I love answering questions about email marketing. It’s what I’ve been doing for over 7 years now and I’ve formed some fairly strong opinions along the way. But there is one question that still has me sitting on the fence.
Should I manage my contacts within a single database, or across multiple databases?
It’s a great question as database management is one of those things where if you get it right, you can achieve great things. But if you get it wrong… well let’s just say you’re in for a world of pain.
So which is better? Single. Or multiple.
Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer as there are pros and cons to both scenarios. But if I had to choose an ‘ideal scenario’, then I believe single databases are better for one very simple reason.
It’s easier for you to manage one database than it is many databases.
And let’s be honest here folks. Database management is the unsexy side of marketing so anything that makes our lives easier in this area is a good thing.
To explore the reasons why it’s easier to manage a single database let’s consider some common database management activities every email marketer has to go through.
1. Managing unsubscribers
When someone unsubscribes from your database, spam compliance requires you to stop sending marketing related emails to them. With a single database, this is easy to manage. In fact, any reputable email marketing software will prevent you from sending emails to unsubscribed contacts by default.
However, when you have multiple databases, it becomes a little trickier. Suppose you have two databases where one is for your newsletter and the other is for your events. If someone unsubscribes from your newsletter database, it won’t mean they are automatically unsubscribed from your events database. This can become problematic when it comes to the mindset of your subscriber. I’ve seen many a spam complaint where the recipient believed they had unsubscribed from all marketing emails when all they’d unsubscribed from was one type of email.
So if you do have multiple lists, make sure it’s clear on your unsubscribe form what people are unsubscribing to.
2. Maintaining a clean database
A great way to keep your database up-to-date is to allow subscribers to update their details for you using an update profile form. When you operate with only a single database, this process is easy. Someone updates their profile and you can then rest assured that nothing else needs to be done.
But when you operate with multiple databases, you need to search across all databases to see if the contact exists anywhere else. And if they do, you then need to update them there as well.
The same problem occurs when an email address exists in multiple databases and it bounces. Unless you update or remove the bounced email address from all of your databases, it’ll keep on bouncing which is generally not good for your email deliverability.
3. Reviewing subscriber engagement
Engagement is a hot topic for marketers and with email marketing there are some very useful metrics such as open and click rates that help you measure it. But when you have contacts stored across multiple databases, it becomes very difficult to get a holistic view of how engaged a subscriber really is with your emails.
For example, a contact in your prospect database might not have opened any of your promotional emails in over a year. But that same contact might be in your events database and has recently registered to attend an upcoming event. If you only looked at the metrics associated with your prospect database you would mistakenly think this person is not engaged. Subsequently you might remove them from your database and let go of a potential customer. But if you managed all contacts within a single database, you could immediately identify which emails this person is and is not opening and would recognise this person’s true level of engagement.
As I said earlier, managing contacts within a single database is an ideal scenario. But it’s not always a realistic scenario. You might have contact information coming in from many sources, making it too difficult to merge into a single list. It’s a common scenario which is why the email marketing system allows marketers to integrate internal systems with their email marketing database. It’s a great way to save time and removes the need to manually export and upload contact information across systems.
So what’s the best database management scenario for you? Ultimately you’ll need to work this out for yourself but aim high and try keeping your contacts in a single database if you can. It might require a little extra effort upfront, but it’ll save you a lot of time and heart ache over the long run.