that your subscribers always have you at the back of their mind.

  • Give exclusive discounts.
  • Write long valuable contents that your readers will savor.
  • Do video experiments.
  • Keep readers up-to-date with the best and current information in your industry.

In essence, even if you forget everything here (which I hope you do not!), never forget to consistently deliver value on a regular schedule. And best believe, when you have readers eagerly anticipating your content-rich emails, you are fully on the road to winning.

To conclude

So let’s do a recap of this ride we just had. We opened with a definition of an email clean up, its importance, and benefits. We familiarized ourselves with some of the jargon peculiar to email marketing to make the article easy to understand. Then we looked at practical ways to revive a cold list. The final point was the ways to keep an email list permanently warm.

Having an active list is central to growing your customer base. So, if your email list is currently comatose, don’t waste another second in implementing the tips given in this article. Examine where you went wrong, reconnect with your audience, give them value, and reap a loyal base.

It's that simple!