I started Vandal this year (2016) after leaving Harkable – the agency I co-founded 5 years ago. It was a big move and one which I wanted everyone who knew me, or knew of me, to be aware of.
But beyond LinkedIn and Twitter all I had were my Address Book contacts of mostly friends and a few key clients. So I looked for a way to extract every single email used in my Harkable GMail account in the entire history of the business.
After a bit of research I settled on MineMyMail, a pretty basic but robust-looking online tool apparently developed in response to a personal need by the author to populate their own address book with people they’d been in contact with. Some of the key features that appealed were:
- it extracts email addresses from all fields – To, From, CC and BCC
- you can select which email folders to include in the extract
- the CSV you receive contains columns such as First Name and Last Name which make importing to CRM software straightforward
- each email address comes with data on when you first contacted, last contacted and how many times you contacted that person
At $9.99 for the ‘Gold’ level extract these features seemed well worth it so I dived in and a few days later got my CSV file.
I had a whopping 13,490 email addresses. A quick look through them told me this list was far from clean with old email addresses, role-based ones (e.g. [email protected]) and addresses of people selling me stuff in the past. I researched list cleaning tools such as NeverBounce, and emaillistverify.com, which all seem to work on the same principal. Any tool that I got a chance to test seemed to wrongly identify email addresses I knew were real (including my own) as dead so I didn’t trust them with my data.
So alas, I started a manual process of shaving around 70% off that list. Yep, I read every single email address albeit at a fast scan-read pace. I had the CSV open in Numbers throughout a whole week and would dip in from time to time selecting multiple rows and deleting them in small batches.
Once I’d got the list down to around 4,000 addresses that all looked legit at a glance I uploaded to MailChimp, chomping at the bit to get designing and writing my ‘Moving On…’ email. It was immediately flagged as being at risk of triggering abuse complaints by MailChimp’s Omnivore system. I’ve used MailChimp for over 10 years now so moving provider wasn’t something I wanted to do.
The only solution I could think of was to split the list into several lists and upload them to identify the clean and unclean sections of the whole list. So I divided it into 12 lists and uploaded them to MailChimp. Fortunately only 5 were flagged by Omnivore so I did at least have a good number of clean addresses on my list after all this time! I manually cleaned the flagged lists, deleting without hesitation just to get the job done and the lists clean. Only one got flagged on re-upload so I gave it one more clean and all was good – 3,000 emails successfully uploaded to MailChimp.
The great thing about exporting from MineMyMail is that you get almost everyone’s first and last name allowing you to make an email message instantly more personal. The other bit of data I found interesting was the number of emails I had been on with each person. I inserted that into the email copy (e.g. ‘we’ve exchanged 12 emails’), and split the ≤1 and >1 people into 2 segments. The split wasn’t just to avoid grammatical condemnation (’email’ and ’emails’) but also to recognise that the ≤1 people were infinitely more likely to never have met me, so that email could take that into account in the tone of the message.
The question I’m waiting to be asked is “how could you add 3,000 people to a mailing list they never subscribed to, when you know the contact rules in email marketing?”. Well, it’s a fair question. In my view I’m using MailChimp instead of my Apple Mail or GMail web clients, partly because they’re limited to 100 and 500 recipients per email respectively, and partly because I want to see who opens and clicks so I can follow up with just those people.
I’m including a large, visible statement about why they have received this email and reassuring them that the list will be destroyed a month hence, to give me time to collect open and click data. I’m hoping that this reassures people I’m acting in good faith but I’m primed for at least one person to send a spiky email reply along the lines of “I NEVER SUBSCRIBED TO THIS!”.
I’ll be updating this post with results in the next few days. Follow me on Twitter if you’re interested in hearing more about how this went.
Update: 12:15pm, Thu 15th Dec – my MailChimp account has been disabled due to the high bounce rate! A small number of people got a slightly less fancy email sent through GMail via Apple Mail.