The Rules of Email Marketing: 8 Must-Dos to Avoid the Spam Folder (or Worse)

By Stacey Piper

Raise your hand if you’ve ever sent an email with a broken link or image. Been there, done that. But did you hear about the time an online retailer sent a picture of a cat—just a cute cat—to its 100K-subscriber list? Or when Shutterfly congratulated its new moms with a photo offer that went to its entire subscriber base? Even seasoned professionals with the best email automation platforms get sweaty palms before clicking the Send button.

Email is one of the most effective marketing channels available today, delivering a higher return on investment than any other digital marketing tactic. Here are some ways to avoid embarrassment, landing in the Junk or Spam folder, or being blocked altogether.

  1. Clean up your list. The most significant mistake email marketers make is not managing their email list, resulting in inaccurate data, poorly targeted campaigns, and reduced engagement rates. To avoid this, it is essential to regularly review and clean your email list and use double opt-in strategies for new contacts to ensure accurate data. Error-prone email lists that result in high unsubscribe and bounce rates downgrade your email reputation—even the reputation of your entire brand domain—and can limit deliverability based on your sender score.

  2. Segment your list, then personalize your message accordingly. Before you even draft your email, know your market and use market segmentation to target your audience appropriately. Then customize content based on demographics, previous interactions, interests, and other data points about your customers. Personalization goes beyond simply including the recipient’s name in the subject line or body of the email. Tailored content that is relevant to the recipient leads to higher engagement—increased open, click-through, and conversion rates—than generic emails.

  3. Optimize your timing. Experiment with different frequencies and analyze the results to find the right balance for your business. Sending too many emails can annoy your subscribers and lead to high unsubscribe rates. Sending emails too infrequently or at the wrong time can lead to overlooked messages and a forgotten brand. There is a multitude of data on optimizing your email send by day of the week, time, and even day of the month, but the best gauge is your own email campaign data. Study it to choose the optimal time to send emails for better engagement and open rates.

  4. Test before you send and design for success. Always test your email’s performance—especially on mobile devices and in different browsers—and learn from your mistakes. Reduce file size of your images so the total data image weight is between 600KB and 800KB. A well-planned email design—both aesthetically for humans and digitally for devices—will increase the likelihood of engagement with your email marketing.

  5. Know the laws in the countries where you’re sending email. Even if you dress up your emails for success, you still need to focus on substance. Not complying with the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can earn you hefty penalizations and a hard road to recovery. Compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act includes clear identification of the sender and the inclusion of an opt-out feature while GDPR requires opt-in from recipients. And always allow a way for the reader to reply.

  6. Invest in a right-sized email marketing tool. The easiest way to put control in the hands of readers is to use a marketing automation platform to take advantage of automated email workflows and subscription options. More than 59 percent of marketers are expanding automation of email programs. There is a wide range of tool options from those focused solely on email to ones that can support your entire marketing and sales ecosystem. Evaluate your needs and ability to support, and don’t short-change yourself on capabilities.

  7. Focus on the subject and preview lines. The average open rate for business emails is 21.56 percent, and 47 percent of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone. The email’s main goal is to entice recipients to action. To avoid this, ensure that your call-to-action is clear, correctly positioned, and inconspicuous. Your subject line should be enticing but not misleading, align with your content, and reinforce your CTA.

  8. After the send, track and analyze. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is using links that aren’t trackable. Those links provide invaluable insights into how customers interact with your emails and can help benchmark and improve future email marketing campaigns. Look at metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and unsubscribe rates to determine what is working and what is not. Use this data to make data-driven improvements to your email campaigns.

Email marketing is a powerful tool for businesses to reach out to their customers in a personalized and targeted manner. However, to achieve success, you need to avoid common mistakes and implement best practices. By segmenting your email lists, optimizing for mobile devices, personalizing your emails, finding the right frequency, and analyzing your results, you can create a perfect email marketing strategy that can help your business grow and compete in today’s competitive marketplace. Learn more about email marketing in Government Marketing Best Practices 2.0: What You Need to Know for Accelerated Success, one of GovBrew’s top govcon books.

Ready to mistake-proof your email marketing campaign? Contact me for a consultation with your leadership team.

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