How to keep your email lists fresh and up to date

 Email marketing, MailChimp  Comments Off on How to keep your email lists fresh and up to date
Feb 142014
Valentines storm heads to UK

Valentines storm heads to UK courtesy @deric_hartigan

Here in the UK (as in many other parts of the world) we’re pretty glued to the weather forecasts at the moment, watching those storms roll in from the Atlantic, day after day. We take it for granted that those wonderful weather maps are accurate and up to date.

Imagine what would happen if they didn’t get updated. What good is last week’s or last month’s weather report to us?

It’s a little bit like this with your email list. For most businesses the list isn’t static. People join your list (by signing up for your e-newsletter or when they buy from your business, enquire about your services or attend a talk or workshop you’ve given).

It’s not just additions, changes happen as well. Members may lapse, enquirers may become guests and of course now and then people want to get off your list.

How do you keep track of changes in your email lists?

If you’re using a programme like MailChimp, some of these changes occur directly in your MailChimp email lists (sign ups via your MailChimp web form and unsubscribes via the button in your email campaigns) but other changes occur in an external database, maybe your booking system, in Google Contacts, Mac Contacts or in another type of database.

If your MailChimp list does not reflect these changes and additions then it will hamper the success of your campaigns.

So how can you keep your MailChimp email lists up to date?

Knowing your external database has the most accurate data, you may be tempted to just create a new list in MailChimp every time you import, deleting the old list. This isn’t ideal.

When you delete the old list you delete important information:-

1. Unsubscribes

2. Cleaned emails

3. Subscriber activity

There are reasons why this information should be kept:

1. Unsubscribes – these people have opted out and by law you must stop sending them marketing emails. By deleting your old list, you risk losing track of who has opted out.

2. Cleaned emails – these email addresses aren’t working for some reason and have been automatically cleaned from your list. There may be errors or the emails are defunct or some other problem.

3. Subscriber activity – this gives you details of opens, clicks and subscribers accumulate star ratings. You can segment by this rating which can be useful to reward your best customers or entice back your least engaged subscribers. If you delete your old list, all this information goes with it.

Best practice would be to find and export all this information before you delete the old list and then manually clean and unsubscribe any relevant contacts from the new list.

Of course in reality you may not get round to doing these tasks and then you risk having an unclean list. This could get you into trouble. However there is a way to deal with this in MailChimp.

Using Groups and AutoUpdate function in MailChimp

MailChimp allows you to add Groups to your list. This is a great way to segment your data. It allows you to send different campaigns to different groups or the same campaign to different groups at different times.

For instance you could set up a group for say, Enquiries and another for Guests. Find out more about MailChimp groups.

There is another great little feature in MailChimp called Auto-update

This neat little feature means MailChimp will update information about the subscribers on your list. It can add people to new groups; it can update or add other information like birthday or purchase history. Each record is tied to the email address.

It does have one flaw though. It cannot remove people from a group. So if say your contact is no longer an enquirer but has become a guest, you would end up with the contact in both groups. For membership organisations in particular, this can be a major headache. You don’t want lapsed members getting member only goodies via email.

The good news is, there is a work around that allows you to keep all the subscriber history but have people in the correct groups. It’s a little bit clunky but less work than exporting all the subscriber information and creating a new list each time.

Let’s run a little scenario:

You send monthly emails. You have a database of enquiries & customers. New people get added every month and some of the enquiries become customers.

In MailChimp, you need your list set up like this.

Main Mailing List

Group Title: Status



Currently you may have your enquiries and customers in two different lists. Change this. Have one list and use the group function, you’ll see why later on. Here’s a reminder on how to set up Groups.

Export data

So when you export your data from your external database to a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, you want to split the export into the two groups. You can often do this in the external database.

Use two different worksheets on your Excel spreadsheet. Say your first work sheet is Enquiries. Lay out your columns as in the screenshot with a column with the same title as your group title, in this case Status.

Excel spreadsheet showing columns

Excel spreadsheet showing column headings




Put the Customers on the next sheet and use same column headings.

Excel spreadsheet showing column headings

Before you import these two worksheets of data into MailChimp you have two steps. This is the workaround.

1. Delete existing groups

2. Set up your groups again

How does that work?

1. Delete existing groups

You simply delete the group information, but the subscribers remain on the main list which means you retain all the unsubscribe, cleaned and subscriber activity data.

