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Cut the Dead Weight or Pay the Penalty of Emailing to Dormant Addresses

Cut Rope

With each New Year come resolutions to try to be better than the year before. Some goals take hard work and focus, while others are easy to check off the list.

This year you may want to resolve to stay out of the email penalty box by cleansing old and dormant email addresses. Your boss may be impressed by how large your list of subscribers is, but what is the quality of that list? How many are active vs. inactive? Are you meeting and respecting the expectations of your individual subscribers?

Even if your boss is not taking notice, I can assure you that in 2012 the large ESPs are keeping tabs on your email habits. Large ESPs have been taking a growing interest in senders who blanket dormant and dead email accounts. Legacy webmail providers such as Yahoo and AOL will be focusing on blocking senders who send to these dormant accounts.

With this said, marketers’ reputations will be increasingly measured by inbox placement and activity (open and click-through rates).

List hygiene will become the key to success in maintaining a good reputation and staying out of the penalty box. To cut the dead weight, first analyze your email subscriber list and split the active from the inactive. I like to qualify my list into segments of 3 months to help me keep tabs on the migration of inactives. If a subscriber has been inactive for 3 months I may send out a remarketing message to try to engage them. Once they get to 6+ months I will move them to the inactive list and remove them from my business-as-usual active population.

Removing subscribers who have not opened an email in the past 12 months is best practice. This doesn’t mean that you should keep blasting and hoping until that 365th day. Anything after 6 months you will start to see a rapid decline in return and increase the risk of damaging your reputation.

Why keep a current and clean list?
Email is so cheap, so why do I need to have a clean list, particularly since the recipients signed up to get emails from me?

  1. ESPs may block your IP address altogether if you continue to send emails to Inactive addresses.
  2. A company such as MAPS that monitors and sets up spam traps by repurposing abandoned and dead email accounts from webmail providers could blacklist you. Some of these may be people who subscribed to your email and later changed email addresses. Once identified of spam abuse it takes a lot of time and effort to repair your sending reputation.
  3. A high level of spam complaints can put your entire list at risk of becoming obsolete by having your IP address blocked.


  1. Separate your inactive subscribers from your main active list.
  2. Clean and evaluate your list every 6 months and get rid of bad addresses.
  3. Never send to anyone 12+ months inactive.
  4. Build only targeted lists based on active subscribers and preferences.
  5. Be respectful of your subscribers’ email preferences. Use a preference center to let the subscriber have a say in the frequency and type of communications they would like to receive.

Prevention is always better than the cure.

Shawn Harding

Shawn Harding is Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President at Infinity Direct. Let the head coach of Team Infinity help develop your game plan by contacting him at
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