Data Decay: What are the Causes, Challenges & Solutions

Dec 27, 2023 - Mike Hakob

Data is everywhere – it propels business growth. You can utilize your data to better understand your target market and make smarter decisions, but what happens if this information changes or is missing key details?

“ No data is clean, but most is useful.“

-Dean Abbott, Co-founder and Chief Data Scientist at SmarterHQ

That’s where the data decay phenomenon starts to kick in.

Your initial input is likely accurate, goes through checks and balances, and enters your database. Initially, this information meets your needs, but there’s one thing every business owner knows: change occurs rapidly.

We’re going to shed light on:

  • Data decay rate and its impact on your business
  • Why data decay occurs
  • Common challenges you’ll face
  • Strategies to combat digital decay

But let’s start with a simple question:

What Is Data Decay?

Note: Data decay phenomenon is not data degradation. Degradation of data occurs on storage devices when non-critical errors arise. You may even see this called rot or digital decay, but for the purpose of this article, it’s not the same.

So, what is digital data decay?

It’s the quality of data decreasing over time. Accurate data can, over time, become:

  • Incomplete
  • Outdated
  • Inaccurate

If you’re trying to make decisions based on old conversion rate data, you may make choices that harm your sales. Of course, data goes well beyond just lead data and can impact every facet of your operation.

Understanding the cause of decay is your first step to rectifying it.

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What Is the Cause of Data Decay?

Information changes extremely fast, and data decay statistics show a rate of 2.1% decay per month. Imagine if you have a database with 100,000 rows of information. You would lose 2,100 rows to decay of some degree.

This figure rises to nearly 25,000 over the year.

Decay can occur due to:

  • Natural processes, such as preferences or contact changes.
  • Logical processes, such as duplicate entries, missing fields, database corruption, or other issues that cause the data to be unreliable or unusable for business stakeholders.

Employees or systems can also input or update data inaccurately, causing a rapid decline in data quality.

Impact of Data Decay on Business Growth

Data decay phenomenon occurs – we’ve established that – but what type of impact does that have on businesses? Data decay statistics show the following:

  • 2.1% of data decay rate each month
  • Contact data decay can reach 70.3% per year
  • $15 million in losses each year for organizations, according to Gartner

B2B and B2C companies are impacted by the data decay phenomenon in many ways:

  • They can’t qualify leads properly
  • They may not be able to contact them
  • They make decisions based on stale data

Even your form analytics data can decay, but there’s one thing we want to make clear: decay is inevitable. You cannot avoid digital decay, but you can do your best to slow its rate.

Common Data Decay Challenges in Businesses

Why does your data decay? There’s no simple answer. Natural decay happens, such as a business switching addresses or revenue falling below what you have in your database.

However, the most common challenges you’ll experience with your data are:

Contact Information Becomes Outdated

Contact information changes far more rapidly than most businesses realize. For example:

  • 30% of employees switch jobs annually
  • 25%+ email addresses will change this year
  • Every 5 years, addresses change (US citizens)

Incomplete or Missing Data

Data trends can be inaccurate due to missing or incomplete data. If someone fills a form and puts N/A or leaves fields blank, it causes massive data decay rates across datasets.

Emergence of Start-Ups

Start-ups change overnight. Data in these organizations often decay fast because small internal changes can disrupt who your target market is today and who it will include tomorrow.

Unreliable Data Sources

Data can be unreliable from the start. Companies often purchase lead datasets that haven’t been checked and verified. Old databases will become obsolete and inaccurate on their own, or entry can be inaccurate.

Holding on to Data Past Retention Periods

Data hoarding is an issue. Companies may hold onto data for years, leading to wild inaccuracies of over 50% – sometimes much higher. Archiving data or refreshing it can help you reduce wasted resources or bad decision-making.

Job Role and Responsibility Changes

Due to the high rate of employment changes (30% per year), job role and responsibility data can decay. Someone may be in a junior position in your database but is now in a senior position in a different department. When trying to reach decision-makers, data decay of these prospects can cause significant resource loss.

Business Mergers and Acquisitions

Last year, 50,000 mergers and acquisitions were completed. Drastic shifts afterward can lead to a significant data decay rate because departments can be combined, workforces trimmed, offices closed and more.

The phenomenon of data decay happens – a lot – and it’s up to your internal processes and procedures to find a way to rectify this issue. You can combat digital decay, not 100% of the time, but enough to be confident that you can leverage the data to make better decisions throughout your organization.

What can you do to improve data quality?

Below are strategies that you can deploy to slow your data decay rate across datasets.

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Strategies to Combat Data Decay in Business

Fixing digital decay is an ongoing process, but the strategies below will help you make a meaningful impact.

Correcting Issues in Your Existing Data

You have existing data that has errors – it’s almost impossible to avoid. Datasets increase in size rapidly, and if you’re not cleaning this data, it’s going to become worse over time and lead to digital decay. You can start by:

Eliminating Duplicate Data

Most databases have easy commands that you can run to find and delete duplicate rows. In SQL, you can use “SELECT DISTINCT” to retrieve only unique rows, or you can run a sophisticated GROUP BY command to remove the data duplicates and by this decreases the rates of data decay

Work with IT to remove duplicate data before moving to the next strategy.

