What To Do With A Cold Email List

by | Mar 26, 2018 | Email Marketing, How To

In email marketing, a "cold list" is an email list that hasn't been emailed in a long time (several months) or where open rates are under 10%. This matters because cold lists generally do not result in additional traffic or sales and may experience a large number of unsubscribes, which are both problems in different ways. In this article we cover how to extract the remaining value from a cold list and start rebuilding what was once a group of interested people wanting your great content.

How to determine if an email list is cold

Cold email lists are generally email lists that were built up a year or more ago and which didn't receive any content for an extended period of time. What happens when there is a big content gap and people don't open emails from the list is that they simply list interest and don't remember why it was worth their time to open the email and check it out.

Thinking about my personal experience with my email inbox, I experience this exact thing all the time. After months of silence I get something from a past subscription and instead of reading it I just archive or trash it. Eventually I generally open it and unsubscribe.

So, cold lists have two major problems:

  1. Recipients don't open new emails
  2. Recipients are inclined to unsubscribe

And, it goes without saying that if someone doesn't open an email, they're not going to convert to a lead, sale, website visitor, or whatever other act you're wanting them to do.

When an email list from one of our brands gets less than 10% opens on a new email or when we haven't emailed in 6 months, we consider it cold.


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How to extract the remaining value from the list

You have two choices when dealing with a cold list:

  1. Work to resuscitate it
  2. Figure out who is still opening and get them to come to a new list

Often we start with #1 to determine the open percentage a list will generate. If it is right near 10% then we'll try a couple more emails to get it up in to a safe 25%+ zone. If it doesn't make it to 25% then we jump to #2.

The real difference in these two approaches is the content you share.

To resuscitate a list we have to pour some major value in to the list in the hopes that over 3 or so emails enough people open and re-engage that we get to healthy numbers. This means really honoring the inbox space you have been granted and providing some amazing content. For example: links to multiple articles of real value on the topic with images and excerpts in the email as well as a discount of bonus for the reader.

When you decide to just try to get what you can from a list and move on then the content is a few emails working to bait recipients to open them and then asking them to choose the topic they are most interested in from a list. When they chose (by clicking on a link) they get subscribed to a list specific to that content. Now we're in a new place with a possibly small number or recipients and rebuilding can start.

Deep dive on content for resuscitation

So, let's dig deeper in to the resuscitation content.

The goal of resuscitating a list is to very quickly get open rates and click rates back on track. This needs to happen fast because you do not want too many people to unsubscribe before things get back to good. If they do, you may face penalties from the email list provider or emails from the list might start showing up in spam folders on major email clients (Google, Yahoo, etc).

Email #1: Send a truly value-packed email that links to 3 or more great pieces of content online

The email should include interesting written content, images, and links. Once you send this great email you will have collected a baseline for the open rate and click rate that this list can generate. This is important... you might discover that the list isn't cold. If it is cold, it let's you know how far you need to go before reaching 25% open.

Email #2: Send another, 7 days later

This too should be a really value-packed email sent 7 days later. The idea is that you want all the folks who opened it last time to do it again, and still see great value for their time. AND, you want any new folks who opened it to think "WOW, that was great". Ideally you see open rates jump by 5 to 10%.

Now, if you're not on track to hit 25% in the next email, or if unsubscribes are more than 2-5% it is time to move to the "cut recipients" section and skip the next email. However, if good progress has been made to a 25% open rate, go ahead and move to Step #3.

Email #3: Send another (maybe), 7 days later

If progress was made in email #2 then email #3 needs to just keep things going. This should be 7 days after email #2 and the goal is to see an additional jump toward or past 25% opens.

Once you send this email it is time to take a hard look at results. If the numbers aren't at 25% then it is time to try to collect those loyal readers and get to a better place.

How to cut out recipients that aren't opening emails

There are two ways people typically do this and the approach you choose is determined by your goal. If you want to continue providing the originally intended content to this group of people then the process is straight forward. If you want to stop creating content for this email list then it is time to transition the loyal readers to a different list.

Let's say this is the corporate newsletter email list that is struggling. If there is renewed interest and vigor and this newsletter is being revived, then you are in the "Continue Providing Content" category. If this is a niche cooking email list and you're no longer sharing recipes that include a rare herb from the garden, then you want to move those subscribers to other lists.

Option #1: Continue Providing This Content

The action here is really simple: Any users who didn't open the resuscitation emails are removed from the email list. As a result, the open rate is going to be great because the list is small the the people receiving the emails will be excited to get them. This can be emotionally difficult because the delete list may be long, however, remember that those people who weren't engaged any more aren't worth anything to you anyway.

Option #2: Move Good Subscribers To Other Email Content

If this type of content is not going to be created any more then another email is in order... one that communicates that people need to take action to keep getting great content. This email should be sent only to the people who opened the resuscitation emails and should provides links that can be clicked on that automatically sign the recipient up for the other content. Anything other than that and you're going to lose some subscribers who don't want to take 60 seconds to fill in a new email signup form...

How to start rebuilding a great performing list

Either way you went, or if you went both ways, it's time to provide great content to these recipients for a while. It takes more time to provide higher quality content and the payoff is huge... a list that responds when you send a message. We recommend always providing at least three different pieces of content in an email that the recipient might find valuable. In addition, you can also push products, services, or opportunities after providing that great inbox-honoring value.

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