Purging Your Subscribers

Check your marketing ego at the door, people, because at some point in your email career, you will be faced with the decision to purge subscribers from your email program. Purging your subscribers is a great way to maintain the legitimacy of your database.

What does purging mean?

Purging means that you take a pre-defined segment of subscribers and remove them from your sendable database. Here, the operative term is “pre-defined,” which means that you need to agree on what parameters make up the need to kick the subscribers to the curb. There are almost always spam accounts lingering on your subscribers’ list.


Let’s be clear; there is no definitive definition or best practice that makes up how you should determine who on your list should be purged. It’s common practice to regularly verify the legitimacy of your list. It’s also very difficult to answer what are alternatives to purging.

It can be one or a combination of the following:

  • Email engagement (opens and clicks) over some time.
  • Site engagement over time.
  • Social channel engagement.
  • Purchase or member activity
  • Call center or customer service interaction
  • Offline engagement (direct mail, brick, and mortar)

As an email marketer, the chances are that you might look at only email engagement to define inactivity or the need to purge that subscriber. However, that might be short-changing your program a bit since the email program might have influenced attribution on engagement in other channels.

It’s hard to come to grips with getting rid of subscribers in your email program.

In some extreme cases, I have witnessed a noticeable decrease of 25-35% of the base because of purge rules that were created 5 or 6 years ago. In the same vein, I have seen companies who retain a segment of subscribers that they should purge all in the name of hope that maybe one day that one person will click and engage. And, whatever you do, don’t get me started on the ego play where having a bigger subscriber base is somewhat comforting to those in higher pay grades.

I have been in email marketing for 21 years, and it’s never an easy exercise to determine who stays and who goes, but take comfort that every single company out there has subscribers that should be purged.

Remember, purging is not an event; it’s a process

Purging is not an event; it’s a process that should be done on a regular basis depending on the parameters you have decided to use as criteria for your segment or segments. Purge rules are best determined by engagement over some period of time and other non-email channel conversions (i.e., social) where email can play an attributional role in those channels since there are no good ways to track cross-channel touchpoints today.

So, let go of any guilt associated with purging subscribers from your email program; chances are they would feel far more guilty knowing that their accumulated efforts led them nowhere because all they did was clutter up someone else’s inbox who might have actually been interested in what you have to say.

Determine the value of purging

Over the years, I have advised clients that before defining or changing a purging strategy, that we all sit down and determine the value of purging, the definition of purge, and what we will use to decide who should stay or go. It is different for every company because of the access to actionable data, the perceived value that the email program brings, and the acceptance of the finality.

So there you go; my recommendation is it depends on you and your tolerance to purge.


Purging is not the end of your email marketing program; it’s an opportunity for new growth. Purge with abandon, but not recklessly. Purging your subscribers is a great way to maintain the legitimacy of your database.

Drop me a line at akordek@ipost.com if you want to chat further on this topic.