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What is a Seed List in Email Marketing?

One of the most important parts of email marketing is ensuring that your hand-crafted emails make it to the eyes of your potential buyers. If you read this article for no other reason, read it because you want to make a difference to your deliverability rates. Seed lists are a crucial tool for email marketing, and you don’t want to miss out!

As per our expertise, while seed lists aren’t a perfect solution to the problems posed by sending cold emails, they are a great step along the way. In particular, they ensure that your emails are more likely to pass the first hurdle: making it to the inbox! 

In this article we’ll cover:

  • What seed lists are
  • What the term “seed list” mean in email marketing
  • How to improve your email deliverability with seed lists
  • Three advanced ways to improve your seed list implementation
  • Frequently asked questions.

Let’s get into it!

What Is a Seed List?

What is a seed list?

A seed list is a short list of emails you use to determine whether your emails are designed and constructed correctly as part of your email marketing strategy. You can think of it as a sort of beta test for the email.

Based on our first-hand experience, seed lists are typically composed of a few addresses of people you know personally. 

If you’re a solo email marketer, that might be friends and family. If you are part of a larger operation, it might be your coworkers or employees. It typically also includes your address.

The Purpose and Role of a Seed List in Digital Marketing

Before you hit the big red send button to push your email to your main contact list, you first want to ensure that it will display correctly and make it to everybody’s inbox.

So, you use the seed list to check! 

By sending an email to the seed list, you can have people you know check that it opens and displays properly in their Gmail, Outlook, or whatever other email client they use, and that it doesn’t hit the spam folder.

Additionally, if you want to check that your products’ links are working and clicks are tracking correctly and showing up in your reports, your seed list recipients can do this.

Difference between Seed Lists and Regular Email Lists

The main difference between seed lists and regular email lists is that one is used for internal checks and email testing, while the other is used to send your marketing emails to their intended target audience.

What Is a Seed List in Email Marketing?

what is a seed list?

Based on our experience, seed lists are very useful in email marketing as they can help you determine any possible flaws in your email design or template efficiently.

As with anything, ensuring that you follow the steps of your plan from beginning to end will help you get better results! So take the time to use your seed list to test your campaign before it goes out into the wider world.

After all, once your messages are out there, you can’t take them back — especially if they’re inaccurate or your services aren’t working properly!

Benefits of Using Seed Lists in Email Campaigns

Principally, seed lists are used as a diagnostic tool in email campaigns to maximize deliverability.

By sending an email to your seed list, you can confirm whether it is landing in spam folders in a particular client and displaying as intended on various platforms (desktops, mobile devices, web clients vs. app clients, etc).

When the people on your seed list review the email you’ve sent, they should pick up any flaws relatively quickly and will alert you to them.

One exciting point of using a seed list this way is that you can preserve your sender's reputation. Sending emails that hit the spam filter or are not delivered properly is one way your sender's reputation can fall, leading to a spiraling effect of reputation and deliverability decline.

So, it’s clear that being able to determine deliverability issues on a small number of test emails first will hurt deliverability or spam collection less than sending it to your mailing list all at once, which will help you avoid drastically lowering your sender reputation!

Challenges and Limitations of Seed Lists

While seed lists are wonderful deliverability optimization tools, they don’t come without limitations. You should familiarize yourself with all of the information to make informed decisions.

For a start, they will only be effective at checking compatibility with the different email service providers, ISPs, and clients that the people on your email list use. This means that you might not be able to check all the common clients that people on your main mailing list will be using.

This last sentence underpins most, if not all, the major limitations of seed lists — they will never be a perfect representation of your mailing list. 

That means that although the data you receive from your seed list is useful, it’s not perfect, and as a result, the insights you receive from it will likely not match the trends of your actual audience

Further, seed lists are great for ensuring the basics are right, like design and deliverability, but they don’t adequately model average user engagement and interaction or types of interaction.

For example, will some of your subscribers come from other avenues, such as guest blogs and articles, YouTube channels, Instagram, or LinkedIn? How these people interact with your email marketing will not be the same as your seed list.

This is because you send emails to people to purposely push all the embedded buttons and check everything. If you’ve done it right, you should get 100% engagement metrics from your seed list as everybody tests and validates things! 

