Signed, sealed, delivered: Email best practices

Email is the original Web app. Born in the 1960s, it’s become one of the most ubiquitous communication tools in the modern world, and certainly the most important in the digital marketer’s toolbox. Email results in more click-through, more consistent impressions, and easily the highest ROI [/] of any marketing tool. In the previous article, you learned how to strategically build a mailing list. Here, you’ll learn how to set up your email for your campaign. The average person receives upward of 100 emails a day (around 20% from marketers) so it’s getting trickier to stand out and cut through all the ‘noise’.

Let’s take a top-down approach and look at best practices for a successful email campaign today.

• Sender name and reply-to address Keep your sender name friendly, recognizable and relevant – either your company name, or the name of a notable individual on your team. Be careful with ambiguous abbreviations (e.g. ‘WF Customer Services’ vs ‘Whole Foods’.)

Don’t slam the door on customer engagement with a ‘do not reply’ return address. Direct replies to a monitored mailbox where possible.

Clarity is important: CAN-SPAM [] dictates that sender names and reply-to addresses must accurately identify the entity that initiates the message.

• Subject Lines Successful subject lines are short, useful and specific. The rule of thumb for length is 50 characters or less, apart from the most highly targeted campaigns.

Avoid spammy and excessively promotional language. Tell, rather than sell, what’s inside your email. Avoid words like ‘free’ and ‘percent off’, as well as all-caps and exclamation points.

Make use of the pre-header space too. Many email clients display a preview – around 100 characters – pulled from the first few lines of your message. An engaging snippet might be the decider on whether your email is opened.

Design & Content

The fundamentals here are usability and quality. Emails need to be optimized for mobile straight out of the box – 40% of adults read email on mobile devices. Keep email width under 600 pixels so it can be viewed on the majority of devices. Use alt-tags for images in case they’re blocked by security or data settings.

Use CSS judiciously for effective, responsive design – remember that support for CSS elements varies across the gamut of email platforms. A terrifically comprehensive guide can be found here []. Good CSS will render attractively across as many platforms as possible.

Make the most of the top 2-4” of your layout: place a call-to-action ‘above the fold’ along with your company logo and a strong headline. Practice the ever-useful 60/40 rule when it comes to content: at least 60% editorial and no more than 40% promotional. Content needs to be fresh and relevant to your customers.

• Signature

Signatures are useful yet frequently overlooked as part of email marketing campaigns. Optimizing your signature can leverage your entire campaign: use it to reinforce your willingness to engage, to divert traffic to your website, and even to boost awareness for an upcoming product or event.

Keep signatures standardized across all the people in your company that use them. Consistency maximizes exposure and awareness for your brand. Using an image for your signature is not ideal; if you do use one, make sure you include a descriptive alt-text tag. Design your signature for maximum usability on smaller screens. 11 to 14 point sans serif font is ideal.

Keep signatures to 4-6 lines. Don’t give every method of contacting you, just the most important and direct ones. One or two phone numbers will do. Link to your preferred social media profiles, your website, and include your email address – not all email clients will display it.


• Get help

Hire professionals and send campaigns via a targeted list service such as the one offered by TrafficStriker [].

• Complying with the law

A final, and very important note on compliance. CAN-SPAM’s been in effect since the beginning of 2004, so it’s old hat to most digital marketers. However, a new piece of legislation has significant implications: Canada’s Anti-Spam Law [], effective July 1 2014, applies to any business whose recipients may access their emails in Canada. It requires businesses to seek express permission from their customers to send them emails (by July 1, 2017); to clearly identify themselves, including providing a postal address; and to include a functional and visible unsubscribe option that’s processed promptly. CASL prohibits email marketing to rented or purchased mailing lists, and has implications for third-party lists and services. Knowing where your customers are located has never been more important.

Email best practices are constantly evolving along with the rest of the digital landscape. Toss outdated tactics that no longer work! Pay attention to the fundamentals while providing fresh, relevant content to thrive in this cluttered marketing environment.

Thank you for reading.

Good and safe email campaigning to you!

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