In 2015 we’ve witnessed a long series of data breaches at corporations like Sony, Target, and The Home Depot. These attacks have been carried out by hackers seeking customer credit card numbers, user passwords, internal documents, and emails. As a result, privacy has come to the forefront of consumer minds. A recent study reported that 57.9% of internet users agree or strongly agree that companies are not doing enough to safeguard privacy. Even more US marketing executives (60.6%) said the same.
This lack of consumer trust means that companies must ensure that they are doing everything they can to safeguard their customers’ privacy - consumer trust is imperative. If you aren’t carefully managing your own customer data, you’re not just running the risk of being flagged as spam and decreasing your ROI. Those companies that don’t adhere to industry best practices (or the law in the case of CASL) risk putting their brand’s reputation in jeopardy and could be hit with significant fines and penalties. Data hygiene is more important today than ever before.
Data Hygiene Explained
Data hygiene is the process of ensuring the cleanliness or accuracy of data. Data is considered clean if it is relatively error-free. Dirty data can be caused by factors like duplicate records, incomplete or outdated data, and the improper description of record fields from different systems. For example, if you deploy an email campaign to 1,000 men in your database and you address them to "Mrs." or "Ms.,” you can look pretty foolish. If you have someone's name spelled incorrectly, that's pretty bad too. And of course having the wrong email means you get an email message that bounces back and never reaches its intended recipient. Processes can be implemented to ensure that data is clean at the point of collection and/or to review legacy data that may have errors.
Being Proactive with Data Hygiene – 4 Simple Steps:
Step 1: Practice Good Hygiene
Review the records in your lists to correct any misspellings and typos entered during acquisition (ex. firstname.lastname@example.org, mark!gmail.com, etc.). You should also remove any distribution email addresses, such as email@example.com; system email addresses, such as firstname.lastname@example.org; and any email address with the word “spam” in it. Good email marketing providers have list hygiene tools built in to their services to keep your list clean and bounce rates low.
Step 2: Manage Bounce Rates
Emails can bounce for more than 30 reasons: the email address is incorrect or closed; the recipient’s mailbox is full; the mail server is down; or the system detects spam or offensive content. Bounces can be classified in two different ways:
Soft Bounces: When an email is sent to an active (live) email address but is turned away before being delivered. Often, the problem is temporary — the server is down or the recipient’s mailbox is full. The email might be held at the recipient’s server to be delivered later or the sender’s email program may attempt to deliver it again.
Hard Bounces: A permanent reason why an email cannot be delivered, such as an invalid email address. These records should be flagged and suppressed immediately since there is no chance the email will ever get delivered. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) track the number of bounces you generate with each send and use it when determining your reputation. If you generate too many bounces, ISPs may block your messages.
Step 3: Monitor Feedback Loops
Feedback loops are tools made available by ISPs that alert you when users at that ISP report your email as spam. Some feedback loops provide enough data for you to identify the email addresses of those reporting you as spam. If so, you can suppress these addresses from getting future mailings (your ESP may do this automatically). By removing subscribers from your list who don't want to receive your emails, you will:
- Reduce the complaint rate;
- Increase customer satisfaction;
- Reduce sender questions and end-user complaints;
- With lower complaint rates, ISPs are much more likely to allow your messages through.
Step 4: Deal with Inactive Subscribers
Inactives are those subscribers who have not clicked or opened your emails in the last 6 months. Smart marketers improve their ROI by ensuring their lists only contain subscribers who are engaged. After all, if someone is only going to delete your message, why send it in the first place?
To re-engage inactive subscribers begin by profiling them. When and why did the originally subscribe? What time of day did they typically open your messages? Once you have a better understanding of the types of subscribers you are trying to reengage, create relevant messaging that will resonate with them and hopefully entice them to re-engage.
As the saying goes “the devil is in the details”. While data hygiene may not be one of the sexiest jobs, it is fundamental when it comes to maintaining your brand reputation – and can potentially save you from costly penalties and fines. Like brushing your teeth, do it on a regular basis and you’ll save yourself from having a nasty cavity later.