Of course, you won’t get the same statistics from your real mailing list.

Building and Managing a Seed List

To build a seed list, you’ll first need to find suitable contacts to add to it. You probably won’t want to add potential customers, as the emails you’ll be sending may be unpolished or not sales-ready — instead, look for colleagues, friends and family, and other people who aren’t in your target market.

Experts in email marketing may also create and insert some dummy emails to receive mail from their seed list if needed, spreading them across multiple providers and clients for maximum effect.

Once you’ve created a starter seed list, it’s important to ensure it stays up-to-date: if someone no longer wants to help out, you should remove them from the list to ensure that your seed test metrics remain accurate.

You’ll also want to be on the lookout for other people who might use different browsers or different email service providers entirely to access their email accounts. 

Our analysis has shown that adding more forms of possible engagement to your seed test list will enhance the accuracy of the spam testing you are conducting.

How to Create a Seed List Effectively

Creating a seed list is not just about chucking your parents and closest friends into an email list and clicking send. Instead, take some time to consider who your campaign is sent to to ensure that it is analyzed for effectiveness.

Determine Your Goals

Before you begin, take some time to consider what the goals of your marketing campaign will be.

What are your email campaigns going to be primarily about? Do you need to reach mainly a commercial market, or are your subscribers mostly interested in reading a newsletter? Are most of your recipients likely to use mobile or web email clients?

Once you’ve determined who you want to reach and their likely spread across different email platforms, you can construct the list in full so that it is validated by the right people.

Gather a Mix of Internal and External Email Addresses

If you are working in a company, you don’t want to only include email addresses from within your domain. 

An email that belongs to a company address and is sent to another company address is highly likely to be delivered properly — something that may not be reflected when they hit a cold inbox, which is monitored by an outside provider and will be more prone to spam filters.

Even when working alone, you don’t want to only send seed email tests to your friends or family, as they may be unable to give you the most accurate feedback if they’re not in your target audience. 

You could look for other email marketers to swap contacts with so that you can be on each other’s seed test list.

Additionally, you can create your own additional email addresses to test various settings and clients without having to reconfigure your inbox repeatedly.

Use Specialized Tools or Platforms

Some tools and platforms are available that provide email seed list facilities while also performing wider email authentication tasks. These include GlockApps, warmy.io, and more.

While these tools and platforms are helpful and contain various email marketing tools, they may not be right for you, especially if you are running a fairly small operation. 

Carefully the pros and cons of using them in your particular case.

Importance of Organic List Building for Seed Lists

Organic list building is where you attain new emails for your list via direct sign-up from interested parties rather than building from a commercially available list tool. It is not as fast as purchasing email lists in terms of growth but can lead to a higher open rate.

However, organic list building is very important when constructing a seed list. 

For a start, you want to ensure you can receive various data from your seed list trials. If you send a seed list test to a randomized lot of people who won’t open the email, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, as you won’t receive anywhere near the amount of data you aim for.

Secondly, depending on the provider you purchase an email list from, you can run afoul of spam filters and email “traps” embedded in providers and target people aiming to spam others, which will harm your deliverability more than help it.

Based on our past experiences, as a result, organic email list building is vastly preferred when considering the creation of a seed list for consistent, diverse, and representative results.

Best Practices for Seed List Management and Usage

Your seed lists are intended to model the experience that real customers or other businesses and companies will get from your marketing emails. As a result, you should make sure that they model your main email list as unobtrusively and well as possible.

This means a variety of things, including:

  • Creating a seed list with similar proportions of email providers

For example, if your main list is 70% Yahoo addresses, your seed list should be as close as possible to this makeup.

  • Run seed tests regularly to ensure that you can get as much data as possible about where your emails go

Try and send them in a similar pattern to how your main emails are sent to best model the experience of your wider mailing list.

  • Don’t copy seed test metrics to your overall marketing performance metrics

After all, you won’t be converting anyone from your seed list to a product buyer!

While it can be tempting to feel like you’re done after setting up the initial seed list, seed lists should be constantly maintained and updated to ensure they remain relevant to your mailing list.

Enhancing Email Deliverability with Seed Lists

enhancing email deliverability with seed lists

Seed lists, of course, are not only for testing that the emails in your email campaigns function the way they should but also for ensuring they’re being delivered correctly.