Delete Irrelevant Data

Irrelevant data wastes employee time. If data isn’t relevant to workers, it will lead to wasted time spent on making sense of information that does not make sense.

Ensure Data Formatting Consistency

Is your data formatted consistently? If not, you won’t be able to extract it to use in reports and decision-making. You’ll need to remove excess characters, symbols, spaces, tabs, and any other formatting issues that are impacting your digital decay.

Standardize Capitalization

Duplication can occur due to capitalization issues. To improve data decay statistics, put policies in place to maintain capitalization across fields. Whether you use lower, upper, title, or another case, be sure that it’s consistent.

Force Data Type Requirements

If a number is added to a database, force it to be a number rather than a string to make it easier to compare data.

Fix Errors

Finally, work on fixing errors in your data, such as inaccurate spellings, stats, addresses, and anything else impacting accuracy and digital decay.

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Continuous Data Acquisition and Data Enrichment

While data continues to be acquired, it’s crucial to prevent data decay with the help of enrichment. You can reduce decay when acquiring large datasets through:

Managing Reliable Data Sources

Who supplies your data sources? Are they reliable? You need to perform your due diligence to verify that data sources are accurate and utilize the same strategies outlined in this article.

Timely Data Collection

Information goes stale quickly. Data should be fed into automated systems so that your organization can use it in real-time with little-to-no delay.

Capture Data from Various Sources

Data decay phenomenon from a single source is easy to miss because you can’t compare it to other sources. If you capture data from multiple areas, you can verify data against each other and find discrepancies before they have a negative impact on your operations.

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Use Structured and Unstructured Data

Data comes from many sources, and you need a way to parse and use it properly. For example, you need to use data from:

● Social media
● Blog posts
● Repositories
● Data archives
● Etc.

Comprehensive inputs with validation can help keep data fresh and reduce the risk of the data decay phenomenon.

Fill in Missing Data Fields

Missing data, a critical aspect of data decay statistics, skews your data and impacts decision-making. Append missing data fields to ensure you provide your employees with information that is 100% accurate, complete, and helpful. Otherwise, employees may spend unnecessary time trying to track down key data points. The statistics of data decay highlight the importance of addressing missing data promptly to maintain data integrity and utility.

Enrich Customer Profiles

Create (if you haven’t already) and enrich your customer profiles. You can do this by:

● Adding new information
● Filling in missing records
● Building more information on pain points, behaviors and more

Data Maintenance and Cleansing

A thorough data maintenance plan and regular data cleansing will help ensure that your data is always fresh and accurate and will lower your data decay risks. Effective data maintenance and cleansing strategies include:

Audits and Updates of Regular Data

Ensure that you’re conducting regular audits and data updates to keep your data clean. There are several solutions that can assist with these processes, such as social media listening tools.

Data Validation And Verification Processes

Preventing data decay phenomenon should start at the point of data collection. Validation and verification processes can help ensure that the data you gather is accurate and up-to-date right from the start.

Make sure that you take steps to implement data validation techniques right into your forms.

Adoption of Automated Data Cleansing Techniques and Tools

Automated data cleansing tools can save time and reduce the risk of human error. Consider customized tools that use advanced algorithms to cleanse your data.

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Implementing Data Governance and Analytics

Effective data governance measures and analytics can help prevent the phenomenon of data decay. Here’s how:

Establish Data Quality Standards and Protocols

To preserve data accuracy, it’s crucial to implement quality standards and protocols, such as rules for data completeness and validation. These protocols and standards will ensure data relevancy and consistency to reduce the risk of data decay over time.

what is data quality

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Assign Data Ownership and Responsibilities

To protect the integrity of your data, assign data ownership to departments within your organization. Those responsible for the data will be in charge of monitoring, validating and updating data, and it will be in their best interests to be good stewards of data management.

Analyze Data Decay Through Website Forms

Ensure Data Privacy and Security

Implementing data governance measures and complying with data protection regulations will help ensure data privacy and security. While there’s no surefire way to prevent breaches, using the best practices and solutions for data security can help minimize risks.

A secure data environment can help prevent malicious actors from tampering with your data and compromising its integrity.

Develop a Comprehensive Data Hygiene Strategy

If you want to prevent digital data decay, you must develop and adopt a comprehensive data hygiene strategy that involves:

  • Data validation processes
  • Data cleansing and updating

These processes will remove duplicate records and correct inaccuracies to ensure that your data is always fresh and high-quality.

Manage Data Silos

Data silos are great for isolating data in different systems, but they can also make data acquisition more challenging. Improving data silo management can minimize the risk of decay and help provide a holistic understanding of data.

Leverage Data Analytics to Identify Decay Patterns

Data analytics can be a useful tool for identifying decay patterns and allow you to proactively detect outdated data. However, it’s important to ensure that you have a system in place to address issues that can affect data quality during collection and retention.

Monitor Data Quality Metrics and Performance Indicators

It is crucial to ensure that you’re monitoring data quality and performance regularly. Focus on important metrics, like accuracy, relevance and updates to identify potential risks quickly. Continuous monitoring will ensure that your data is reliable and accurate.

