Prune Inactive Subscribers: Y/N?

MailChimp recently published a smart, data-driven take on how best to deal with inactive subscribers, suggesting that keeping them around makes the most sense.

It's not bad advice, but there's a few very important asterisks to add to it.

If you can get mail to those unengaged subscribers, then I'm sure that MailChimp's guidance is sound. But here are three common scenarios where mailing inactive subscribers are going to cause you deliverability heartburn. If you can't get to the inbox, you mail won't get noticed, and you're not going to get any revenue benefit from mailing inactive subscribers. Nor are you going to get much revenue benefit from your engaged subscribers, since they're now not seeing your mail in the inbox. Thus, you have to weigh the potential revenue benefit versus the deliverability risk. In these three scenarios, the risk is too great and I believe it outweighs any potential benefit.
  1. Asterisk: If you're seeing bulk foldering at ISPs like Yahoo and Gmail, keeping inactive subscribers around is a bad idea. Meaning: We know that these ISPs (and some others) look at engagement as a data point that feeds into the anti-spam equation. You've got enough issues overall that the unengaged subscriber pool is able to have a noticeable, negative impact on your inbox delivery. To fix: Attempt to re-engage, and then suppress, unengaged subscribers.
  2. Asterisk: If your inactive segment contains a bunch of subscribers that are very old, ones that you haven't mailed in a very long time, mailing these is a bad idea. Meaning: Any data you haven't regularly mailed is going to put your ability to get to the inbox at risk when you next mail it. A common kind of spamtrap involves recycling old addresses, making them bounce for 12-18 months before reconfiguring them to feed directly into a spam filter or blacklist. If you sit on a list without mailing it for 18+ months, you're going to have a higher spamtrap hit count than if you mailed it regularly and removed addresses that bounced. Mailing very old list data is a common source of Spamhaus, Cloudmark and other blacklistings. To prevent: Don't send mail to very old lists. If it's been out of commission for 18+ months, it's not safe to mail.
  3. Asterisk: If you've ever had problems with a big anti-spam blacklist like Spamhaus, failing to purge inactive subscribers is a really bad idea. Meaning: The type of bad addresses that got you in trouble with Spamhaus the first time, spamtraps, are hidden within your inactive subscriber segment. You typically are allowed a pass or two to attempt to re-engage those inactive subscribers when remediating the Spamhaus issue, but if you continue to mail inactive subscribers past that point, Spamhaus will see you "hitting" their spamtrap addresses again and you'll be back in hot water. To prevent: Attempt to re-engage, and then suppress, unengaged subscribers. Don't continue to send to unengaged subscribers after the re-engagement attempt.

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