The Role of Seed Lists in Testing Email Deliverability

Email seed lists have one principal role in testing email deliverability — ensuring an email is optimized for delivery and included in a user’s main inbox.

By receiving feedback from your seed list (either directly and confidentially or from monitoring your analytical tools), you can better determine what you should avoid or change in your emails to ensure they make it past as many spam filters as possible.

How Seed Lists Impact the Email Deliverability Ratio

For a start, the emails on your seed list should have an invisible 100% deliverability rate or close to it — otherwise, you aren’t getting the data you need.

Of course, for those with a large mailing list, this is just a drop compared to your overall metrics. 

However, the full mailing list push is where the seed list test makes its largest mark.

Ensuring Proper Engagement and Inbox Placement

By eliminating issues in the seed list test process, your emails will hit a higher proportion of your subscribers’ inboxes, and as a result, you’ll observe a higher deliverability rate. 

While this may not necessarily increase user engagement, you will at least be getting more eyes on your emails rather than having them sent to spam.

Engagement is difficult to test using a seed test. However, if you have people on your seed list who are interested in the content you produce, you should get a good idea from them. They can tell you what is working in your email content and what isn’t in terms of capturing the interests of your target audience.

Advanced Implementation of Seed Lists

advanced implementation of seed list

So, now you know the basics, how do you use your seed lists to help the success of your email campaigns?

Working with Custom Seed Lists

Putting together custom seed lists, ie, a list that you’ve built manually and is made up of your “A-Team” of testers, means that you have total control over who you’re sending your test campaigns to.

One of the huge benefits is that if you know your ideal customer, you can put together the best sample of people to fit that demographic exactly.

However, this does require you to be hands-on with your approach, which could take time away from other tasks. And, considering that you should be constantly refining your seed lists, you may be spending more time on this than you want to.

On the other hand, if you’re a small business with a niche product, custom seed lists can help you refine your marketing strategy and ensure that your carefully crafted email campaigns reach your intended recipients.

Automating Seed List Processes

While sending seed emails manually is all that is necessary for some, this process can be a painstaking loss of productivity for others. As a result, you may wish to automate the process by sending the seed emails through an email validation service or similar platform.

You can also automate the emails using segmentation features in your CRM software. Segmenting off your seed list can allow you to send specific emails (seed test emails) to them and nobody else, helping the process integrate more seamlessly into your overall workflow.

Our analysis has shown that possibly the easiest part to automate is deliverability feedback. If you rely on direct feedback from your seed list contacts, you might want to look at automation strategies to check deliverability rates.

Integrating Seed Lists with Other Email Marketing Strategies

Seed lists aren’t the only analytical tool you should employ to ensure your emails are as good as possible!

Combining them with other email techniques to analyze deliverability, measure and track engagement rates, and more will maximize their effectiveness and the quality of your emails in general.

FAQs

How often should I update my seed list?

You should update your seed list regularly, at least every quarter, to ensure that it remains in parity with the contents of what it is supposed to model.

Can seed lists ensure 100% email deliverability?

Seed lists cannot ensure 100% email deliverability as they will never be a perfect model of your real mailing list and how people interact with their inboxes. However, they can significantly increase your emails' deliverability rate significantly if used correctly.

How do seed lists interact with different email service providers?

Email service providers will likely have different spam filters and other inbox tools. As a result, you’ll see different metrics from addresses corresponding to different providers on your seed lists.

Key Takeaways

Hopefully, you are better acquainted with the idea of an email seed list and what it can do for your business!

The Continuous Evolution of Seed Lists in Email Marketing

Seed lists should be continually updated and improved as your mailing list changes to ensure you get the best possible analysis from them. 

That could mean determining which web elements (such as HTML, CSS, images, logos, etc) display correctly in most clients your users favor or whether you want to focus solely on avoiding spam filtration.

Emphasizing Best Practices for Effective Seed List Management

Don’t forget:

  • Seed lists should be continuously updated, not left to stagnate
  • They should match the “real” mailing list as closely as possible to give the best possible data
  • You shouldn’t include them in overall ROI data as they’ll drag down your overall scores — seed list data should remain seed list data only
  • You should send regular seed test emails to ensure your data remains current and accurate.

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