How I maintain a pristinely clean email subscriber list, using ConvertKit

As a long-time email marketer, I take my email subscriber list very seriously. In fact, it’s the most prized asset in my business, bar none.

That’s why I treat it as well as I do, my car (and anyone who knows me, knows my love for all things ‘cars’).

Every time someone puts their trust in me by joining my email list, I thank them, not as hollow lip service, but as genuine gratitude for taking the time to subscribe.

I’m the protector of my ‘drawbridge’

In my mind’s eye, I see the entrance to my email list as a ‘drawbridge‘; you know the ones I mean – those old swivel bridges that you’d see in front of an old castle or fortress that can be dropped down or raised up to welcome guests or deny unwanted visitors.

I employ a double opt-in policy

Anyone who approaches my ‘drawbridge’ is vetted, meaning only valid and genuinely interested subscribers ever join my email list. To do this, I employ a ‘double’ opt-in policy for all my forms and landing pages.

In simple terms, this requires anyone joining my email list to submit their details (their first opt-in) and I then send them an email asking them to confirm that it was definitely them who asked to join my list and that they are happy to do so.

If they confirm for the second time, then they’re fairly committed to joining as a subscriber (i.e. via a double opt-in).

How to choose ‘double opt-in’ using ConvertKit

When configuring your opt-in form or landing page in ConvertKit’s ‘Settings‘ tab, be sure to select ‘Send incentive email‘ option (tick the checkbox) – see image below;

In addition to selecting this option, do NOT select the option to ‘Auto-confirm new subscribers‘, otherwise you’ll negate the double opt-in (i.e. leave it unchecked).

I never buy or rent an email subscriber list

I grow my email list using effective content marketing. This is done mainly via LinkedIn (the only social channel I use) using posts, articles, newsletter editions, and comments/engagement on other people’s posts.

I also use content on my website to attract subscribers, both on regular website pages and using my blog posts for optimising traffic vis SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

There are people out there selling email lists, and they’ll promote the advantages of significantly increasing your subscriber count using their paid-for lists of ‘clean and relevant’ email subscribers – however, dangers are lurking in the background.

Spam traps

The email providers like Gmail, Yahoo, Apple, and Microsoft, together with blocklist providers like Spamhaus, Spamcop, and Barracuda, are always looking for ways to determine which email marketers are using best practices to grow and communicate with their subscribers – one of which is the injection of ‘spam traps‘ into lists that are being sold.

Spam traps are invalid email addresses that have been purposefully added to a list so email marketers who are using them (i.e. they have NOT sought the subscribers’ permissions) can easily be spotted by sending emails to these ‘traps’.

Now, nobody selling you the list is ever going to tell you these traps exist, but they do – and you’ll probably never know you’ve bought them until you get blacklisted for emailing subscribers without their permission.

I add every subscriber to a ‘cold subscriber check’

Whenever a new subscriber joins my email list, one of the first actions that happens is they get added to one of my automations that tracks their activity.

If they don’t open any of my emails after 90 days, I move them into a re-engagement email sequence to try and get them to interact with my emails. At this point, they are deemed to be a ‘cold‘ subscriber.

This email sequence is drip-fed to each ‘cold’ subscriber over a few days – I then wait for a further 10 days (just in case they haven’t had a chance to read my emails), and then I do another check to see if they opened any emails, and if not – I immediately unsubscribe them from my email list.

Why I do this check…

‘Cold’ subscribers are hurting your email marketing because they reduce your overall open rates, which are tracked by the email providers.

Let’s look at a simple example just to give context;

If you have 100 email subscribers and you’re getting an open rate of 40%, with 10% being cold subscribers, then sending 100 emails would look like this;

Email subscribers: 100
Emails sent
: 100
Emails opened: 40
No. of ‘cold’ subs: 10
Emails open rate: 40% (i.e. 40 of the 100)

Now if we remove the ‘sold’ subscribers (i.e. unsubscribe them from our email list), the numbers change to this;

Email subscribers: 90
Emails sent
: 90
Emails opened: 40 (the same 40 subscribers from above)
No. of ‘cold’ subs: 0 (zero)
Emails open rate: 44% (i.e. 40 of the 90, an increase of 4% with fewer subscribers)

I know this may seem a bit ‘numbery’ but hopefully it helps demonstrate the negative impact ‘cold’ subscribers can have on your email stats – so don’t tolerate them!

I make it easy and obvious how to unsubscribe

I never want anyone on my email subscriber list who’d rather not be there, so I make it crystal-clear in every email I send, how to unsubscribe themselves from my list.

Most people take ‘unsubscribes‘ personally – they somehow think it’s a personal slight on them and the subscribers must dislike them, but that’s rarely the case.

Most people who unsubscribe from your list do so because what you talk about or offer no longer applies to them – not because they don’t like you (although they may not like your content!).

Whatever the reason, just embrace it and internally thank them for removing themselves from your list – they saved you the job of doing and they were never going to buy from you anyway!

I segment my email list using personalisation

If you can collect subscriber preferences and use them strategically when designing your campaigns, you can send your most relevant content to the right subscribers.

By sending your subscribers the emails that they’re most interested in, they’ll be much more likely to open and engage with them than if you blanket-send all your content to everyone.

One of the basic ways in which you can do this in ConvertKit is by creating ‘Topics of Interest’ and allowing your subscribers to self-select from your list.

If you’d like to see how to set up your Topics of Interest, check out this article I crafted to show the step-by-step process;


If you follow the tips I share in this article, you’ll grow and maintain a cleaner email list, one that produces a better return on your investment and keeps you on the right side of the ’email’ police! 👮‍♀️

Once you get proficient in list maintenance, you’ll become super-protective of it and only want to fuel it with fit-for-purpose subscribers who want to be there.

John Bellingham
Email marketing strategist for aspirational freelancers.

If we haven’t already done so, let’s connect on LinkedIn.

The Freelancer’s Guide to Email Marketing gives you everything you need to know to design, launch, and run an effective email marketing system in your business.


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John Bellingham
John Bellingham

Starting out as a software engineer over 30 years ago, I began working for large corporates before realising solopreneurship was my 'thing'. I've had many businesses over the years, which have taught me many lessons.

I now spend my time helping other solopreneurs to implement the strategies and tactics that worked for me, whilst avoiding all my expensive mistakes.

If you're a solopreneur who's either starting or running a business, then connect with me and let's have a chat.

I love Formula 1® so that's always a good conversation starter if you need one! 🏁 🏎

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