Is Your Email List Dirty

I didn’t think mine was.

I have been actively email marketing for nearly a decade.  I have been systematically building my lists for that same amount of time.  When I email market, I follow all of the rules.  I am very familiar with all of the requirements of the 2004 Can Spam Act.  My list is a double opt in list meaning, every name on the list voluntarily signed up and agreed a second time before being placed on the list.

I open every email with “Mailing information, including how to remove yourself, is located at the end of this message.”  I show the name of my list, which helps the recipient know what our relationship is based on, my personal email address so they could contact me with any questions, instructions on how to remove themselves from my list, an “Unsubscribe” link,  my physical address, and even my entire “Privacy Policy” right there in the email!

In addition, I check my subject line and email content with of many on line Spam Checkers such as or or, which are based on the criteria of the most popular spam catcher / filter, Spam Assassin, every time.  I employ an automated “bounce” handler, which removes hard bounces and even soft bounces after they bounce a given number of times.  And, I nearly never “sell” in my content.  And still… I kept getting complaints from my ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) and email service providers about my lists.

Neither Constant Contact, Bluehost, or Amazon SES (Simple Email Service) would tell me why I was getting these complaints.  All they would say is my list needed to be cleaned.  And, no one would tell me what that meant!

Here’s what Amazon SES kept saying:

Dear Amazon Simple Email Service Customer,
After careful review, we have confirmed our original action regarding your Amazon SES account. Please note that your Amazon SES account will remain closed at this time.
This suspension is related to a human investigation of your sending. We cannot reveal our anti-abuse techniques and information sources, so we recommend that you reexamine your sending.
Amazon Web Services

What?!  So. I went on a quest to find out and learn what “cleaning”, “scrubbing”, and email list “hygiene“ all meant.

Did you know that Yahoo! emails are impossible to verify?  Did you know about the “Dead People’s List?”  Did you know about “Disposable Emails?”  Did you know about “Spam Trap Emails?”  Well, either did I.

I Email Dead People

Did you know that there are “dead people lists?  Yep.  There are lists that are maintained by different services and the United States Postal Service (USPS) that contain physical addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of dead  people.  I thought I’d put my brother’s information on this list just for fun, but realized it might not be easy to get him back on the “alive” list if there is one.

Here’s what the Deceased Lists folks had to say:

Deceased Do Not Contact Registration
“When you register a name with DDNC, the person’s name, address, phone number and e-mail address is placed on a special do not contact file. All DMA members are required to eliminate these individuals from their prospecting campaigns. The service is also available to non-members of DMA so that all marketers may take advantage of this service to eliminate names.

A new, updated file is distributed to our members at least once every three months. Therefore the number of commercial contacts from DMA members should begin to decrease within three months.”

Traps And Disposable Emails
Also, did you know that there are services that provide “temporary” or “disposable” emails just for spamming?  True again!  You can get an email, send out a slug of spam messages, and the email disappears immediately after.  No…  No link to these here.

Also, again, did you know that there are emails specifically used as “spam traps”?  These emails are just designed to be used to trap your emails in email spam traps!  Why people would sign up for my free information using spam trap emails is beyond me, but they did!  All this makes email marketing really difficult.  Especially if you are not aware of any of this.

Scrubbing Bubbles
I identified and contacted many different companies that do email scrubbing and decided upon LeadSpend, which is a subsidiary of Experian, one of three powerful credit reporting agencies in the U.S.  I downloaded one of my email lists from my system (DaDa Mail), in a CSV format (Comma Separated Values), and uploaded it to LeadSpend to see what they had to say about it.  I was pretty confident that they wouldn’t find anything as I have always taken such care in building my email list.

Here’s what their initial free report showed for one of my lists:

LeadSpend | A Part of Experian Data Quality


| Result        |        Count |         Percent |


| Verified      |         6265 |          73.13% |

| Unknown       |         2006 |          23.42% |

| Undeliverable |          135 |           1.58% |

| Unreachable   |          147 |           1.72% |

| Illegitimate  |            2 |           0.02% |

| Disposable    |           12 |           0.14% |


| TOTAL         |         8567 |         100.00% |


I was glad that they also provided some definition to the terms in the chart above.

·  verified – The address appears to be deliverable, and not a trap (as far as we know), disposable account, etc.

·  undeliverable – The address is not deliverable–it doesn’t exist, it’s suspended, or its mailbox is full.

·  unknown – The address doesn’t appear to be a trap (as far as we know), but we can’t determine if it’s deliverable or not.

·  unreachable – “Invalid domain”; either no DNS records, invalid ones, or there isn’t a mail server listening.

·  illegitimate – Known trap, monitoring domain, blackhole, etc.

·  disposable – Belongs to a disposable email address provider, like

Further ExplanationScrubbing Bubbles
“Typically, you’ll reject anything but verified and unknown addresses. You accept the latter because they’re probably good, but we just can’t tell for certain.  Because the “unknown” addresses will contain some bounces, we recommend that you add them to your mailings slowly, in order to keep the overall bounce rate low for each mailing.

Similar to unknown addresses, you should expect at least a few bounces, mostly at Yahoo!, which cannot be verified.  The older your data, the more often you will experience this.  To keep the bounce rate as low as possible, we recommend you add Yahoo! verified results to your mailings slowly.”

What the…!  Where did 135 undeliverables and 147 unreachables come from?  And, 12 disposable email address and 2 email traps!  In that one list alone!  WTF! (Wow!  That’s Fantastic)!  I had nearly 300 bad emails!

The fee for scrubbing / cleaning my 6 lists was a very reasonable $50.  The fee is based on the size of your lists.

You would think that after all of this, I would be good to go?  Not so fast! 

With a cleaned email list in hand, I sent my first perfectly clean email blast!  I couldn’t wait to see the “tracking” report.  It would be the first time with absolutely NO hard bounces.  When the email blast was complete, there were 366 hard bounces or emails that could not be delivered for a variety of reasons; typo, deliberately given wrong, company gone, employee or person gone, etc.  :o|  OMG!

I contacted LeadSpend and asked them “Huh?!”  Here’s what they had to say about the 366 hard bounces:

“We suggest mailing gradually to ‘unknown’ addresses because we cannot conclusively determine their deliverability. If all of them were included in your mailing, and a high percentage of them were invalid, that would cause a high bounce rate, which could get you flagged.

As far as Yahoo addresses, and Yahoo! hosted domains are unique in that our standard method of validation, SMTP, does not work, as the mail server says the email is good every time you ask. We have developed a proprietary technique to validate these addresses. This basic technique is actually the state-of-the-art used by LeadSpend that relies on side-channel information in order to validate these addresses.  Since the data sources we reference are not designed for validating Yahoo! addresses, they are not 100% accurate. Specifically the method occasionally misidentifies invalid Yahoo! addresses as verified, but when you mail to them they bounce.”

The next step in my cleaning process was to take my 366 hard bounces and also remove them from my list.

Did you know any of this?

So, with a hand cultivated, double opt in, personal contact email list of 8,567 emails, nearly 700 of these emails were unknown, undeliverable, illegitimate, or disposable emails.  The good news is, that once you have your lists cleaned, they don’t usually have to be cleaned again.

Lon Safko

International Speaker & Trainer and Author of The Social Media BibleThe Fusion Marketing BibleInternational Speaker & Trainer

Lon LIVE !