2. Set up the groups again

Using exactly the same group names as you have on your spreadsheet. Now you import your data group by group using the Auto-update feature. Here’s the instructions.

So to keep your email lists clean, up to date and working hard for your email marketing, make sure your updates give you the most accurate picture, it sure helps with the weather forecasts. Keep safe and warm.

Have you found any other neat workarounds for managing email lists?

Jan 282014

(and 3 ways to get creative with a single column email template)

Have you noticed how kids will personalise their school uniform? A uniform is imposed to ensure order, consistency and tidiness. It’s easier for teachers, parents and the community to identify children by their uniform. In theory, every child looks the same. It’s neat and tidy.

In practice, children have always found creative ways to personalise their look. Whether that’s crazy hair, a funky bag, a cool jacket, discreet jewellery or other more outlandish embellishments.

It’s the same with email marketing.

Did you know,

“51% of people open their emails on mobile devices now?”

(Aweber e-news 23.1.14)

More and more of us scan emails on our phones which means we need to move towards templates that are easy to read on those screens. That means single column templates.

However it doesn’t mean we have to accept a dull and uniform approach and throwaway any creative embellishments.

Innovative email marketing programmes like MailChimp and Aweber have been offering mobile responsive templates for some time. That is, templates that re-size according to the screen size. So they look good whether viewed on a large desktop screen, medium size tablet screen, or small phone screen.

What’s the problem with 2 or 3 column templates?

2 or 3 column templates look great on a large screen, but on a small phone screen, MailChimp, for instance, stacks the columns one on top of the other. That can completely mess with your message, as your prime offer information in the top right hand corner, gets sunk to the bottom of the email.

So, you’re persuaded to try a one column template, but you’re concerned that you cannot get the layout you want……….

3 ways to get creative with a single column template

Here are 3 ways to get more creative with a one column template in MailChimp:-

1.Split individual text blocks into 2 columns.
2. Use image with left or right caption blocks to create effect of 2 column on desktop version while they stack on mobile version
3. Split header block into 2, use square logo & welcome message.

Let’s take those one at a time:

1. Split individual text blocks into 2 columns

Within a single column template in MailChimp you can split text blocks into two. On the screen shot, you see under settings you get to select 1 or 2 columns.

Using this option ensures that e.g. An offer you put in the right column will only stack under the left column of this text block I.e it won’t get pushed to the bottom of the email. And what about images?

2. Use image with left or right caption blocks

If you haven’t already experimented, take a look at the image blocks with right or left caption.

They can be used for offers, destination photos or inspirational shots to go with a snippet from your blog, sales page or other page on your website. Again using this block gives the effect of 2 columns on a large screen but stacks one on top of the other on a small screen. And what do you do with the header?

3. Split header block into 2, use square logo & welcome message

A traditional newsletter always begins with a header featuring the company logo and name of the e-newsletter. In the hurried world of email inboxes, we need to grab people’s attention quickly.

So consider splitting your header and jumping straight in with your message in the left column and putting your logo in the right.

With all these options use the Preview mode in MailChimp to see how it might look on a small screen. Even better send tests to Android and Apple mobiles.

“I like my 2 column template and I don’t like change”

I know where you’re coming from! If you’re getting good results then stick with it, but it’s always worth being open to change. You never know, it might improve your response rates!

Just as children find the most ingenious ways to stamp their mark on their school uniform, you don’t need to be confined by the one column template. Go and experiment.

Have you experimented with layouts? What have you found?

Best regards


P.S. Need help with your email marketing or MailChimp?  I now offer online coaching (via Skype or Google hangout) to help you with email marketing and writing content to promote your business.  Get in touch for a quote.

Resources to help you get more from MailChimp (email marketing tool)

 Email marketing, MailChimp  Comments Off on Resources to help you get more from MailChimp (email marketing tool)
Nov 192012

Everytime I run a practical MailChimp workshop we find more resources and tools to help you get the most from this excellent email marketing package (no I’m not affiliated!).

I send an email with links post course to delegates but I thought I’d post them here for you too.
ICO Marketing (the law around email marketing)

Take a self assesment questionnaire to find out if you need to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to comply with the Data Protection Act

3 ways to make your email campaigns more ‘mobile friendly’.

Adding a MailChimp sign up form to your Facebook page

Reducing a Digital Photo’s File Size

Exporting MailChimp templates

If you know of other good resources please add them to the comments box.


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