How To Clean A Mailing List – Get It Wrong, You’re Screwed

Clean a mailing list

Cleaning a mailing list is important. Whether it is Getresponse or whatever autoresponder you are working with – you need to do it once in a while. It helps to keep your deliverability, open rates and click rates high and at the same time reduces spam complaints and bounce rates.

Also it will keep your monthly fees down, as most autoresponder companies will charge a fee depending on the amount of subscribers.

The more people are subscribed to your list, the higher the monthly fee your autoresponder company will charge.

But there’s no need to pay for subscribers that are unresponsive and never interact with you, right?

That’s why it might be a good idea to clean a mailing list from time to time and get rid of subscribers that are not engaged.

So far so good.

But what most people recommend how to clean a mailing list is plain wrong.

Putting the suggested methods to use could not just cost you valuable subscribers. It also could cost you money.


So, how NOT to clean a mailing list

Most people recommend to search for subscribers that don’t open your emails for a certain period of time. You will need to combine it with the date range when the subscriber was added to your list, to not delete subscribers that were added just recently.

In Getresponse you would add the search condition ‘Message not opened‘ and choose the date range.

Getresponse Message Not Opened

In Aweber you would search for ‘No Opens‘ and the date since when no opens were counted.

Aweber No Opens


But this is totally wrong!

Before I’ll show you the proof, let me tell you one example.

I know of at least one subscriber in my list who never opened any of my emails, yet this subscriber generated approximately $100 in commission over the last 3 months.

If I would have applied the above suggested method, I would have deleted this subscriber already and someone else would have made this commission.

Need the proof? Watch this video.

To understand why there is such a difference, let us have a look at how open rates are tracked.


How do autoresponders track open rates?

To make a long story short, all autoresponders work the same way. There’s no magic attached to it.

To track the open rate of an email, all autoresponder companies add a small tracking pixel to the body of the email.

Once an email gets opened the email client will download this tracking pixel. In theory.

In practice there are too many outside factors that have an influence on this way of measuring the open rate that it is far from being accurate.

For example just look at someone opening the email while not being connected to the internet. Or someone using an email client that blocks downloading of images.

If you want to read more about how open rates are tracked I recommend reading Adrian Jock’s article ‘Little Know Facts About Email Open Rates‘.


So, how then to clean a mailing list?

Let me show you an example using Getresponse, you can do it similar with other autoresponder services.

Log in to your GetResponse account and click ‘Contacts’, then ‘Search Contacts’.

GetResponse Search Contacts


You will come to the page where you can define you search. As you can see, in this account there are 1508 contacts in the moment. Click here on the ‘Advanced Search‘ link next to the search box.

Getresponse Advanced Search


Three different drop boxes will open that give you options to narrow down your search.

Getresponse Advanced Contact Search


Choose from the ‘campaign(s)‘ dropdown the campaign you want to search contacts from, in this case I choose all:

Getresponse Search Campaign List

Make sure to select in the ‘autoresponder sequence‘ dropdown both options. This will search for all leads, whether they have finished your autoresponder sequence or not.

Getresponse Autoresponder Sequence Search


And in the last drop down box for ‘subscription date‘ you can choose the time when the subscribers got added to your lists.

Important: I prefer to choose a date range that spares out the last 30 days or so. Whatever date range you choose here, you need at least give your subscribers some time to open your emails. Otherwise you could end up deleting a subscriber that just got added 5 minutes ago.

Getresponse Date Range Contact Search

Now we come to the fun part where most people get it wrong when it comes to search for people who didn’t open our emails. We need to add to  search conditions and make sure that our results match ‘all‘ of them, and not ‘any’.

We will add the condition ‘Message not opened‘ and also ‘Link not clicked‘, both for all message types, means autoresponders, newsletters as well as A/B test. For the date range we choose ‘Never‘.

Getresponse Advanced Search Conditions


Now we click the big blue ‘Show contacts‘ button down on the right.

Getresponse Show Contacts


And we come up with a list of inactive subscribers, means subscribers that never opened a message and also never clicked a link.

Getresponse Inactive Subscriber List


On the left you can see the defined filters and still tweak them if needed. In our example Getresponse found 46 subscribers that never opened an email and also never clicked any link.

On the top left side of the contact list you will find a check box that says ‘Choose all‘. Select this checkbox to check all listed contacts.

Getresponse Choose All Contacts



Once you selected all contacts, choose from the drop down field below the search results, what to do with the selected leads. You have the following options:

Getresponse List Actions


  • Copy to campaign
  • Move to campaign
  • Remove from campaign
  • Remove from account
  • Send message
  • Add custom field

From here you can decide what you want to do with these contacts.

If you prefer to delete them straight away, you can either choose to remove the contacts from the campaign or from your whole account.

But maybe you want to give them a last chance and try to re-engage them. This can be done with sending them a re-engagement message that offers for example a special discount or a coupon.

You also can move these contacts to a dedicated campaign and send a series of re-engagement messages.


I have prepared a PDF guide on ‘How To Clean Your Mailing List’. You can download it free for future reference after sharing this post with your followers.

Your turn

Are you cleaning your mailing list from time to time? How are you doing it? Did you know that you could delete valuable subscribers if you rely on the open rate as only measurement? Let us know in the comments below.

And if you liked this post, consider to share it with your friends so that they can benefit from this information as well.

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  • Joy Healey

    Reply Reply March 31, 2015

    Hi Torsten,

    Thanks for that particularly clear and well-explained article.

