14 Email marketing best practices

16 December, 2014

E-mail marketing is an effective tool. It can help your business engage with customers and prospects and, therefore, increase awareness of your service offering and generate more leads and sales. However, the success of an e-mail campaign isn't just based on the design or even the message.

Rather, it's a combination of several critical background components that help you improve deliverability and avoid being flagged as spam or considered irrelevant and a waste of time by your subscribers. So I've come up with a list that will help you get the most out of your e-mail marketing campaign. Run through this list before you hit send!

For your e-mail campaign to succeed, it is not just the pretty design template or even the message content alone. However, it's a combination of several components, such as preventing your email from being flagged as spam or considered irrelevant and a waste of time by your subscribers. So I've come up with this list of rules that can help you get the most out of your e-mail marketing campaigns. 

1. Avoid spam words

Mail servers and e-mail clients scan the subject lines and content of your e-mail messages, looking for phrases and sending techniques that indicate spam.

That's good for reducing junk e-mail, but it could hinder your legitimate e-mail marketing campaign if you're not careful about how you craft your message. To ensure deliverability, avoid using spam words in your content, especially in the subject line.

You may think that since you're not sending spam, you would never use spam terms. However, using the word "free" or all uppercase letters with exclamation points could land you on the wrong side of the spam filter. 

2. Create a sender policy framework (SPF) record

An e-mail gets routed through several other mail servers on the Internet before it ultimately arrives in your recipient's inbox. To ensure that your message doesn't get trapped in these relay or delivery servers—or with third-party services like Postini—create an SPF record for the sending domain (from-address@your-domain.com).

If that's not feasible, your best bet is to let your e-mail services provider specify a "from" address on your behalf.
Microsoft has provided a wizard to help you create an SPF record for your sending domain.

👉  Related post: How to Budget for an Inbound Marketing Campaign

3. Use the right techniques for sending to multiple recipients within the same organization

Sending legitimate messages to multiple recipients within the same organization can be tricky. When these messages arrive in short bursts over a few seconds or minutes, they get tagged as spam. If you find yourself in this situation, try the following:

If possible, contact the company and inform them of the messages so they may make an exception.

Throttle your e-mails by sending them over a period of time in multiple bursts.

4. Comply with CAN-SPAM

In 2003, the U.S. Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act. So what's that got to do with your e-mail messages? Basically everything. Among other things, the law requires that every commercial e-mail message include an unsubscribe link and the physical address of the sender, publisher, or advertiser. So make sure you comply!

5. Take a litmus test

Let's face it. E-mail clients are quirky, and content can appear different, depending on which client is displaying it. So before you send your e-mail out to the universe, take some time to run it through Litmus, an awesome e-mail compatibility checker. It lets you preview your e-mails as they'll appear in different e-mail clients (Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, etc.), across different versions of browsers and on mobile e-mail clients. I'm sure tablet previews will follow soon. I am not suggesting you test every e-mail client, but at least shoot for the most popular, depending on your target audience.

👉  Related post: Email Subject Line Best Practices to Follow

6. Don’t forget to text e-mails!

Text-only emails are often overlooked when creating and deploying email campaigns. Although you’ll get a better ROI sending HTML emails, it’s important that you create a text version and send it in tandem. Then, depending on the recipient's ability to receive such e-mails, the correct format is automatically delivered.

Just remember the following for text-only e-mails:

  • Hyperlinks and special HTML characters (copyright, trademark) are not supported.
  • The default line break appears 76 characters, so restrict your line width to conform.
    Include a physical address and an unsubscribe link.

7. Understand bounces

A bounce actually means that a mail server received your message for further handling. This is generally a good thing since it's the last step before delivery. A bounce indicates that the mail server that received the message has sent it back for one or more reasons. Refer to the chart below to understand the types of bounces.

8. Tell readers where your email is coming from

The law focuses on honesty. The “From,” “To,” and “Reply to” labels need to tell the recipient where the email comes from. In other words, these fields should contain the person’s name or the business name sending the email.

9. Write an honest subject line

Your subject line should reflect what’s in the email. You can’t be deceptive here. In other words, don’t write “Claim your $500 gift card” in the subject line to get people to open an email that’s really about a new product. 

👉  Related post: Email Marketing Checklist

10. Recognize you’re sending an ad

Acknowledge that the email you send is, in fact, an ad. This isn’t necessary if everyone on your list has permitted you to send emails. We strongly suggest that you get permission from all of your subscribers before sending emails. Like and most email service providers require you have permission before sending an email through their service.

11. Give an address

Each email must contain the postal address of the person or business sending the email. It helps to show that your business is credible and offers another way for your recipients to opt out of your emails if they need to.

12. Every email needs an easy opt-out option

Your subscribers must be about-out out (or unsubscribe) from your messages easily. You have to give this option to your subscribers in every message you send.

Then, at the bottom of the email, you can provide a link to unsubscribe. The process should be easy, too; that was one of the additions to the law in 2008. Here`s an example of an opt-out option.

13. Think Frequency

One of the keys to successful email marketing is developing a relationship with a customer or prospective customer over the course of several messages.

Before you send out an email offer to thousands of people, create a multiple message campaign strategy that uses this first email as a beginning – not an end. Consider what you’ll send to people who respond to your first message.

What, if anything, will you send to people who don’t respond? What will comprise your next promotion?

14. Measure Conversion, not just Clicks

Most companies measure their email efforts (and other interactive marketing) based on response rates. These numbers are often called click-through rates because they represent the percentage of recipients who “clicked-through” the email promotion to get to the company’s Web site.

The trouble is, using click-through as the sole measure of success is like determining the viability of your store based on how many people look at your window display.

Click through measures your ability to lead a horse to water, but making it drink is where you make money. So, in addition to click-through, always measure conversion (the number or percentage of people who actually bought something, entered your contest, etc.).

You may be surprised that your lists or test parameters that generate high click-through don’t necessarily provide equally high conversion – and vice versa.

History repeats itself. Email should continue to be an effective tactic for at least another 18-24 months. After that, the number of email promotions – whether good or bad – will probably become too numerous, triggering a consumer backlash.



My name is Izzy and I am a co-founder of IDS, an award-winning HubSpot Solutions Partner. I lead our team of consultants who provide professional guidance to help businesses implement the HubSpot CRM platform migrate, integrate their tech stack to HubSpot to create a seamless environment for sales reps to use. There is nothing I love more than solving the challenges that come up when someone wants to migrate an old system or integrate their tech stack with HubSpot - it's like a puzzle!

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