On the tenth day of Listmas, my data showed to me someone reactivating old stuff…
Ah! The musty smell of old lists. You know, people who haven’t heard from the company in months and months. OR! Even better: They haven’t heard from us in years and years!
It’s true! This actually happens. One of my favorite stories is that of a company who found a list of email addresses in a filing cabinet which had been locked for 3 years! They called to ask if it was okay for them to mail to it.
Now, conventional wisdom says that a typical B2B list sees approximately 30% churn in a year. (And that’s a number that I’ve seen presented as a rule of thumb as far back as a 2008 MediaPost article by Loren McDonald which suggests a range between 20% and 50% churn per year.) So, if you do the math properly, out of 100 addresses, at the end of year 3, you’re left with only 34 that are still valid.
So, if we assume 30% churn per year, and we assume that we’re starting with a super-small list of 100 addresses, what happened to the other 46 addresses?
Well, some of those addresses are now:
Abandoned. They used to belong to someone, but that person switched jobs, lost interest, got too much spam, etc. Really, any number of things could cause someone to abandon an address (we’ll even talk about one of them in tomorrow’s post).
Repurposed. What used to be a working address is now a spam trap, helping either a DNSBL operator (like Spamhaus) find companies who aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing, or even helping the domain owner find the same thing.
Reassigned. While this might properly belong to “repurposed” I wanted to draw special attention to it. One thing that several spamtrap operators have pointed out to me is the “shocking” (and they all have used that specific word to describe it) numbers of highly personal emails that they get in their trap networks. But, some providers will actually open an address up to a new assignment to a new owner. (And if the thought of medical information or bank statements going to some old address that you used to own doesn’t make your stomach churn, you might need to think about that possibility a little bit harder.) That means that marketing efforts which were at one time solicited are no longer because the person who signed up is no longer the person reading the mailbox. It’s kind of like a landscaper who wants to keep charging you because the last owner of the house signed up for his service. You’d be right not to pay him, just as the new owner of the mailbox is right to call your marketing messages “spam.”
So, sure you have 34 addresses that are still good. But, more than half of the list is bad and that won’t do anything to help your sender reputation metrics. Bounces will go up, blocklistings are more likely to happen, and spam complaints (either to the ESP or to the mailbox provider) are certain to go up. And that leads to poor delivery.