Data Hygiene: More Important Than Ever

Colleen Preisner

3 minute read

In 2019, we witnessed a long series of data breaches at corporations like Facebook, Toyota, and MyFitnessPal. These attacks have been carried out by hackers seeking customer’s 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 only 25% of consumers believe that most companies are handling their personal data responsibly.

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.

Companies that don’t adhere to industry best practices (or the law in the case of CASL or GDPR) 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 Dirty data can be caused by factors such as duplicate records, incomplete or outdated data, and the improper description of record fields from different systems.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 also pretty bad. And, of course, having the wrong email address 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., mark!, etc.). You should also remove any distribution email addresses (such as, system email addresses (such as, and any email address with the word “spam” in it.”. Good email marketing providers have list hygiene tools built into 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: A soft bounce is 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 hard bounce is 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 ISPs make available to 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 who don’t want to receive your emails from your list, you will:

  1. Reduce the complaint rate
  2. Increase customer satisfaction
  3. Reduce sender questions and end-user complaints
  4. Increase the likelihood that ISPs will allow your messages through to the recipient

Step 4: Deal with Inactive Subscribers

Inactives are 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 to them in the first place?

To re-engage inactive subscribers, start by profiling them. When and why did they 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 re-engage, 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, work on your data hygiene on a regular basis, and you’ll save yourself from experiencing a nasty cavity.

Trendline Interactive

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About the Author(s)

Colleen Preisner

Two decades of experience in the financial services industry. Fanatic of insight-based marketing strategy, having worked in nearly every marketing discipline. She leads Trendline’s Client Services teams across North America. Follow Colleen on LinkedIn

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