Switching from lists to data extensions

How to convert your lists into data extensions in order to use publication lists in Marketing Cloud

What is a List?

A list in Marketing Cloud only holds the subscriber’s email address, first name, last name, and subscriber status. You cannot store any additional data on people when using a list. If someone unsubscribes from one list, they unsubscribe from all lists in your business unit. However, it is very easy to add and remove entries from a list.  

What is a Data Extension?

Data extensions are similar to lists, but they can contain many more columns of information about your subscribers. These additional columns of information allow you to control dynamic content, include more personalization, and use publication lists. This article discusses the differences between lists and data extensions.

What is a Publication List?

A publication list is more of a filter than a list. A single publication list can be paired with many data extensions during the send process. When someone unsubscribes from a message that uses a publication list, that unsubscribe is tracked in the publication list. The next time you use that publication list, the unsubscribed people will be filtered out and will not receive your message. See this article on Publication Lists in Marketing Cloud.

When to Use Publication Lists

Publication lists should be used to allow recipients to unsubscribe from different categories of commercial emails. Your newsletters, invites/announcements, and alerts could use different publication lists so recipients can unsubscribe from one and not the others.

If you only use lists or use data extensions without publication lists, an unsubscribe from one message will unsubscribe the recipient from all future commercial emails from your business unit.

When Not to Use Publication Lists

Publication lists should not be used for transactional emails. Publication lists should not be used for Donor Management System (DMS) sourced lists. DMS tracks its own unsubscribes.



  1. Identify the lists you use.
  2. Identify your publications.
  3. Create data extension folder(s).

Download and Edit Lists

  1. Navigate to your list you wish to convert.
  2. Click the Subscribers tab. Click Export.
  3. The Export to a File dialogue appears. Click Next.
  4. Choose Comma Separated Values file delivered as an attachmen. Give it a name you will recognize and send it to your email address. Click Next.
  5. Export the attributes: First Name, Last Name, Email Address, and Email Status. Click Export.
  6. Wait for the file to appear in your Inbox.
  7. Open the file and delete all rows that have a Status of Unsubscribed.
  8. Delete the entire Status column.
  9. Save the file and be sure to keep it as a .csv file.

Create Publication Lists

  1. Navigate to Subscribers and select Publication Lists.
  2. Click Create.
  3. Name your publication list, give it a description, and check Public.
  4. Click Save.

Be sure they are descriptively named with your department name so people can find them on the list if they need to resubscribe.

Note: Publication lists cannot be moved to other business units once they’ve been created.

Create Data Extensions

  1. Navigate to Subscribers and select Data Extensions.
  2. Navigate to the folder in which you wish to create the data extensions.
  3. Click Create.
  4. Choose Standard Data Extension. Click OK.
  5. Give your data extension a name, description, and check Is Sendable? Click Next.
  6. Leave all retention settings at default. Click Next.
  7. Add the following fields and information:
    1. Name: email; Data Type: EmailAddress; check Primary Key
    2. Name: name_first; Data Type: text; check Nullable
    3. Name: name_last; Data Type: text; check Nullable
    4. The bottom should read, “Send Relationship email relates to Subscribers on Subscriber Key.”
  8. Click Create.

Upload to Data Extensions

  1. Navigate to your previously created data extension.
  2. Select the Records tab. Click Import.
  3. For File, Browse to the .csv List you removed the unsubscribes from and saved earlier.
  4. Leave Delimiter as Comma.
  5. Change your Import type to Add Only. Click Next.
  6. In the Configure Mapping step, choose:
    1. Map by Header Row if your List.csv file and data extension have headers spelled exactly the same.
    2. Map by Ordinal if they have different spellings, but are in the same order.
    3. Or, Map Manually to directly match file headers to data extension headers.
  7. Click Next.
  8. Review your settings and click Import.
  9. You will receive an email when your import is complete.

Use Publication Lists in your Sends

When you go to send your message, you will get a Select Publication List prompt after adding your first data extension to the Targeted area. Choose your correct publication list for the message you are sending.

Updating Data Extensions

Single addition or deletion via Audience Builder, Contact Builder

  1. Outside of Email Studio is another Salesforce section called Audience Builder. Hover over this option and select Contact Builder.
  2. Select Data Extensions at the top.
  3. Navigate to your data extension and open it.
  4. Click the Records tab.
  5. You can edit or delete records by checking them and clicking Edit Record or Clear Record.
  6. Clicking +Add Record will allow you to add new entries one by one.

Bulk additions and updates: Follow the Upload to Data Extensions steps and choose among four Import Types:

  1. Add and Update will add new entries from your file and update information if the email address already exists.
  2. Add Only will only add new entries and ignore updates.
  3. Update Only will only update entries if the email address already exists and will ignore new entries.
  4. Overwrite will empty out all entries and replace them with your uploaded file.