Thinking of Using an 'Old' List? The complete guide to get the most of it without the risks.

Jun 7
5 min read
Sending content to subscribers who haven’t received anything from you in over 6 months is the best way to get into some serious deliverability problems.
Box of old letters - Photo by cottonbro

Nowadays people are really trying to get the most out of their email campaigns. This sometimes means going back and using lists you haven’t touched in a while. This can often do more harm than good, so watch out!

Let’s say you haven’t sent any email to your subscribers for a while  -  about 6 months - and you have now decided to start a weekly newsletter in order to share your coveted knowledge, making your subscribers very happy. You prepare it carefully and send a few tests. Then suddenly you think: “Wait, maybe it would be a good idea to (re)confirm their permission first”.  Phew!

This is actually the best move you could make.

Sending content to subscribers who haven’t received anything from you in over 6 months is the best way to get into some serious deliverability problems.

Chances are they won’t remember ever signing up and hit the ’Spam’ button before you even have a chance to communicate with them. The next thing you know, even people who signed up yesterday aren’t getting your email, or the email is ending up in their Junk folder.

Using old lists increases the risk of you sending to Spamtraps and getting your Domain and/or IP blacklisted.

After email addresses have been deactivated for a while, ISPs sometimes use them as bait to catch people using old lists. If you had been sending to this list regularly, these traps would have hardbounced a long time ago and would no longer be on your list. The best way to regain contact with those on older lists is to send a message asking for permission to contact them again and have them re-opt in to your list. Of course, using 6 months as a general timeline is a good place to start - the older the list, the bigger the risk that your subscribers won’t remember having subscribed. It’s important to understand that the further you go back, the more likely you are to run into trouble. Realistically, if you haven’t contacted these people at all in the last year, they should no longer be considered part of your list.

Here’s some good advice when preparing your re-opt in email:

  • As with any email, make sure to have the clearest “FROM” possible so they can always identify you
  • Be sure your “OBJECT”/”SUBJECT” is clear and doesn’t look like spam
  • Reconfirmation emails should <strong>not contain advertising content</strong> of any kind
  • Tell them precisely how you got their email address, so they understand they had previously subscribed
  • Give them precise information about the type of content you will send them and the frequency of mailings they will receive. Informing you subscribers is also a good idea when you make any changes to the type of content or frequency of your mailings, or to your company name, website, logo, etc.
  • Be able to fulfill your promises before you ask people to subscribe
  • Make them want to sign up! Create emails that are as ‘attractive’ as possible to get them interested  in subscribing
  • Be clear that you are updating your list, and that they will need to “Subscribe to your newsletter” by clicking on a link. If they don’t do this, they won’t receive anything from you.
  • Add some links to your Privacy and Anti-Spam policies
  • Give yourself some time to receive your subscriptions. You can add the date of the first mailing in the email so they know how much time they have to register if they want to receive it. Late responses will be subscribed to future  mailings
  • Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive much feedback from your users. It’s a good idea to couple your move with a ‘subscription campaign’ on your website to reinforce the interest in subscribing;
  • Discuss this process with your ISP. We at Cakemail will help you plan your mailing and also discuss with ISPs to ensure you won’t have any problems.

What is an hardbounce

Very simply a hardbounce is a bounce generated when you send an email to an address that does not exist. It may have existed in the past, but not anymore. Just like calling a phone number that’s been disconnected, you usually get a recording saying “This number is no longer in service..” – which is effectively the same thing. The big difference is, the phone company doesn’t block the rest of your outbound phone calls because you dialed too many wrong numbers!

ISPs look very closely at the number of hardbounces a sender generates. Too many from a given network can indicate a potential Directory Harvest Attack and ISPs will put up a block (usually done automatically) to prevent slow downs which may cause further harm to their users. Have you ever sent an email to a friend and wondered why it took so long to get there? Think about it, if an ISP is being bombarded by millions of spammers trying to validate a list of a 'gagillion' addresses, it’s going to slow down the legitimate email from getting through and people will inevitably start complaining.

In order to prevent these blocks, it’s very important to keep your list(s) up-to-date. This means sending on a regular basis and removing hardbounces as you go.

Manage and confirm new leads

Cakemail automatically does this for you, but if you haven’t used the list in a while or like we talked about last week, you’re thinking of using an older list, you need to be very careful. As a preventative measure, which we’ve also mentioned several times, you should be confirming any new leads. When somebody signs-up, you should (at the very least) be sending that address a Welcome email. Not only will this prove they have access to the address, but it will get rid of hardbounces right away and prevent you sending a whole bunch at once. It also gives you an excellent opportunity to send them your From address for Whitelisting and thank them for signing up in the first place!

Bye for now,

Kevin, Deliverability Director at Cakemail

If you have any questions, Kevin can be reached at: or feel free to contact our Help Desk.

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