“ Data that isn’t organized clearly or stored properly can be just as useless as data that is simply incorrect or out of date. creating this clarity in a business setting should be centered around uniform, well-publicized practices. If everyone in a given company is viewing, inputting, editing, and removing data using the same processes, and contributing to maintaining databases in a specific, pre-determined way, your data is going to be infinitely more useful than it would be if you deploy a scattergun approach.“

-Aaron Drapkin, Lead Writer,

Manage Marketing Automation and CRM Integration

Smart marketing automation management and CRM integration can help combat data decay. Effective strategies include:

Utilize Marketing Automation Tools for Data Synchronization

Automation tools can synchronize data across all departments to ensure that it’s always up-to-date and accurate. From sending email messages to customers to updating customer contact information in your CRM system, automated tools can save time and streamline data updates.

Integrate CRM Systems for Customer Data Management

To ensure your data is always fresh and updated and to decrease the data decay rate, integrate your CRM system with your marketing tools, analytics solutions, and other tools.

Leverage Automation for Personalized Lead Nurturing

Automation can help ensure that your customer data is always up-to-date and accurate. When your data is accurate, you can create a more personalized marketing to make your lead nurturing process more effective.

Risks Of Relying On Outdated Data In Business

The business landscape is constantly evolving, and data evolves along with it. If your business is relying on outdated data, the consequences can be serious and can cause high data decay rates.

Stalled growth and poor customer satisfaction are just two of the many negative consequences poor-quality data can have on your business.

Other risks include:

Inaccurate Customer Insights And Segmentation

Customer behavior and preferences can change in the blink of an eye and result in high rates of data decay. If your data is outdated, you will make decisions based on inaccurate customer insights.

When your insights and segmentation are inaccurate, your ability to deliver personalized, tailored customer experiences will be compromised.

If your marketing messages and communication aren’t resonating with your customers, the sales, loyalty and overall customer satisfaction will suffer.

Inefficient Lead Generation and Nurturing

If you’re relying on outdated data, your lead generation and nurturing campaigns will be less effective and efficient. Your targeted content, newsletters, webinars and other content may no longer touch on your audience’s pain points or resonate with them.

Inaccurate data will make it especially challenging to identify quality leads and nurture your customers throughout the buyer’s journey.

Wasted of Marketing Resources and Efforts

One of the biggest risks of relying on outdated data is that you’ll wind up wasting your marketing resources and efforts. Data decay statistics show that if you cannot target your audience effectively, you will end up wasting ad dollars, reducing engagement, and losing valuable opportunities.

Negative Impact on Customer Satisfaction and Retention

When your data is outdated, you lose sight of your customers and their needs and preferences. It then becomes challenging to deliver the personalized experiences that your target audience craves. When your communication and messaging are no longer relevant to your audience, it can lead to poor customer satisfaction and retention.

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How Data Quality Propels Business Growth

The quality of your data can play an important role in driving growth for your business. Along with helping you target your audience more efficiently, being critical data decay statistics, accurate data can help you make smarter decisions, create more personalized experiences and better measure the ROI of your marketing campaigns.

High-Quality Leads And High Business Growth

High-quality, accurate data will help ensure that your leads are also high-quality, which will drive growth and help you maintain a competitive advantage. It also means that you’re targeting real prospects who are more likely to convert – and that will drive more revenue.

Improved Decision-Making

Business decisions should be backed by reliable, accurate data. When your data is out-of-date, you may make poor decisions that can have disastrous consequences and lead to data decay.

But when your data is accurate and high-quality, you can:

Identify new opportunities for growth and expansion
Enhance efficiency and reduce costs
Improve processes across all operations

Measure ROI Of Marketing Efforts

High-quality, accurate data empowers your business to track the results of your marketing campaigns, including:

  • Click-through rates
  • Conversion rates
  • Other key performance metrics

These metrics help you measure the ROI of your marketing campaigns more effectively, optimize your strategies and determine which channels are most effective for your business.

Personalized Customer Experiences

High-quality data can help you get to know your customers and create more personalized messages that resonate with them. Today’s consumers (71%) expect personalized interactions, and they get frustrated if they don’t receive them and this directly impacts data decay statistics.

Data can help you meet and even exceed their expectations by creating tailored marketing messages based on their:

  • Preferences
  • Pain points
  • Unique needs

Creating more personalized experiences can help increase conversion rates, build trust and, ultimately, propel business growth.


Data decay phenomenon is a challenge faced by every modern business, but the tips and strategies outlined above can help you combat the issue. By taking steps to improve your data quality and accuracy, you can propel growth and build a sustainable business that your audience trusts.

Mike Hakob

Mike Hakob is a seasoned digital marketing maven with over 15 years of mastery, and the visionary Co-Founder of FormStory. As the driving force behind Andava Digital, he has dedicated his expertise to empowering small to medium-sized businesses, crafting tailor-made websites and pioneering innovative marketing strategies. With a graduate degree in Management of Information Systems, Mike seamlessly blends the realms of technology and marketing, consistently setting new industry benchmarks and championing transformative digital narratives.