Data hygiene best practices

The ins and outs of data hygiene (and the technology you need to support it)

Let’s say your campaign is working to create a new lead onboarding program that will help you identify new prospects and start establishing relationships with them. But some of the people engaging with your new program are people already in your files, and separating them out so that you can deliver timely, personalized messaging is proving an ongoing difficulty.

That’s what Save the Children faced. They had files of new donors and prospects coming in, but the verification process to obtain a clean lead took four to six weeks. In order to grow their house file with fresh, viable leads at a low cost, they needed to clean their own data and change their processes to be more efficient.

What is data cleansing?

Data cleansing is about detecting, correcting and removing records that are inaccurate, expired or corrupted in some other way. Sometimes files are duplicated from human error,1 or the same person signs up twice with different addresses. Customers might move, get married, change jobs or pass away. When any of those things happen, you’re left holding a customer file that no longer applies to them and is essentially dead weight.

If your organization only has a hundred donors, verifying and keeping track of everyone’s email and mailing address is manageable. But if your organization reaches millions of people, verifying donor files accurately and quickly is less feasible. Data Axle, for instance, has over three hundred data experts who make more than 25 million verification calls every year. We check more than a hundred sources like real estate, tax assessment, voter registrations, utility connections, as well as verifying addresses and phone numbers the old fashioned way. Bringing on a data partner means you know this kind of extensive leg work has been done well and done recently.

Why is data hygiene important?

Gartner, a research firm, estimates that polluted data costs 14 million dollars a year. Data hygiene helps companies save money in a few ways.

1. Ensures your messaging reaches the right person

Marketers have more opportunities than ever before to build relationships with people through personalized messaging. That requires a very clear understanding of who each customer is now, not ten years ago. Enhancing your current data means filling in the blanks of missing information, or receiving information about the prospect’s interests, values, or online presence.
Privacy scrubs can help you flag sensitive records, too, so that you can avoid reaching out to people who appear on do-not-call lists, do-not-mail lists, those on the ACA prison address file, or who are deceased.

2. Guarantees that mail or emails you send actually get delivered

People move in, move out, and move on. Companies should invest in address standardization, like CASS™, DSF®, or NCOALink®. Data Axle works with the USPS to offer full service NCOALink® processing as well as other zip code and delivery services.

Clean address data is not only for direct mail, it is often a key part of identity resolution. Location is a key component in understanding someone’s needs, wants and influences.

3. Safeguards you from blocklisting

Getting flagged as SPAM or blocklisted is a setback that can cost you. At the very least, you want to make sure the email addresses you’re sending to are accurate–one typing error might make the perfect prospect the most unreachable one. Cleaning up your email database removes closed-down, inactive and non-existent email accounts, and helps reduce your risk of things like high bounce rates and ISP blocking that can cause significant revenue loss.

4. Helps you make better decisions

Any organization using data collected in 2019 will be hard pressed to create a workable action plan for 2023. Good data allows you to segment customers into meaningful categories, so you know who you need to reach and how. You can then start identifying patterns of behavior among leads and current donors. With clean data you’ll be able to set the right KPI’s and then evaluate your campaign metrics properly.

When you strategize about channels to invest in, campaign ideas to move forward with, and goals to reach, you need to know what channels your audience is using, what messages they care about and what metrics will matter the most. If your file is plagued with bad email addresses and you get a high bounce rate, you might be tempted to forgo email entirely. With clean data, you could actually make email work for you.

In fact, a Forrester and Data Axle study found that when using accurate and actionable data, marketing organizations saw their ROI more than double, compared with campaigns that run without accurate and actionable data. Conversion rates also increased when using effective data.

What best practices keep your data clean?

1. Audit your data regularly

According to Eric Niebergall, Data Axle’s Sr. Sales Engineer, data cleansing should be done on a quarterly basis, depending on your organization’s needs and resources.

Go through your current mailing list to remove bad or poor quality addresses. Look for duplicate addresses, invalid addresses that are misspelled or improperly formatted.

Working with a data partner can provide you with automated processes that help save time and resources. Your data will be cross-referenced against records to identify disconnected or incorrect phone numbers, update locations and hours of operation, add key business roles and contacts, and other information your data partner has gathered. You’re left with a file that has correct, recent and relevant information ready for you to use.

2. Append your data regularly

Life changes fast. Each year, 60% of individuals change job functions inside their organization.2 With regular appends to your data, you can keep on top of these changes. Email append services provide you with your donor’s most current email addresses. Other tools, like Data Axle’s B2C link, allow you to connect your prospect’s home and work life to reach out to them more effectively. Or a B2B data append can fill in your business data gaps so your outreach programs can succeed.

In the case of Save the Children, they implemented an on-demand data cleansing process called ‘Smart Match’. Smart Match allows Data Axle to take a file from the client, and reverse append critical pieces of information that may be missing–like adding a mailing address to a file with only an email, or adding in demographic attributes like HHI, age, presence of children, ethnicity, and more. Then, once the file is complete, Data Axle can perform a match back to see if the contact already exists in the house file.

This kind of consistent, automated process allowed Save the Children to increase the value of their house file and digital acquisition file.

Clean data saves time, money and resources

Save the Children was able to clean and sort their own data, append their data, and continually match new leads to their current records to maintain a quality house file.

Data Axle helps companies eliminate waste, avoid messaging out-of-date contacts, and boost their response rates. Ask us how we can help your organization.


Natasia Langfelder
Content Marketing Manager

As Content Marketing Manager, Natasia is responsible for helping strategize, produce and execute Data Axle's content. With a passion for writing and an enthusiasm for data management and technology, Natasia creates content that is designed to deliver nuggets of wisdom to help brands and individuals elevate their data governance policies. A native New Yorker, when Natasia is not at work she can be found enjoying New York’s food scene, at one of NYC’s many museums, or at one of the city’s many parks with her two teacup yorkies.