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Mail Privacy Protection is Here—And It Wrecked Your List-Pruning Strategy

Mail Privacy Protection is Here—And It Wrecked Your List-Pruning Strategy

Big, beefy open rates are a badge of honor in the email marketing biz. But open data has always been a tad unreliable—“noisy” is the word data nerds use to describe those fuzzy numbers—and thanks to the rollout of Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) this week, open data will be noisier than ever before.

The timing kinda sucks. Just as brand marketers are finalizing their plans for the 2021 holiday season, they have the added burdens of sorting out how to handle reporting with less exact data, how to achieve a more accurate read on engagement, and how to adapt strategies and tactics that are reliant on open pixels (RIP countdown timers!).

One MPP-related conundrum in particular keeps popping up on my radar in email marketing communities: “How am I going to prune my email list of non-openers now that all Apple Mail users will register as opens? ?”

But here’s the thing: Aggressive list pruning was never a great idea. And “what’s the workaround?” is the wrong question to ask.

MPP presents an opportunity for us to look at our objectives through a fresh lens, challenge what we think we know, and conceive more effective solutions.


Boo, You’ve Been Lied To: List-Pruning Myths

The only brands who should be purging non-openers in 30 or 60 or 90 days are those who are using shady acquisition tactics. And there’s a name for that—it’s called spamming. And you’re not a spammer, right?

If your subscriber acquisition strategy is on the up and up, then aggressive pruning is counter-productive. And you’re leaving money on the table if you’ve bought into these three list-pruning myths.


Myth 1: Increased Engagement

Everyone who holds fast to aggressive list-pruning practices likes to cite their open rate as evidence it’s effective and necessary. I’ve heard accounts of open rates doubling with deletion of the disengaged.

And I’m unsurprised. Because math. And logic. Of course you’re going to produce a lift in open rates if you only send to folks who are showing high interest in your brand in that moment in time. But list pruning artificially inflates vanity metrics, and marketers conveniently ignore more important KPIs.

So while list pruning can show a positive correlation to open rates, it’s often associated with declines in open volume. And click volume. And conversion volume.

When you slash away at subscribers—with no changes to your campaign strategy—do you see a positive ripple effect all the way to your bottom line? Do you generate more revenue by sending fewer emails? Is it possible to produce more engagement by initiating fewer engagement opportunities?

Spoiler: No.

Because the problem isn’t your list. The problem is your strategy.


Myth 2: Deliverability Best Practice

Deliverability is absolutely a priority when it comes to email marketing. A campaign that’s banished to the spam box is certainly not going to convert. And one of the factors spam algorithms are evaluating to determine inbox-worthiness is subscriber engagement.

If you have a deliverability crisis, it’s standard practice to suppress your less-engaged segments and rehab your reputation by sending to your most-engaged segments (along with ceasing any sort of sketchy activity that contributed to the problem). But ultimately, the goal is to get you back on your feet, sending to your entire list.

It’s never been a deliverability best practice to simply trash a chunk of your list after a handful of campaigns go unopened.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever delete subscribers. Long-term disengagement can be problematic, but heavy-handed pruning is usually overkill. And if your engagement is so low that it’s threatening your ability to inbox, the problem isn’t your list. The problem is your strategy.


Myth 3: Cost Savings

Email marketing platforms typically charge based on send volume and/or database size. So it’s true that deleting the disengaged can shave a few bucks off your ESP bill.

But who’s responsible for replacing those subscribers? Who’s ensuring the list grows faster than it shrinks?

It typically costs a fraction of a penny to send a marketing email. So even if you send every subscriber an email every single day, you may not spend more than a dollar per subscriber for an entire year.

Do you know how much it costs your brand to acquire a subscriber? $3 $7? $12? $30? More?

Retention is always cheaper than acquisition. And aggressive list pruning may not actually be saving you any money at all. There’s even a chance your brand is wasting budget on an endless loop of acquiring and deleting exactly the same subscribers, over and over.

Because the problem isn’t your list. The problem is your strategy.


So how do you engage the disengaged?

MPP means it’s tougher than ever to even know who’s engaged, so our work is certainly cut out for us. But the secret to email engagement is unchanged: Send emails your subscribers actually want. Deliver engagement-worthy campaigns.

How do you do that? Well, it’s not something that can be explained in a single blog post.

But the perfect starting point is your re-engagement strategy. Rather than deleting the disengaged, target them. Grab the attention of your non-openers, non-clickers, and other folks who just aren’t advancing through your customer lifecycle.

Re-engagement is one of my favorite email marketing topics, and it’s the theme of the next BEE webinar, Re-Imagine Re-Engagement. I’ll be presenting some of my top re-engagement tips and favorite campaign examples along with brilliant email strategists Adeola Sole and Natalie Jackson on October 4. And we’ll be sure to discuss the implications of MPP on re-engagement strategies as well. Register here so you can catch the session live or on demand.


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Jen Capstraw
Jen Capstraw

Jen Capstraw
President & Co-Founder, Women of Email
Co-Creator & Co-Host, Humans of Email

Founder of Women of Email, a nonprofit organization with 6,000+ members worldwide aimed at promoting leadership and cultivating professional growth among women in the email space. She’s also the co-host of Humans of Email, a podcast about the people, ideas and accidents that drive email forward.