Managing email lists

Once you move beyond your personal contacts, the job of managing email lists becomes much more complicated. Fortunately, there are powerful online tools that make it easy for even small businesses to professionally manage email lists and email marketing campaigns. 

Managing an email database

Email Open

Most people start off using their personal email program like Outlook or Gmail. This is fine when your list is small, but as it grows – and as you move to a permission-based system – you really need to use one of the many programs and services designed for the job.

An email list management program or service takes care of two big jobs.

#1 Create professional emails and sign-up forms

In the old days, just a few years ago, you had to hire a web designer to produce a credible-looking email and sign-up pages for your email list. Now, even novices can do professional-grade email direct marketing.

Templates and email design tools

The leading email service providers (see below) provide user-friendly online tools to help you produce good-looking and well-organized emails. While a professional designer can be useful, it’s no longer necessary.

An important point to note is that their templates are also pretested to make sure they’ll look good and work in a wide range of email programs. This can have a material effect on the response to your campaigns.

Online sign-up facilities

Another important area that used to require a web designer’s help was creating sign-up forms so that prospects and customers can actually join your list. Once again, this job is handled by list management services. And they’ve recently extended this to m

ake it easy to get social media users to sign up for your email lists.

#2 Take care of the list management and sending of bulk emails

As your lists grow, so do the problems of managing contact details and sending bulk emails. While Gmail or Outlook can be OK

for a few tens or hundreds of names, you really need some professional help when your list outgrows this size. Here are some of the jobs that a list management service will do for you.

  • Handle list opt-in and double opt-in
  • Manage bounces. These are email addresses that no longer work and bounce back.
  • Manage unsubscribes and changes. It’s essential that you make it easy for subscribers to remove themselves from mailing lists, a process that these programs automate.
  • Manage multiple lists. You might want separate lists for different products, offers and interests.
  • Deliver bulk emails. Your personal email system will grind to a halt if you send a lot of emails. You might also be stopped: most personal email programs have low limits on the number of emails that can be sent at one time.
  • Provide auto-responders. This handy service lets you respond with automated emails to do routine tasks such as acknowledging requests or delivering standard instructions.

Email list management services

The easiest option for most people is to use a hosted email list management service. ‘Hosted’ means it’s on the internet and there’s no software to install. Your email database also resides on the internet so it’s secure and backed up, though you can download it to use in other programs or as an extra backup.

Some email list management services

Here are some of the most popular email list management services:



Easy to use, helps you set up and manage your email lists and create the emails you send to them. A nice feature lets you easily segment lists by interest.

A simple template-based system lets you create good looking emails that also use sound direct marketing techniques, and are guaranteed to look good on the many different email clients your recipients use.

MailChimp has a very good free edition which lets you have up to 2000 names on your database without paying anything, and has an app that puts a sign-up form on your Facebook Page. It also has a feature similar to Feedburner (below) that turns your blog posts into emails.

MailChimp is one of the most widely supported email marketing systems and is integrated with many applications including WordPress and HootSuite.



Like MailChimp, ConstantContact is widely used and has good integration with other applications and social media.

It provides templates to build attractive and effective email and, like MailChimp, offers extensive analysis of how many people opened your email, clicked links, and responded to offers.

There is no free edition but you can sign up for a 60 day free trial.



Another popular email list manager. Covers all of the major features. No free account but just $1 for first 30 days.



If you have a blog, a popular free service from Google called FeedBurner lets people subscribe to receive your new blog posts by email.

FeedBurner creates a sign-up box for your blog, manages the email list and automates the conversion of your blog post to an email.

As well as letting people know when your latest blog post is out, it is a great way to use your blog to build an email list. You can export the list for use in other programs such as MailChimp or ConstantContact to do more sophisticated marketing, or to send email messages that you don’t want on your blog.

If you use a blog for news updates and special offers, it’s a very simple and free way to produce and distribute an email newsletter.

phpList — a self-hosted option

For intrepid, tech-savvy marketers who want full control — and perhaps to save on email delivery charges — there are several programs you can install and run on your own server.

A leading example is phpList ( which you can download and use for free. It also offers a hosted service with competitive rates for bulk email sending. You can set up an account and try phpList for free before committing to either a hosted or self-hosted option.

Next we’ll cover some suggestions for getting started with building your own list.


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.


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