Data and personalization are increasingly important for modern marketers, but to get the best results, acquisition efforts should be paired with an equally robust email validation and verification system. Especially today, when data-driven strategies dominate the marketing landscape, your database serves as the heart of entire campaigns, so maintaining its health is crucial. If you don’t, you risk campaign setbacks, performance reduction, and even domain blacklisting.
Below we’ll dive into common data validation strategies, features to look out for, and our number one tool recommendation for brands who want to keep their databases spotless. Many of the concepts discussed will be specific to email, as it’s among the most commonly leveraged data points today, but the strategies and services we outline will typically work for other data points as well.
Downsides of Low-Quality Data
Avoiding hard bounces, then, helps marketers use budget efficiently while avoiding derogatory marks from ESPs.
Perhaps the most common data validation strategy for brands today is to not have one. Many CRM managers will send messages to every email in a database, and just wait for hard bounces to scrub the bad ones. At this point however, the damage is already done, as ESPs (Email Service Providers) may have already assigned a negative score to the sending domain due to the percentage of hard bounces. Some are expected and normal due to closed or abandoned email accounts, but this doesn’t happen at a high rate. If a domain sends emails that bounce regularly, an ESP may take corrective action, up to and including full domain blocking.
Additionally, each sent email corresponds to an associated cost, and even one bad lead in a hundred can result in an incremental performance decrease in a database of millions. Avoiding hard bounces, then, helps marketers use budget efficiently while avoiding derogatory marks from ESPs.
Email Validation Methods
Email validation can be used to eliminate bad leads in a variety of ways, starting with the simplest method, which is enforcing basic data formatting requirements. For example, requiring users to enter an email in a valid format that includes “@” and a valid top-level domain, such as .edu, or .com. However, this type of data monitoring is far from robust, and can’t truly be considered “validation,” as there is no check to make sure the email is real. Any consumer can easily game the system and be passed along to the CRM.
The better alternative is to use a dedicated, full-service validation tool. Such a service utilizes a variety of sophisticated methods to check emails that are either uploaded in a CSV file, or fed directly to the tool via an API.
Each provider varies in their exact methods for validating data once connected, but there are a few common practices and technologies utilized across the industry.
Here are a few features that our partners use:
Syntax checks go beyond the basic format checks mentioned earlier, to look for and flag typos due to user error. For example, if a user misses the “i” in “gmail” and enters “firstname.lastname@example.org,” the service will identify that as a typo for the email “email@example.com.” Then, the email is either flagged for inspection, or fixed, re-verified, and sent back to the database.
Domain Validity Checks
Most validation service providers maintain a database of hundreds of thousands of valid and invalid domains. Email domains can be compared to this list to determine if they come from a legitimate sender or not.
"Email validation can be used to eliminate bad leads in a variety of ways."
SPAM Trap Checks
SPAM traps are valid email addresses that are not in use, but kept in circulation to help ESPs spot spammers. They typically won’t be acquired via legitimate acquisition methods, but may occasionally make their way onto a list or into a database. Good email validation services will maintain a database of known SPAM and hard-bounce emails and also have technology to predict how likely an email is to bounce. If any of your data gets flagged or is suspicious it can be quarantined for further inspection, or just removed.
Removal of “Complainers”
Some email recipients are considered known “complainers,” people who have statistically high levels of complaints to mailers and report emails as spam with little or no provocation. Email validators can also identify known or likely complainers and remove them from your lists so you don’t risk getting your messages marked as spam as well.
Once an email has gone through a series of checks to make sure it’s not overtly bad data, it still needs to be reviewed to make sure it’s valid. This is often accomplished by SMTP checks, where the validation service will communicate with a domain’s email server and verify if the address exists without actually sending an email message.
One of the most important features of our favorite validation services is a real-time API integration. Using this, you can validate emails as they’re submitted, before they ever hit your database. This way, you can avoid bounces, maintain a clean CRM, and save time that would otherwise to go manually uploading lists to be checked.
There are many other verification tools and methods used by validation companies today—including disposable email detection, catch-all domain detection, and more—but this list provides a great cross section of the most commonly utilized tools.
Stronger Together With ActiveProspect’s LeadConduit
The data validation offerings on the market have varying strengths and weaknesses and often change over time, which can make it hard to select the right one. In fact, there’s usually not one best choice, and what works right now might not be the best in a month or two. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to be nimble, as switching between providers usually involves integration with a new API—a process that can take many hours.
Every year, we generate millions of leads for our clients, and we’re responsible for the quality of each and every one.
Fortunately, ActiveProspect’s LeadConduit Service helps solve that problem. Their system is connected to all the major validation services on the market today and offers an API to connect to your systems and database, just like any single validation system. The difference is that, once connected, you can choose among the market offerings a la carte via an easy user interface. This eliminates hours of work and helps you use the best-in-class offerings, even as they change and evolve.
We’re big promoters of this product because we’ve seen its power firsthand. Every year, we generate millions of leads for our clients, and we’re responsible for the quality of each and every one. This means we don’t stop at one validation service; we send each piece of data through multiple rounds of verification, including third-party services and our in-house TruFilter product.
With so much data being verified each year, we need to stay on top of the industry trends, which in the past has meant frequent connections and disconnections from provider APIs. With LeadConduit, we can streamline a lot of that work and get the same result, while giving us more time to focus on TruFilter, and other in-house strategies that will drive increased results.
Which Validation Service Is Best?
So, based on our experience, if you’re looking for a data validation solution for your company, we recommend ActiveProspect’s LeadConduit product. Beyond that, selecting the right validation solution is a dynamic process that changes with time, but it’s the best practice to test several options and keep an eye on the results. Over time, you’ll find one or two that work and you can keep using regularly. Don’t become complacent though, as the best option may change. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to test new products once or twice a year to make sure you stay up to date.
Best Practices for Data Validation With Acquisition Agencies
If you’re working with a third-party vendor to help scale or improve your customer acquisition efforts, there are a few best practices you can use to give you the best chances of acquiring clean, high-quality data. Here are three to get you started:
Don’t Incur the Costs
First things first: If you’re getting leads from a vendor, they should be incurring the cost to validate the data they’re providing. You shouldn’t have to pay extra for the service.
Be Aware of Your Options
The data validation market is a dynamic, constantly changing arena. New players come into the space, and industry leaders change pricing and packages constantly. If your vendor says they use one service exclusively, it’s worth asking how often they change it in order to keep up with the market.
Watch Your Results
Whatever you do, make sure to keep an eye on any leads you get from a vendor, especially during the onboarding period. Watch for any obviously false data, and create a list of metrics to track before you start, then see if the leads meet your goals.
Data Validation Is Crucial to a High Performance Acquisition Campaign
With millions of customers entering and leaving CRMs daily, it’s crucial to have a strong data validation practice in place to support your marketing efforts. Without one, a small, but significant number of hard bounces can continuously decrease overall performance and act as a drain on your resources.
If you’d like to avoid bad data and enhance the quality of your lists, you have two options: Use a validation service directly with your in-house campaign, or partner with an acquisition vendor with a strong validation background. Either way, it’s important to keep an eye on your data quality and understand that keeping it clean is more nuanced than a simple email check. It’s an ongoing practice that requires consistent effort, but one that will ultimately pay off.