Partners Support Log In
Martin Cogburn


    Back to Top

    Importing Contacts

    About Importing Contacts

    Applies to: All ONTRAPORT accounts.

    To move your existing contacts to ONTRAPORT you will need to export them from your current system and then import them into ONTRAPORT.

    Typically, you’ll find the Export feature under the File, Settings,Contacts or Preferences menu of your other program. Follow the instructions there, and create a CSV file from your contact list. If given the choice, use "Windows CSV".

    Before importing your CSV file into ONTRAPORT, ensure that you prepare your CSV file for import.

    These articles provide detailed instruction on exporting from various systems.

    Import Approval Process

    To ensure compliance with our anti-spam policies, all imports go through an approval process before you can send them bulk email. Once approved, the Bulk Email Status field is changed the "Single Opt-In". The Bulk Email Status field specifies whether or not a contact can be emailed through automation or broadcasts in your account.

    If the Bulk Email Status field value is "Pending Review", "Hard Bounce", or "Unconfirmed", the contact cannot be emailed by any means.

    A value of "Transactional Only" is for contacts who have opted out of all marketing email. You can send them non-marketing content in an email you have marked as Transactional Email via broadcast, but make sure you understand the penalties for sending marketing email to them in this manner. You can also send individual email to them from their Contact Record as long as the email is not sent to anyone else at the same time.

    If this value is "Single Opt-In" or "Double Opt-In", the contact can be sent broadcasts and automated messages.

    View a single contact record's Bulk Email Status field

    Confirm if a single contact is able to be emailed by checking the Bulk Email Status field in the the contact record which is found in the Contact Information tab > Lead information section.

    View multiple contacts Bulk Email Status field

    Add a column heading in your Contacts collection to view them all at a glance.

    NOTE: All imports are subject to approval by our Email Delivery team to ensure compliance with our anti-spam policies. Sometimes the import will be pulled randomly for a manual review. If the import is selected for manual review, you can expect 1) an email sent to the administrator of your account with additional questions that need to be answered, 2) a slight delay after your administrator responds to that email with his answers, typically 24 - 48 hours, and 3) a confirmation email that the Contacts are ready for you to mail. Please contact Support by email if the Contacts have been in review for 24 hours or more.

    Other reasons that the Bulk Email Status field may not update appropriately include the email address missing because the field was not mapped correctly during the import process and the Bulk Email Status being set to "No". This can happen during the import process if the check box for "Import these Contacts with the bulk email set to no" is checked.

    Recommended Fields for Your First Import

    These are the basic, default fields for the Contacts collection in ONTRAPORT.

    First Name Zip Code
    Last Name Country
    Email Fax
    Title SMS Number
    Company Office Phone
    Address Birthday
    Address 2 Website
    City Referring Page
    State Contact Tags


    • SMS numbers are a special field in ONTRAPORT. You can import the number, but cannot send to the SMS number without specific permission. Your contacts will have to fill in a form with that number, or text your ONTRAPORT supplied SMS number to initiate SMS usage.
    • The Name field in ONTRAPORT is created dynamically by combining the First Name and Last Name fields. See our article on Combining and Splitting Fields in Excel to reformat a single name field into First and Last Name fields.
    • Contact Tags must be formatted correctly for import into ONTRAPORT. Tags must be in one field (column), separated by */* to import correctly. See this article for more information on importing Tags.
    • The First/Last Campaign, Lead Source, Medium, Content and Term fields are for UTM parameters and cannot have data imported into them.
    • To import credit card information, sales history, etc. please see our article on Custom Developer Work.

    These articles provide more information on special circumstances. In most cases you will not need to refer to these.

    Step 1 - Upload your CSV

    1. Be certain your file is a .CSV file. We do not import XLS or other formats.
    2. Login to ONTRAPORT and go to Settings >Import Contacts

      import contacts menu
    3. Drag your CSV file into the grey box or click Browse Computer to upload the file

      import contacts step 1 of 5

      The dialog that says "Imported lists are not available 60 days past their upload date" refers to your original CSV file that you upload. ONTRAPORT stores a link to it on this page so you can re-import it during that 60 day period. It does not refer to your Contacts that, once imported, remain in your account as long as it is active.

    Step 2 - Verify your data

    1. If the first line of your CSV file includes the field names such as First Name, Last Name, etc., check the Don't include header row (Will not be imported) checkbox.
    2. Look at the display to verify that the file will import correctly. You should see the individual fields in columns, with at least three lines of records displayed. If all the content is on one line and in one field verify the CSV file is formatted correctly.

      import contacts step 2 of 5
    3. Click Next.

