Eyeballing Subscriber Lists – An Email List Hygiene Trick
I wrote two articles about email validation and email verification and how both processes will help achieve better deliverability, but after you scrub both ways, you may not be getting rid of all of the seeds and/or traps. The one thing that almost all email marketers forget to do is to eyeball down their list and look for peculiar emails or anomalies. Every email list is different and follows its own pattern. It’s quite beautiful actually. I have been email list cleaning for six years and I have found that each list has a unique fractal pattern. A character, if you will, that if looked at correctly can identify email addresses that do not belong to the chaos.
Here, I will show you how to eyeball down your list and spot the anomalies so you can remove them to avoid future threats.
Every list is different. In order to see the pattern, you need to open it up and sort it alphabetically. You can do this with Microsoft Excel (only 1 million at a time) or with TextPad (Windows only) or UltraEdit for Mac. Find your column and sort via alphabetically. It’s better to do it without multicolumns so you can see the patterns properly. If you have to do it with multicolumns, then move the width of the column as far right as you can because sometimes emails can be extremely long. You will need a powerful computer with at least 8 gigabytes of ram if you’re working with files larger than 1 million. Make sure the sort A-Z and not the other way around.
Right away you will notice your list has some strange email addresses numerically. Most of the emails that really don’t belong in your list are located at the top, but not always. Bots and seeds are mainly the focus here. Your fractal will not appear at this stage (not until the a’s). Start removing any email address that just “doesn’t look right”. Most real email addresses have names. Anything without a name could be a potential threat so it’s best to remove those emails. Don’t remove numbers with names in it. Sometimes people’s names are already chosen, so they have to add numeric characters to it (example – email@example.com). Start scrolling down and removing one by one. It’s tiring but you can get through 1 million records within 1 – 2 hours by eyeballing down your lists.
Example of numeric anomalies:
Every list has its own flow. After you finished with the numeric emails and you start to reach the alpha, you will notice strange emails that may look like this: a..@gmail.com or asc..@gmail.com. Emails do not have two dots in a row so this is not a good email address. Set a reminder while you remove these email to do a search to remove every single email with a dot dot. You will notice these emails at the beginning of every letter. At this time, you may start seeing a seed pattern. Every 100 – 200 emails or less, you may identify some strange email addresses with alpha-numeric characters that do not belong. In example, you could find an email like this: firstname.lastname@example.org. After scrolling down a few more emails, you may see email@example.com. After a while of removing these (you should always keep the suppressions), you will recognize a seed pattern that doesn’t belong.
After you have reached the c’s, you should have, by now, seen the fractal pattern. After scrolling though the list over and over you will notice long emails that just doesn’t seem like they belong. Some will write those off as coincidence, but if you check the emails themselves by googling them, you will notice those email addresses are public knowledge, meaning someone posted them on websites or are bounces. The chances of them being seeds or traps are extremely high. Test the email by sending one to it. Ask the subscriber if they are still interested in receiving your advertisements. You will be extremely surprised that they will not respond. There are not that many of these inside your lists so removing them isn’t that big of a deal for those who are paranoid about losing subscribers.
Now that you have found your beautiful fractal pattern and are doing your own email list hygiene, your eyes will start to see funny stuff. In example, if you’re good at pattern watching, you could stumble upon seeds by familiarities like this example I found in a recent list I eyeballed. I found the acronym “html” was being placed randomly inside the list. After removing every single email address and looking at the suppressions, I found this:
It’s obvious by this pattern that the emails are attached somehow to a website with the ending .html. It’s also discernable that these emails were harvested. This is extremely dangerous and should be removed as soon as possible. At this time, if I were you, I would question where this list came from!
Other examples you may find obviously planted or harvested in your list:
Four things could be happening here. Either these emails were harvested from a website and the website had issues displaying the correct one, the emails were downloaded incorrectly from a CRM, the subscriber entered the email more than once and the system was confused or it could be traps.
Again, each list is different, but it’s so common to find a cluster of emails that do not seem to fit. Here is another example:
These emails were the message ID’s from the returning headers. They are not the real email addresses that you can send to. These emails were harvested from the internet as I found them on a website called scamsurvivors.com.
Spam fighters, bots and seed planters come up with all kinds of clever tricks to hide their emails. As the tides change, so do their tricks in hiding them. Eyeballing down your lists will improve your deliverability score but it’s also an indication that you have a list that will cause you extreme problems with spam fighters or ISP’s. Most list hygiene services (except for us of course) do not offer this kind of service. Make sure you follow this example to ensure you do not run into any of these snags that can cause bounces or worse, blacklistings.
CEO / Founder
eMail: ehygienics at gmail.com