Best Practices Checklist: Email Marketing Best Practices 101

In This Article…
If you're considering implementing an email marketing program or are currently emailing but experiencing underperformance, this article provides you with a list of ten best practices that will assure improvement in your email marketing campaigns.

The Top Ten
Despite what you may hear, email marketing is a complicated process with many moving parts. But that doesn't mean that you can't have a successful email marketing program or campaign while keeping things relatively simple. We've narrowed down the ten best practices that you absolutely must remember. If you follow them, you certainly won't fail!

1. Make Sure That Your Email Has Many Obvious Links
The purpose of your email is to drive traffic to your landing page, product page or website. It's really that simple to define the main purpose of an email. Without driving clicks to your page or website, users can't convert to sign-ups or customers. They key to accomplishing this is, quite simply, capitalize on every moment where a user may feel compelled to click. Include lots of links (at least one per paragraph of text) and make sure that your links look like links. Using strong calls to action and even authoritative "click here" messaging will also help you.

Takeaway Message: It's a best practice to have many links and to make sure that those links are obvious to the user.

2. Minimize Your Use of Images
We've covered this in great detail in a previous article, but always keep in mind that an email is not a print mail piece. Many (if not most) of your recipients will not see the images included in your email, which means that every image you include can be wasted space. Use well-coded html instead of image heavy design. Never send an email that is simply one big image and certainly don't put any messaging in an image that a user must see to complete the action you want from an email (i.e. "click here" or "order now" messages).

Takeaway Message: Use images sparingly, rely on html to enhance the look of your email and never use an image to convey a critical or important message.

3. Make It Easy to Unsubscribe
It may seem counter intuitive to make it easy for a user to leave your mailing list, but the other option is much less appealing. When users get frustrated while trying to figure out how to remove their email from your list, they eventually just start to flag your email as spam. Every user who notes your email as being spam counts against your sender reputation with email providers and makes it harder (and sometimes impossible) to get your email into the inbox instead of the junk folder.

Takeaway Message: Have clear, easy-to-find unsubscribe links that require minimal action from the user to complete the task of unsubscribing.

4. Follow Spam Tips From the Beginning and EVERY Time That You Send Email!
We've also covered in detail the best ways to avoid getting flagged as spam and removed from your users' inboxes, but we can't emphasize enough how important it is to follow those steps. More importantly, it's important to follow them from the beginning of your email marketing effort and to follow them every single time you send. We know that it's tempting to send a harder sales email that trends against some of our advice for staying out of the spam folder, but it only takes one email that looks like its high spam to keep you out of the inbox for weeks, months or years afterwards.

Takeaway Message: Even if it means your email isn't as effective as a sales tool, following all of the steps to avoid being flagged as spam is absolutely, unquestionably critical with every send.

5. Maximize Your Email Template Dimensions
You don't have a lot of space in a person's inbox to convey a message, and most of your users will be viewing your email in a preview pane with the images turned off. Make sure that your html email template isn't more than 600 pixels wide and that you clearly get your value proposition and at least one link into the first 100 pixels of height. It won't look as nice as putting a shiny header graphic up there, but it will yield better results. Also, consider a secondary column on the right or left hand side in order to get more information above the fold of an email preview pane!

Takeaway Message: Design for what your email will look like in a 600x200 pixel space without images loaded! How it looks in those dimensions with that restriction is how must users will see the final email.

6. Keep Your Text Short and Easy to Scan
Most users aren't going to read the full text of your email. They're going to scan it for key points that they may be interested in. Keep your text short (very small paragraphs or bullets) and use font bolding and additional colors to highlight words or phrases that you know will be important to your users and clients. Too much text will get your email deleted just about as fast as anything, and it creates more risk for triggering spam filters.

Takeaway Message: Less is more! Content may drive the internet, but it doesn't improve email performance. Write concisely, user trigger and keywords and make sure that your most important messages are highlighted or bolded.

7. Keep Your Email List Clean
There's no value to not taking the time and making the effort to make sure that you're removing bad email addresses from your house list. Making sure that incorrectly formatted email addresses are caught when somebody signs up and then "pruning" addresses that are returned as undeliverable, non-existent or with full inboxes from your list before the next send isn't optional if you want to have a successful email marketing program. If your list starts to show a higher percentage of undeliverable email addresses, email providers will flag you as spam.

Takeaway Message: Even if it creates more work for you, make sure that you're pruning your list and removing bad emails from it. The result if you don't will put you in the spam folder!

8. Properly Use Alt Text, Title Text and Linking with Images
Because using images in email can create dead space, maximizing the code behind those images is critical. Make sure that ALL of your images have both alt text and title text as different browsers will read those two types of text differently (Alt text and title text are the text messages that appear when an image doesn't load or when somebody hovers over an image with a mouse). Also, make sure that all of your images are actually links to your landing page or website. This way, at a minimum, your potential image dead space can still drive traffic to your destination.

Takeaway Message: Make sure that all of your images are properly coded. This means not only making sure that the image height and width is properly defined but also that the image has alt text, title text and is linked to a webpage or landing page.

9. Send Test Emails BEFORE You Send to Your Main List
There's nothing worse than sending an email and then finding out that it went right to the spam folder or that something in your email layout broke in Hotmail's email viewer or Outlook's preview pane. Before you send an email to your entire list, send a test version to a test account using each of the big email providers (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail/Live/MSN and any account using an Outlook client). If there are any significant segments of your list using another email provider, you'll want to include that in your test as well. If you catch any errors, there's still time to start disassembling your email and fixing them, or remove a problematic segment of your email list.

Takeaway Message: Catching an error in an email sent to a seed address is useless if it happens after you've already sent to the main list. Use your seed addresses to test send to and check formatting and deliverability before you send to the main list.

10. Make Sure to Piggyback a Text Version of the Email
We've previously discussed how to decide if you should use an html email or a text only email, and our recommendation is that you use both. But, at a minimum, if you are using an html email you must piggyback a text only version of the email onto your send. A number of people do opt to view email as text only, and, increasingly, people are reading text-based email only on mobile phones.

Takeaway Message: Make sure, no matter what, that your html email has a piggybacked text email attached to it! It's that simple!

Bonus Tip! Always Ask Users to Add You to Their Contact List!
At every opportunity, remind users that they can be assured that they won't miss out on the valuable information that they love receiving from you if they add your send address to their email contacts list. The more people you get doing that, the better your deliverability will be!

These ten best practices won't make you a perfect email marketer, but they will certainly make you better than most! Just use these tips as a checklist when putting your email campaign together and you'll be fine!

The first step to getting started with email marketing, whether you've got your best practices down or need to work to implement them into your program, is to select a quality email sending partner. Comm100, who provided you with this complimentary list, offers a completely free, hosted email and newsletter solution. It's both a great long-term and short-term solution to getting your email marketing off of the ground to just about any type of customer or client email list!

Comm100 Network Corporation provides open source and free hosted customer support software for small and medium businesses. Comm100 fully integrates multiple communication channels, including Live Chat, Newsletter, Forum, Knowledge Base and Email Ticket. All Comm100 products are delivered as FREE SaaS/Hosted applications and completely FREE. For further information about Comm100, please visit: http://www.comm100.com/.

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