The do’s and don’ts of email marketing are still very much alive and growing in 2018. Just like any other digital marketing tactic, email has evolved immensely in the last year with new capabilities and trends. In an effort to condense all of the new and continuing best practices, our email team of developers, designers, and strategists narrowed down our top 10 tips below.
Our Top 10 Email Best Practices
1. Do Not Buy Lists
All contacts should opt in to receive marketing emails from your company. Why? Purchased lists can easily violate the law (CAN-SPAM, CASL, Data Protection Act, ePrivacy Regulation) and almost always violate email provider compliance policies (MailChimp, Constant Contact, HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot).
Beyond legality, purchased lists aren’t strategic and they don’t put the consumer first. It’s essentially cold calling, so it’s best to respect people’s inboxes and not use them.
“Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Do you like to receive emails from a business or organization you don’t know?” – Constant Contact
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a purchased list at all. You can still strategically use an email address list to create advertising audiences on most social networks including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
2. Verify and Authenticate the Domain
Both verification and authentication processes vary depending on the email provider. All require some sort of email domain verification, but some also require authentication. (Clarification note: email domain refers to the @xyz.com of your email address.)
Even when authentication isn’t required, it’s strongly recommended since it helps Internet Service Providers (ISPs) identify the sender so that email doesn’t get flagged as spam. Authentication requires a change to the Domain Name Systems (DNS) records, which should be executed by a developer.
3. Clean Lists Regularly
Contact lists should be purged to get rid of invalid email addresses and unresponsive contacts. Think about it. What’s the point of sending another email to someone who hasn’t opened the last 10? Cleaning helps increase open and click rates. It can also cut down on costs since most pricing for email providers is based on number of contacts.
We like to use Kickbox to help clean contact lists. The service sorts email addresses into deliverability buckets including Deliverable, Risky, Undeliverable, and Unknown.
4. Set Up Tracking
Knowing basic open and click rates is great, but without analytics tracking connected to your email provider, those clicks don’t get tagged for website traffic. Don’t assume that emails are automatically tagged and registering in your analytics platform.
Some email providers have settings that can be adjusted to automatically tag email campaigns, but you can always use Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters as well. To easily create UTM-tagged URLs, you can use the URL Builder from Google.
5. A/B Testing
A/B testing is easier than ever before. Testing options are automatically available within email provider platforms, eliminating the need to manually set up A/B tests, which is tedious and prone to error.
It’s best to only test one variable (such as subject lines, from names, content, or send time) at a time. Depending on your email provider, you can test email variations on an entire audience or just a percentage of an audience.
6. Think Mobile First
Over half of all emails are opened on mobile devices, with iPhones leading the pack for overall methods of viewing email. This makes it vital for both email design and functionality to be responsive to phones and tablets.
Some mobile guidelines include using a minimum font size of 16px and sizing buttons to at least 44px by 44px. Also, make sure to use enough white space between buttons so that users don’t get frustrated by clicking the wrong elements.
7. Use High-Resolution Images
Upload images at twice the intended display size. This ensures that images and logos show up crisp and clear on high-density displays.
8. Streamline your CSS
For about a year now, we’ve been able to prioritize the use of CSS in the header of the document, instead of inline CSS. (Thanks Gmail!) This allows for greater control of styling effects and introduces a couple of new email features, including hover effects for buttons and links. It also makes email coding less cumbersome.
9. Don’t Forget About Outlook
Outlook uses Microsoft Word as a rendering engine for HTML. This means Outlook usually requires a lot of specific fallbacks to make sure things render correctly. Buttons, rules, type, and images all have specific tags to get things to work just right, but sometimes they still don’t work as intended. Test, test, and test again to make sure Outlook users get the best email possible.
10. Increase Engagement with Design
Not every email needs to be flashy. In fact plain-text emails have some of the highest conversion rates when used properly in the the marketing funnel. However, for those campaigns that do need extra design elements, there are so many great options available. Some of our favorite design features include background gradients, web fonts, hover states, and GIFs.
“Over 16 million hex color codes are at your fingertips, why not spice things up a little bit?” – Really Good Emails
Web fonts are fonts that can be much more engaging than typical “web-safe” fonts like Verdana and Arial. Currently, there’s limited support for web fonts in Apple Mail, Outlook, and Thunderbird, so be careful when and where you use them.
Animated GIFs are now widely used in email campaigns and can serve several different functions. For instance, GIFs are normally used to entice users into clicking through to a landing page, but they can also be used to explain functionality or give users concise directions (e.g., product updates).
Hover states refer to visual changes that occur when users hover over an actionable item such as a button or link. It helps users understand what’s interactive and clickable.
Sara is our digital guru with expertise in search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), and social media advertising. She also has considerable experience in email marketing and automation. We ask her a lot of questions.
Sara has agency experience with a wide-range of client industries from international B2B technology to local automotive dealerships. She holds a B.A. Business Administration from Augustana University. Her certifications include: Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and HubSpot (Inbound).