    Step 3 - Adjust your Import Settings

    Step 3 has three distinct sections, the Duplicate Contact Manager, the Merge Settings, and the Usage Agreement.

    1. Duplicate Contact Manager determines what happens if an existing Contact Record is found during import. Select your merge preference.

      duplicate manager settings

      Merge and underwrite with new imported data (default). This is the most common setting that does not change any data already found in the existing record, but will add any new data. For example, if the existing Contact Record does not have the phone number, but the record you are importing does, ONTRAPORT will add the phone number to the existing record. This is almost always the setting you will use when importing contacts, especially if you are importing "lists" from other email service providers such as MailChimp, AWeber.

      Merge and overwrite with new imported data. This setting will update fields with the data in the import when a matching Contact Record is found, even if data is already in that field. If the existing Contact Record has a phone number in it, and the imported record has a different phone number, the import will overwrite the existing data and the newly imported phone number will be written to the Contact Record. You cannot reverse this action easily, so use with caution. An example use of this feature is a mass update of an area code in a phone number. You can export contacts with the old phone number, use Excel to update the area code portion of the phone number in the CSV file, and then import the file using merge and overwrite.

      Create New Entry. This setting will always create a new entry for each record in the import file. This can lead to duplicate Contact Records; ONTRAPORT allows you to override the built in protections against creating duplicate Contact Records by importing Contacts with this setting. Use this setting with caution, as deleting and merging duplicate records is a manual process.

      NOTE: Importing Tags is the one exception to the above settings. In all cases imported Tags are added to the Tags the Contact has, even if the contact already has other Tags.
    2. Merge Settings tells ONTRAPORT what to do if a match is found in your database. The E-Mail field is selected by default, and is the recommended setting. Select which field to use to merge contacts on.

      Step 3 of 5 - merge settings
      NOTE: The checkbox to Import these Contacts with bulk mail set to 'Opt-Out' should only be checked if you if you do NOT want to be able to send bulk email to the imported contacts. Checking the box will prevent you from sending the contacts bulk email, and can only be reversed by the contact opting in again. An example of the proper use of this checkbox is if you are importing a list of contacts who have opted out and you want to market to them using Postcards or Facebook Custom Audiences to encourage them to opt back in or a suppression list.
    3. Usage Agreement: Read and confirm you understand the four items listed in the Usage Agreement by checking the check boxes. You are agreeing that all of the email addresses are from contacts expecting to receive email from you, that none of them are borrowed, rented or purchased and that you must maintain a bounce rate of less than 7% with complaints at less than 0.35%. The final check box reiterates our zero-tolerance in regards to spam. If you have a question about any of these requirements, please reach out to our Postmaster team at
    4. Click the Next button at the top right.

    Step 4 - Map the Fields

    1. Select the Fields To Be Imported into ONTRAPORT. The fields in your import CSV are listed on the left. On the right, use the drop down boxes to select the ONTRAPORT Contact Record field you want to import the data into. To skip importing a field, click Select None.

      You can create a new field in the Contact Record if there is not already a match by clicking + Create New Field. If you have several files to upload from the same source check off the Remember My Selections check box for faster processing next time.

      Step 4 of 5: matching fields
    2. When finished, click the Next button.

    Step 5 - Add Automation To Your Imported Contacts

    This step allows you to take actions on your new contacts as you import them such as adding a Tag for segmentation or adding the new contacts to a Campaign.

    1. Click the + Add New button to add automation.

    2. Name the Rule (for your reference).

    3. Click the + Add Action under the Actions section and select the action you'd like to perform.
    4. Click the large Save button at the bottom of the rule.

    5. Click the Next button to proceed with your import.
    6. Archive a copy of your CSV import file on your computer. The uploaded file will be visible in the import section for up to 60 days, and is then deleted.

    Automation Example - Add a Tag

    Tags are labels that you can add to Contacts. They very helpful when importing contacts as they allow you to easily segment your lists. This is especially true when importing contacts from a list-based email service and you want to know what list the contact came from. You use Tags to segment them. With some list based email services, contacts show up multiple times in several different "lists". In ONTRAPORT you only need a single Contact Record for each contact and you use Tags or other criteria to segment them. Due to the duplication of contacts in list-based systems, it's very common to have less contacts than in your list based service.

