Data Hygiene: An Introduction to Processing Your Data

Visit AccuData for a custom data hygiene solution for your business.

Anyone working in the marketing industry understands that data runs the show. Creating customer personas, perfecting your direct mailing strategy, and even wading into the world of social media— the success of all of it points back to data.

More and more, businesses are realizing a strong database isn’t just reference material, it’s an asset directly translating to success. Whether a company is working to maximize its own ROI, a marketing agency is working to provide informed solutions to clients, or a print/mail house is looking to provide cost-effective solutions to clients, data is improving marketing across the board.

However, if you’ve ever interacted with raw data on any scale you may have realized this: an unorganized, unprocessed dataset is less than helpful.

That’s where ongoing data hygiene procedures become crucial. Through this guide, you’re going to explore data hygiene through the following points:

Once you’ve brushed up on the essentials, check out these best practices for data hygiene:

By the end of the guide, you’ll understand what this process is, as well as our top 5 tips for successfully processing your database.

Are you ready to transform your data into a useful resource? Let’s get started.

Explore the basics of data hygiene through this section.

What is data hygiene?

In general, data hygiene refers to all of the ongoing processes involved in guaranteeing data is clean.

In this instance, “clean” refers to (for the most part) error-free data. We’ll explore why data-cleanliness is essential in a bit, but first— what makes data dirty?

Dirty data is data containing errors, whether it’s outdated, incomplete, duplicated, or simply incorrect. These errors can be introduced at any point while that data is in your system, whether it was incorrectly entered initially or an accidental change was made when updating your records.

It’s incredibly easy to introduce errors into your system and even to do so unknowingly. Considering the necessity of clean data, it’s crucial to maintain ongoing data hygiene practices.

Explore the importance of data hygiene through this section.

Why is data hygiene important?

Businesses of all shapes and sizes make data-driven decisions every day.

When that information is faulty, it has clear costs. In fact, those costs are around $3.1 trillion a year for the U.S. alone.

Now, whether you’re a business looking to improve your own marketing and outreach with data or an agency specializing in helping businesses do so— that overall number may not mean much to you. However, for businesses just like yours, up to 12% in revenue was lost due to dirty data alone.

Needless to say, having clean data is crucial. Good data hygiene practices lead to increased efficiency in lead generation, lead tracking, proper personalization, and even the handling of customer service concerns. All of these things are crucial when building and growing a profitable customer base!

We’re seeing that the conversation is no longer about “big data” but having the right data. With that, let’s explore the top data hygiene best practices to help you (or your customers, if you’re in an agency role) make the most of these records.

Explore the top 5 best practices for data hygiene.

5 Data Hygiene Best Practices

Good data hygiene begins with an audit.

Begin with an audit.

An audit is essential for good data hygiene.

The first step in creating ongoing data hygiene procedures is completing an audit of your systems. How are you supposed to fix the problem if you don’t have a realistic view of how bad it’s gotten?

An audit, very simply, looks at your data and determines how much of it is not useful for your business. Which data points are needed? Which are not? Which areas of your database are most in need of help?

Whether incorrect, outdated, or inaccurate— this audit determines which information is more harmful than helpful. Once you’ve identified where problems exist, continue forward with the next steps to focus on parsing out that information bit by bit.

Data hygiene involves paying close attention to detail.

Pay attention to detail.

Close attention to detail is essential in data hygiene. When it comes to data hygiene, do sweat the small things. Small inconsistencies in your data can lead to much bigger issues.

You could end up wasting time by standardizing and updating the information as you go along, taking significantly longer at each step of your marketing campaign. Or, even worse, you could make major decisions on the strategy of your campaign based on flawed information.

Ensure that you are:

  • Standardizing mailing addresses. From non-standard formatting to consumer moves, addresses are a common point where small details can quickly get derailed. This is especially essential if you’re doing any direct mailings or geographically tied marketing initiatives. For this, remain mindful of the CASS certification system.
  • Verifying email addresses. Attempting to avoid a slew of emails, some consumers will enter false email addresses— eventually translating into communications bouncing back to you. Verify these addresses to ensure you’re not wasting time sending communications to nonexistent inboxes.
  • Standardizing common abbreviations and numbers. Whether you’re spelling numbers or listing them as numerals, spelling titles or abbreviating them— pay close attention to common areas of dissonance. These points are just asking to be duplicate entries in the future and standard methods of entry will help.

Examining the small details of each entry in your database will help you notice larger errors, including incomplete and incorrect entries. Plus, noticing recurring inconsistencies may signal it’s time to incorporate more formal institutional rules.

If you don’t know exactly where to start on the above, a Data Hygiene provider such as AccuData can help with address standardization processes such as NCOALink, CASS, and DSF2. View our Product Sheet for more information.

Good data hygiene involves removing unhelpful information.