    I was “dimly” aware of this issue, but hadn’t seen it explained so well anywhere else.

    A real pitfall for the unwary, thanks for the warning.

    Joy Healey recently posted…Internet Marketing and Blog CoachingMy Profile

    • Torsten

      Reply Reply April 1, 2015

      Hi Joy,

      it really can be a pitfall for those who rely on the open rate as only measurement to base their decisions on. The more it surprises that even autoresponder companies don’t point it out and refer to the open rate as reliable metric.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting,
      Torsten recently posted…Monitoring Traffic Quality In Your PPL Program Using ClickMagickMy Profile

  • Adrian Jock

    Reply Reply March 31, 2015

    Hi Torsten,

    I like your video. An easy to understand proof that reveals how inaccurate the open rate metric is.

    What is difficult to understand (at least to me) is why some reputable email marketing services (incl. AWeber) keep teaching their users and readers to clean their lists based on the open rates. But that’s not my business, is it?

    To me the open rate metric doesn’t exist. Really. I never check it. I never take it into consideration. Any decision I take is based on CTR.


    P.S. Thank you very much for the mention of my article 🙂
    Adrian Jock recently posted…SendinBlue Review: Affordable Email Marketing for BloggersMy Profile

    • Torsten

      Reply Reply April 1, 2015

      Hi Adrian,

      glad you liked my video. I thought it is easier to explain that there is a difference between both search conditions live, rather than just documenting it with screenshots.

      The open rate could be compared with a representative survey on election day. It can be used as an indicator but in order to to get the real results it still needs accurate counting.

      Torsten recently posted…Avoid This Deadly Internet Marketing MistakeMy Profile

  • Hermann

    Reply Reply March 31, 2015

    Excellent article that raises a very valid point the lots of people oversee.

    I’m in fact on the verge of cleaning my list and definitely will keep these tips in mind.

    • Torsten

      Reply Reply April 1, 2015

      Hi Hermann,

      thanks for your comment.

      Glad to have posted this in time, so that you can avoid this mistake.

      If you are close to cross the border to the next subscription level it might make sense to get rid of some unresponsive subscribers to keep your fees low.

      However, before putting the axe on your subscriber base, it might be a good idea to try re-engaging the unresponsive subscribers.

      I have a subscriber in one of my lists who never opened nor clicked any message since his subscription date ages ago.

      Two months ago out of the blue, he suddenly opened a message, clicked the link and purchased the product including all upsells. This resulted in $79 commission plus a recurring commission of $20 per month since then.

      To clean a mailing list can be sort of a double-edged sword. 😉

      Torsten recently posted…Simple Traffic Solutions Reveals How To Drive TrafficMy Profile

  • Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Reply Reply March 31, 2015

    Very helpful, Torsten! I never cleaned up my list and I followed your directions and now I won’t have to spend more for my subscription plan. (I was on the border of the next size plan)

    Thanks for the great info.
    Sue Anne Dunlevie recently posted…Do You Have A Social Media Marketing Strategy?My Profile

    • Torsten

      Reply Reply April 1, 2015

      Hi Sue,

      thanks for stopping by.

      I think cleaning a mailing list only makes sense when you’re about to jump to the next subscription level, as it helps you to keep autoresponder fees down.

      Other reasons, like having a better open rate or a more responsive list become obsolete when looking at them in numbers rather than in percent.

      If you have a list of let’s say 2000 subscribers and in average 500 open your messages, the open rate is 25%. Now let’s assume 1000 subscriber never opened your emails or clicked any links and you delete them. Your subscriber base will come down to 1000 subscribers and the open rate will increase significantly to 50%. Yet still 500 subscribers will open your messages.

      What we really want to look into when talking about how to increase the open rate, is to increase the amount of those who are responsive to our messages. This is completely independent from putting the axe on the subscriber base.

      Have a great day,
      Torsten recently posted…Solo Ad Escape – Route To Alternative Traffic SourcesMy Profile

  • Dennis Seymour

    Reply Reply April 1, 2015

    Ooohh, very timely! I was looking for something like this specifically for Getresponse!

    I’ve never done it like this before and this seems a lot smarter (like 1000x smarter) than how I did it.
    Dennis Seymour recently posted…My Go-to Link Building Strategy That Skyrockets Websites to the MoonMy Profile

  • Wael Kaheel

    Reply Reply April 1, 2015

    Hi Torsten,

    Very informative article, it helps me a lot to move my paid costumers to paid costumers campain, I have subscribed to your blog free updates .

    Thank you and have a great one …
    Wael Kaheel recently posted…Greating Successful Facebook Ad CampaignMy Profile

  • David Merrill 101

    Reply Reply April 3, 2015

    This is good information, Torsten.

    You’ve described the right way to clean your mailing list.

    I know many marketers who never clean their list for fear of losing a potential customer, or because they’re afraid to do it wrong and lose their list altogether.

    So this is really invaluable advice.

    Another option that many of my clients have found useful, is to run “unresponsive” contacts into a different autoresponder altogether. I like using MailChimp for this. You can use that list to try to re-engage folks without overburdening your “engaged list” on Get Response, for instance.

    Meanwhile, doing nothing to your list is not a good practice. Your open rates and CTR will be adversely affected by this, and that in turn will make your deliverability suffer.
    David Merrill 101 recently posted…Keep It Short StupidMy Profile

    • Torsten

      Reply Reply April 3, 2015

      Glad you find the info useful, David.

      I like the idea of using a different autoresponder to ‘park’ the unresponsive contacts while trying to re-e