Email

How to clean up your contact lists to improve email deliverability

Last updated: March 13, 2018

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If you’re seeing high rates of hard bounces, it’s time to clean up your contact database. Keeping your contact lists up-to-date is the best way to get the most out of your email marketing efforts. Email spam filters are highly sophisticated, and they can reliably spot and filter out unsolicited emails. By focusing on contacts who are expecting to hear from you and who are engaging with your content, you will reach the inboxes that matter most.

This guide covers the steps you can take to clean up your contacts based on what you know about their original source.

Determining a contacts' original source

Focusing on engaged contacts from the right sources is key for successful email deliverability. Learn more about how to review and audit your contacts from the following types of sources:

There are a few steps you should follow before importing these contacts to make sure they're good to email through HubSpot. Check out the recommendations below for each source type.

Please note: if you still have questions about your contacts after reviewing these source types and recommendations, you can reach out directly to your Customer Success Manager or start a conversation on the HubSpot Community.

Contact age

Old contacts is the most common reason for not having source attribution. If your contacts are too old for you to know where they came from, use these properties to get more context (from any CRM or ESP, not just HubSpot): 

  • Create date
  • Recent conversion date
  • Last form submission
  • Last email opened
  • Last email clicked
  • Last reply
  • Last date purchased
  • Last activity date 

If you don't have any known values for a contact's date field properties, check out the Unknown source section below.


A form submission on your website

Contacts who have converted on your website are coming in from a high quality source because it's very clear that these contacts:

  • Understand what your business does.
  • Recognize your email sender's name and/or email domain.
  • Have an interest in what you're offering.

Please note: be sure that any email addresses you're collecting through a form are clearly granting permission to receive marketing emails from you. For example, a contact may submit a form to receive a content offer, but may not wish to receive regular email updates going forward. A form checkbox is a common way to include an extra step to confirm the contact wishes to receive future marketing emails.

If you are seeing deliverability issues among contacts who submitted a form on your site, there are a few steps you can follow to review and audit your contacts.

  • Review recent engagement to make sure these contacts are still interested in hearing from you. Look for the date of last engagement for the following properties in HubSpot:
    • Last email date
    • Create date
    • Recent conversion date
    • Last form submission
    • Last email opened
    • Last email clicked
    • Last reply
    • Last date purchased
  • Contacts that have engaged with your emails or website within the last year are good to email in your future marketing campaigns.
  • If any of the above properties are unknown or more than one year old, run a re-engagement campaign to confirm that these contacts are still interested in your content. 
    • In your email campaign, try to include content relevant to the contacts' original interests.
    • Allow 1-2 weeks for email engagement to occur, such as opens or clicks.
    • Make a list of contacts who have not interacted with your re-engagement email, then delete that list.

Another CRM or email service provider

When getting started with HubSpot, it's common to import contacts from another contact database or email service provider. Before importing the contacts into HubSpot, check out the information you already have about these contacts' interests and history of engagement.

  • Check the last time these contacts engaged with your content by reviewing the following details in your current database:
    • Last email date
    • Create date
    • Recent conversion date
    • Last form submission
    • Last email opened
    • Last email clicked
    • Last reply
    • Last date purchased
  • Contacts that have engaged with your emails or website within the last year are good to email in your future marketing campaigns.
  • If any of the above properties are unknown or more than 1 year old, run a re-engagement campaign to confirm that these contacts are still interested in your content. 
    • In your email campaign, try to include content relevant to the contacts' original interests.
    • Allow one to two weeks for email engagement to occur, such as opens or clicks.
    • Make a list of contacts who have not interacted with your re-engagement email, then delete that list.

Your sales team or another internal team

Sales teams move at a fast pace, and sometimes you may receive leads from your team without complete information about how they opted in and what they subscribed for. Take the following steps to review contacts from this source to make sure they're good to include on your marketing email lists going forward:

  • Reach out to your sales team to gain some more context about how the contacts originally got in touch and what they discussed.
  • Work out a process with this team for tracking the original source of contacts going forward. Consider using a custom property to help label contacts so you know what type of content is most relevant to their interests.
  • Look at the details you have stored in contact properties to find clues about specific forms these contacts may have submitted or what they have expressed interest in. Even the timeframe when your team got in touch with them can provide some clues about what they may have been discussing.
  • Create a custom contact property to start labeling these contacts from a specific source.
  • Within HubSpot, review contact properties that can give you clues about the contact's level of engagement:
    • Last email date
    • Create date
    • Recent conversion date
    • Last form submission
    • Last email opened
    • Last email clicked
    • Last reply
    • Last date purchased
  • Contacts that have engaged with your emails or website within the last year are good to email in your future marketing campaigns.
  • If any of the above properties are unknown or more than one year old, you should run a re-engagement campaign to confirm these contacts are still interested in your content.
    • In your email campaign, try to include content relevant to the contacts' original interests.
    • Allow one to two weeks for email engagement to occur, such as opens or clicks.
    • Make a list of contacts who have not interacted with your re-engagement email, then delete that list.

Booth visitors from a conference, event, or trade show

Contacts that made an in-person connection with your team at a conference or trade show have demonstrated an interest in your business. Keep in mind that stopping by a booth doesn't necessarily equate to opting into emails, unless the contact filled out a signup form or otherwise expressed an interest in receiving email updates. 

The best practice is to only reach out to contacts that have deliberately opted in to receive email. You can check the following contact properties in HubSpot to check the contact's history of engagement. 

