One of the questions we're most commonly asked here at Cinder is; "how can I get people to open and interact with my emails?" Well, it’s easy for your subscriber list - the unsung hero of your email marketing - to be "set and forget" while the more exciting creative front end receives attention. However, to do that would be to neglect the backbone to your email marketing performance. A well-maintained database will deliver far better results in the long-term (and require fewer emergency interventions along the way). In short, giving your data some ongoing attention is time well spent.

With this in mind, here are some health checks for you to keep an eye on and some steps to take when there's cause for concern. (Note: most of these could also have other, front end causes. Here we're focusing on the data explanations)

Open rate

There are two data-related explanations for this figure going down. The first is an unengaged list of subscribers. People change jobs (and email addresses) all the time, and an unchecked inbox cannot open emails. Sometimes this causes bounces, which a platform like the Salesforce Marketing Cloud can catch and hold the email address. However, there are instances, (especially if the address is not associated with a corporate account), in which ISPs repurpose the address as a spam trap.

Which brings us to the next reason: bad deliverability. If an email list is in extremely poor health, your reputation as sender can be adversely affected: meaning more of your emails landing in the spam folder, or worse, you are blocked entirely. Performing regular email list cleanses will help both the above issues. Run a query on how many subscribers haven't opened or clicked within a defined period (six months is recommended if this is the first time), and send a reactivation campaign to this group. If there is no response, it's time to remove these email addresses from the database.

Click through rate

When subscribers are opening, but not clicking, it's a sign that what is being sent may lack relevance and further segmentation is needed.
If you have more subscriber data available to you, it would be wise to use it. If an attribute (e.g. state or gender) is required but unknown, that’s your cue to launch an ‘update details’ campaign. Regardless of whether there are new attributes, sending an update details campaign to subscribers once a year is good practice, since they maintain the accuracy of database information.

Another solution might be to offer subscribers more options in their preference centre around the content they receive (e.g. sale alerts vs. newsletters, or selection attributes such as male/female/kids department clothing). Including this in their profile will help them receive only the content they have asked for (and are therefore more likely to click on).

Unsubscribe rate

If email unsubscribe rates are consistently above your industry's benchmark average, data source could be to blame.
Are people being automatically opted in without consent? (No, a purchase is not consent). How are you including partner-supplied information in your processes? Has a database shared from a partner not been properly on-boarded? Are you not being clear in communicating what people are opting in to?

All of these could lead to a subscriber feeling surprised (or annoyed) by receiving your emails. As a result, they could unsubscribe at best, and at worst report the send as spam. Set subscriber expectations early (on the sign-up form, or in an introductory email) and be careful to wash and get consent from any new database contacts.

By keeping an eye on overall metrics, and performing maintenance campaigns such as reactivation and update details, your database should remain healthy. Remember, it is the active subscribers who matter, not the overall database size.