    1. Click the + Add button.
    2. Name the rule. In this example, we suggest "Add Tag" and the name of your list.

    3. Click the + Add Action button and select Add Contact to Tag from the dropdown menu.

    4. Next to Add Contact to Tag, click the dropdown and select + Create New Tag.

    5. Type the new Tag name and click Save to create the new Tag. In this example, we create a new tag called AW: Hostkabob List (the list name).

    6. Click the large Save button at the bottom of the rule to save the rule.

    7. Click the Next button to proceed with your import.

    Automation Example - Add to a Campaign

    In ONTRAPORT, Campaigns are used extensively to automate actions. While you may not have any Campaigns yet, this example adds the contacts to the a Campaign we have created to send a monthly newsletter. Don't worry if they are already in the Contacts database and on this Campaign; adding them again does not affect their current subscription or position in the Campaign. Campaigns are very powerful in ONTRAPORT, but are entirely optional during the import process.


    1. Click the + Add button.

    2. Name the Rule for your reference. For example, "Add to Campaign" and the name of your Campaign
    3. Click the + Add Action button and select Add/Remove Contact from Campaign from the dropdown menu.

    4. Select your Campaign.
    5. Click the Next button to proceed with your import.


    Q. I imported contacts and sent an email to them, but the email didn't fire!

    A. The most common reason is that imported contacts must be approved before you can send them bulk email. Check the field Bulk Email Status to see if they are set to "Pending". Other reasons include the email address missing because the field was not mapped correctly during the import process and the Bulk Email Status being set to "No". This can happen during the import process if the check box for "Import these Contacts with the bulk email set to no" is checked.

    Q. When I checked the box to import contacts with bulk mail set to 'Transaction Only' I got this warning. What's it mean? And do I have to make imported contacts opt-in again?

    opt out warning

    A. The checkbox for "Bulk email set to Transaction Only" means that by marking it checked, you will NOT be able to email those imported contacts marketing email from ONTRAPORT. This is usually only used to add those contacts who opted out of marketing email. You can still send them products they purchased, and company notices such as changes to your privacy policy or terms of service by creating specific emails for that purpose. See our article on Transactional Email for more details.

    ONTRAPORT does not require you to have your contacts opt in again to start emailing them, so in most cases you should leave this box unchecked. If you are uploading a "suppression list" or a list of contacts that have previously opted out, go ahead and check the box. You can then use ONTRAPORT's other tools, such as Facebook Custom Audiences, Postcards, etc. to encourage them to opt back in.

    Q. Why are my imported contacts blank?

    A. Blank contacts will occur when a column in the CSV is not mapped to the corresponding field in ONTRAPORT correctly, or if there are blank rows in the CSV that got added as blank contacts in the system.

    Q. Why are my contacts listed as "Pending Review" or "No" in the bulk email status field?

    A. All imports are subject to approval by our Email Delivery team to ensure compliance with our anti-spam policies. Sometimes the import will be pulled randomly for a manual review. If the import is selected for manual review, you can expect: 1) A survey will appear in your account for all users with additional questions about that import that need to be answered; 2) A slight delay, typically 2 to 3 days from when the survey is submitted; and 3) a confirmation email that the Contacts are ready for you to mail. Please contact Support by email if the Contacts have been in review for 24 hours or more.

    Q. I am using a Mac and my imported file is not showing correctly. All the data is in one cell. What's up?

    A. When using Excel on the Mac, remember to save the CSV file as "Windows CSV" and not standard "csv".

    Q. I'm in the EU and my file isn't separated by commas. It is separated by semi-colons. How do I import this file?

    A. Check our special instructions for Converting Semicolon Separated Fields. CSV files are often separated by semicolons in the EU, north Africa, and other areas where the decimal separator in currency values is the "," instead of the "."

    Q. My date fields are all messed up!

    A. ONTRAPORT accepts dates formatted using forward slashes or dashes in Month - Day - Year format. Note that this format is used even if you have your account set up to another display format.

    You can use two or four digits for the year, but be aware that two digit years default to the current century. A birth date of 02/14/1984 should be formatted with the four digit year, otherwise "12/14/84" will be imported as the future date "12/14/2084". Here are the acceptable import formats with how they are interpreted by the import process using that example birth date:

    Using Forward Slashes:

    MM/DD/YY (12/14/84 .... results in "12/14/2084" in the database)
    MM/DD/YYYY (12/14/1984)

    Using Dashes:

    MM-DD-YY (12/14/84 .... results in "12/14/2084" in the database)
    MM-DD-YYYY (12/14/1984)

    Articles in this section

    Created - Updated
    Have more questions? Submit a request