  • If the values for these date properties are less than one year ago, these contacts are good to continue emailing through HubSpot. 
    • Last email date
    • Create date
    • Recent conversion date
    • Last form submission
    • Last email opened
    • Last email clicked
    • Last reply
    • Last date purchased
  • If the contacts have not been engaging with your content within the past year based on the properties above, you can run a re-engagement campaign to confirm these contacts wish to hear from you.
    • In your email campaign, try to include content relevant to the contacts' original interests.
    • Allow one to two weeks for email engagement to occur, such as opens or clicks.
    • Make a list of contacts who have not interacted with your re-engagement email, then delete that list.

Third party source

Some third-party sources provide an opportunity for contacts to opt-in to receive relevant content from a partner. If a third-party or partner is providing email addresses to your team, there are a few things to consider before sending emails to these contacts:

  • Do these contacts know they would be receiving marketing emails from you?
  • Was there an option for the contacts to opt-out of emails when their information was collected by the third-party?
  • Are you sending relevant content based on their interests from the original source?

The best practice is to only reach out to contacts that have deliberately opted in to receive your email. If the contacts' information is being shared with you without their knowledge, review the recommendations for other contact sources and remove this list from your database.

  • Within HubSpot, review contact properties that can give you clues about the contact's level of engagement. Contacts that have engaged with your emails or website within the last year are good to email in your future marketing campaigns.
    • Last email date
    • Create date
    • Recent conversion date
    • Last form submission
    • Last email opened
    • Last email clicked
    • Last reply
    • Last date purchased
  • If the contacts have not been engaging with your content within the past year based on the properties above, or if the opt-in process with this third party was unclear in any way, run a re-engagement campaign to confirm these contacts are still interested in your content.
    • In your email campaign, try to include content relevant to the contacts' original interests.
    • Allow one to two weeks for email engagement to occur, such as opens or clicks.
    • Make a list of contacts who have not interacted with your re-engagement email, then delete that list.

Unknown source

In some cases, it's possible that you may be missing some historical context about the source of some contacts in your database. Each import into your HubSpot account will create a new static list, and you can review contacts from each list in detail until patterns start to emerge that help you understand their oiginal source. 

There are a couple methods you can use to gain insight into the sources of your contacts:

Method 1

  • Look at the details you have stored in contact properties to find clues about specific forms these contacts may have submitted or what they have expressed interest in. 
  • Update the contact records with a custom property to help label them for future reference so you know what type of content is most relevant to their interests.
  • Within HubSpot, review the following contact properties to find clues about the contact's level of engagement. Contacts that have engaged with your emails or website within the last year are good to email in your future marketing campaigns.
    • Last email date
    • Create date
    • Recent conversion date
    • Last form submission
    • Last email opened
    • Last email clicked
    • Last reply
    • Last date purchased
  • If any of the above properties are unknown or more than one year old, you should run a re-engagement campaign to confirm these contacts are still interested in your content.
    • In your email campaign, try to include content relevant to the contacts' original interests.
    • Allow 1-2 weeks for email engagement to occur, such as opens or clicks.
    • Make a list of contacts who have not interacted with your re-engagement email, then delete that list.  

Method 2

  • In your HubSpot account, select Content > Email and then click the name of the email with the high hard bounces to see the post-send details.
  • Click the Recipients tab, and then click Bounced.
  • Click one of the contact records that hard bounced.
  • Find the source of that contact using the following methods: 
    • Scroll down to the beginning of the contact’s timeline.
    • Review the beginning of the contact's property history by clicking View > View property history in the contact's About section.
    • See properties such as Original source (drill-down 1 and 2). You can also search for these properties specifically by clicking View > View all properties. In the search bar on the left, search for Original source, and then hover over one of the original source properties and click See history.]
    • You may discover contacts with an original source of BCC_TO_CRM or Inbox connection. These are contacts who were included on an email sent from your email client using the HubSpot Sales plugin. You can learn how to create a list of all contacts created from HubSpot Sales tools here.
    • If you use Salesforce, refer to the automatically synced property entitled Lead status.
    • On the left pane, review the contact's list memberships. When a contact is imported, they are added to a static list. The static list is named after the imported CSV. Oftentimes the name of this file will reveal the source. 
  • Note any contact properties that could identify other contacts that came in through the same source.
  • Repeat this process until you discover the source that the majority of the contacts who have hard bounced have.

Social media connections (e.g., LinkedIn) 

Emailing unengaged or unknowing contacts may sound harmless, but working with these types of sources can cause serious damage to your email sending reputation. Imagine how you might respond if a LinkedIn connection subscribed you to their newsletter. You have a relationship with them, but receiving this unexpected content that you didn't ask for will create a negative and confusing experience, which will result in a higher rate of spam complaints and unsubscribes.

For more information on why you should avoid adding social media connections to your email lists, check out this blog postSee the next section on other contact sources below for more information on the dangers of emailing unengaged or unknowing contacts.

Other contact sources

Any contacts from the following source types should be removed from your database, as emailing unengaged or unknowing contacts can damage your email sending reputation:

  • Event attendees from a conference or trade show
  • Guessed emails based on the company format
  • Rented, borrowed, leased, appended or purchased lists 

Here are some important points to consider when looking at contacts from these sources:

  • Many of these sources contain spam traps, which are emails deliberately planted to help email service providers identify spammers. 
  • Reaching out to contacts from these other sources is also a direct violation of our Acceptable Use Policy and CAN-SPAM compliance laws. 
  • A spam complaint rate of 0.1% on a single email is a red flag that will increase your chances of bouncing or landing in the spam folder.
  • Even a lack of enthusiasm among your recipients can do damage to your sending reputation, as a marketing email with an open rate lower than 15% sends a message to email service providers that the sender is sending spam. 

Please note: purchased lists should be deleted from HubSpot immediately or imported as an opt-out list to ensure they're automatically dropped from all marketing emails.

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