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Update your email list

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May 18, 2023

Recently one of my clients needed to combine and update their lists, chances are it’s time you update your email list as well. They had one group that had opted in to their Mailchimp list, but another that grew organically in a group sent out by a member of the organization via internal email. The question came up whether they could just add the second group.

Technically the answer is no, even though similar content was previously sent to both groups. The second group had never opted in to receiving emails.

But there is an easy way to combine groups – and make your emails even more engaging and personal at the same time.

First, let’s look at why you shouldn’t just add people to your email list.

It’s a terrible practice.

  • People will mark you as spam, damaging your sender reputation
  • People will immediately unsubscribe or flag your emails to be auto-deleted
  • People will not want to do business with you

Obviously not all people will do one of the three things above, otherwise people wouldn’t continue to buy email lists and deliberately spam people. But I’m going to assume you’re not trying to spam people. Most mail service programs have a threshold for complaints – receive too many spam flags and your account will be frozen.

The purpose of sending emails is to connect with clients and subscribers. Deliberately doing something that’s likely to offend them isn’t the way to go.

Seth Godin talks about this in Permission Marketing. The main idea is instead of interrupting people at the worst time, (think door to door sales people back in the day) we invite them into our business, and wait for them to accept. This what Opt-in buttons are in a nutshell. It is someone saying “I am interested in your business, please tell me more.” It’s more about building long term business than making a quick buck.

This is also why email marketing can be so effective when done well. If someone willingly gives you their email address, they are already interested in what you have to offer or what you have to say. There’s more friction that simply liking a page or following someone on social media, it means something if they subscribe to your emails.

Back to combining and updating the lists.

Since the second email list did have history and people were engaged and responding, this was a different situation than buying a list, or scraping email addresses from websites. Trust had already been established. I take it as a great opportunity to do some Spring cleaning. We didn’t do all of these steps for this particular client, but if the lists had been a lot larger, we probably would have. Most companies charge by the active user, so keeping your list current benefits you financially as well as improves your open rates.

  1. Remove or Archive (the word varies by email service) people that have never opened emails in the last 1-2 years. It’s ok. They won’t know. Perhaps they went with another company, or decided not to buy at all. There’s no point in trying to communicate or market to someone not interested.
  2. Create User-Identified Interest Groups. What on earth is that? It basically let’s people choose what types of email they want to receive – and possibly how often.


Let’s say you own a pet store and have one list for cat owners and another for dog owners and you want to combine them. Yes, dogs and cats can get along. You can let subscribers select what subjects they want:

  • cats
  • dogs
  • birds
  • fish
  • all other animals

See what I did there? I added 3 more options. Many people have multiple species as pets. Now – along with sending Jane emails related to dogs, you can also send emails about caring for her birds (if she so indicates). Perhaps Jane never knew you had bird seed because she just went straight to the dog food each time.

Likewise, Miguel who only has fish won’t want to receive emails about dog obedience school.


By giving subscribers choices, you can personalize emails to focus on what they are interested in. Even though they know it’s automated, it still feels tailored to them, and they know they won’t be wasting their time by opening your email.

The other benefit is by choosing what content they wish, it includes an opt-in feature, so you’re safe combining lists.

There is one tiny caveat. Avoid giving people too many choices. Faced with an abundance of options, many people choose none. I wouldn’t offer more than 5 options. You also don’t want to choose too many because then you’ll have to craft emails for ALL of those choices. Be wise, know your time constraints. Focus on a few broad options that are likely to have little overlap and then a catch all if necessary.

How do you present the options?

This varies by email service. Mailchimp offers Groups to let subscribers choose.

One company I was going to unsubscribe from had it on their unsubscribe page. This is a great idea! The reason why I was going to cancel the subscription was because they were sending SOOOO many emails. It was an avalanche. Not only could I fine tune the subjects, but they also had the option of a weekly summary. I chose that – I really did like their content, just not piles of it each day.

The most common ways to ask people to choose is to add it to the signup form, and to send an email asking people to update their preferences. An annual email is a great way to keep your list current as well as subtly reminding people of other products or services you offer.

Most importantly it keeps your audience engaged.

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A web designer for over 8 years, I enjoy learning new ways to help my clients connect with their customers and grow their business. I'm Mailchimp and Google Certified, as well as a StoryBrand Guide. I love circles, coffee, and living in the mountains.


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