Remove unnecessary information.Remove unnecessary information in your data hygiene procedures.

This refers to suppressing data that, while valid, is otherwise unhelpful for your business or could lead to costly fines or a poor brand reputation. Ultimately, you’re collecting data to use it— and these data points are either not useful for any marketing and customer development purposes or detrimental to your brand.

This includes:

  • Do Not Mail Suppression. Identify the names and addresses of consumers registered with DMAChoice, a service exclusively for consumers by the Association of National Advertisers, under the Do Not Mail classification. Respect those wishes accordingly.
  • Do Not Call Suppression. Remove the names and telephone numbers of those registered with the National Do Not Call list and avoid making telephone-based solicitations to those consumers.
  • Minor Suppression. Remove the names and addresses of minor (under age 18) children in your database. Directly marketing to children can result in serious fines from the FTC.
  • Prison Suppression. Remove the names and addresses associated with individuals currently in federal and state prisons, county correctional facilities, and city jails.
  • Deceased Suppression. Remove information associated with individuals now deceased, preventing unwanted mailings and communications from being delivered to the deceased’s family.

When it comes to data, more is not necessarily better. The above points are functionally useless when it comes to marketing initiatives and will clog up your business’s (or your clients’) databases.

Removing them from consideration during marketing initiatives will prevent wasted time following useless leads, excess postage, unwanted fines, and tarnish to your brand image.

For assistance getting started on the above, AccuData can help. View our Product Sheet for details.

Data hygiene is an ongoing process.

Recognize data hygiene is bigger than one mass cleanse.Create processes for maintaining your data hygiene.

Remember the original definition of data hygiene provided in this piece— the ongoing process of cleaning and processing data. It’s not a one-time fix; rather, if you process your database once and leave it be, the problem will be back in no time.

Creating processes for ongoing maintenance and uniformity is key. This includes:

  • Standardization in data entry. Across the board, each data point in your system should be entered in a standard manner with clearly outlined rules dictating such.
  • Handling of errors. How will your staffers handle duplicate entries? Incorrect or incomplete entries? Outline rules as such.
  • Dirty data prevention. How will you prevent a build-up of unnecessary (or even, a lack of necessary) information in the future? Adding essential fields to your data collection forms, and removing nonessential fields, helps in this effort.

Simply outlining these procedures isn’t enough to ensure an optimized, useful database going forward. Communicating these points across your business and guaranteeing everyone across the board is following these standardized rules removes (ideally) the need for another massive cleanse in the future.

You’ll want to revisit these standards and check in on your database regularly, making sure the efforts you’ve expended are maintained.

Consider bringing in a data team to help in your data hygiene procedures.

Our Top Tip: Bring in a Data Team

A data team can help you navigate the world of data hygiene.
Whether you’re a business examining your own database, or a reseller examining the many databases you’re outsourcing to clients, the process is complicated. Most people aren’t data specialists and even those that are— taking a deep dive into a mass of names, dates, numbers, and contact information can get overwhelming fast.

When you want a custom data solution for your business, but may not be a data expert yourself, it’s time to bring in an embedded data team like AccuData.

This team specializes in creating and executing targeted data solutions for businesses, agency resellers, and print and mail houses. They handle the data hygiene processing listed above for you, as well as services such as:

  • Deduplication: Remove names, addresses, email, and telephone records that appear multiple times in your system.
  • File Conversion/Reformatting: Convert data files into usable formats for your business’s needs.
  • A/B Splits: Segment your data files into groups to explore different versions of your marketing strategy and the success of that strategy.
  • Geo-Coding: Apply geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) to addresses in your database and market accordingly.
  • Intersections: Identify areas where separate records have intersecting points (ex: a shared address) and group those records into a unique, shared file.
  • Key Coding: Associate a unique identifier to each record in your file, noting its origin and significance for easy determination later.
  • Merge/Purge: Identify and remove duplicate records in your database, either merging the duplicates into one cohesive record or removing the copy.
  • Parsing: Separate elements of one record out into separate fields in your database.

While it’s possible to manually complete some of these efforts on your own, bringing in a team that specializes in data solutions drastically eases the process.

For example, AccuData brings knowledge of CASS certifications and access to the LACS Link and NCOA Link, to ease the address standardization process. Further, they have 30 years of experience in data solutions, with knowledge of the tips and tricks that really only come with years in the field. Check out this data hygiene case study to see that work in action.

Marketing agencies, businesses, direct mailers— everyone is talking about the power of data in building and growing your customer base. Simply having the data, however, isn’t enough to harness its power!

Maintaining your records with strong data hygiene practices will ensure it provides useful, actionable insights for your team (or clients!) for years to come. With this guide, you’ll be off to a great start.

For more information, explore these additional resources:

Contact AccuData today for help with your business's data hygiene processes.

Written by Gabrielle Perham, MBA