Email Content Best Practices

email-letterThere is no secret sauce to online marketing. It is how the art and science of web marketing are paired strategically that makes the maximum impact. It is the practice of coming up with a plan, refi ning the plan, executing the plan, monitoring the plan, optimizing the plan, and then going back to the first step. The bottom line with e-mail marketing, like all online marketing, is that the best practices are what work to support an organization’s goals. Now let’s get to the e-mail itself.

Types of E-Mails You Can Send

Successful e-mail marketing means sending the compelling, relevant content that the client wants to receive. There are dozens of kinds of e-mails clients might want to receive. Here are a few ideas:

– Welcome series (“You’re new to X, here’s what you need to know.”)

– Surveys of potential new products

– E-mail mini-courses (made up of 5 to 10 e-mails) on your topic

– Step-by-step product tutorials

– Post-purchase care/maintenance

– How to get the most out of X

– A new way to use X

– New features

– Upgrades

– Recalls

– Accessories

– Relevant third-party or partnership offers

– Answers to questions

– New deals

– Trends to watch

– Resourceful newsletter with helpful links, resources, and advice


The easiest thing for e-mail recipients to do is hit the delete button before they even open the e-mail. Stop them with these best practices.

Create a Compelling Subject Line

The subject line is the first thing a recipient sees. Make the message work. The primary goal of the e-mail’s subject line is to motivate the recipient simply to open the e-mail, not accept the offer—yet. There are just 50 characters to entice them; on mobile browsers, half that. You only have a split second to grab your audience’s attention.

Make sure the subject line is concise and to the point. Don’t waste space with excess punctuation (Example: Read This!!!!!!). Sometimes words that marketers think will work are hackneyed, overused buzzwords like free (Example: FREE Download!!!). Instead, entice the audience into opening the e-mail with something they can relate to (Example: Learn How to Blog at Our Free Workshop).

Use a Descriptive “From” Address

People are more likely to open e-mails from entities that they recognize, know, like, and trust. In order to save valuable space in the subject line, try to make the “from” address as descriptive as possible. For example, instead of ABC Company, it might be ABC Wedding Planners or a value proposition name like ABC Electronic Deals. Having a descriptive “from” address puts the message and value proposition in context. Some marketers have found that it helps to have a real person’s name in the “from” line to create affinity. This “from” address section is an easy area to test and compare approaches for maximum return on investment (ROI).

Set Up HTML E-Mails with Text-Only Mode Backup

Although HTML e-mails (e-mails with graphics) look more appealing, many people receive e-mail in text-only mode. Be sure to include alt text on the graphics that repeats the deal offered, and set up a text version that can be shown in lieu of the image-based version. Since most readers will only be able to see the first few words in the preview pane, put your best and most engaging offer at the very top of your e-mail.

Test in Different E-Mail Clients

It’s a good idea to check out prospective e-mails both with and without graphics in the most popular e-mail clients. Also, look at how the e-mails are rendered in the top web-based e-mail providers such as Gmail, AOL, Yahoo!, and Hotmail.

Don’t forget that more and more people are reading their e-mail on the small screens of their iPhones, BlackBerries, Androids, and other smartphones. If it makes sense for your niche, consider sending text messages with links instead of full e-mails to phones.

Use a Spam Evaluator

Some e-mail service providers have a spam content evaluator that goes through your e-mails before they are sent to determine the likelihood that they will be labeled as spam by filters or users. If this service is not built into your e-mail provider, here are some guidelines to keep your e-mails from getting smashed with a spam hammer:

– Don’t use excessive exclamation points (!!!!!).

– Don’t use a lot of capital letters (BUY PRODUCT NOW).

– Be aware of the F-word (as in free), as it can be a big spam-filter flag. If you do use it in your subject line, try not to use it with capital letters or an exclamation point.

– Don’t use too many pictures. Overuse of images can also be a flag for spam.

– Avoid using certain words that are affiliated with high-volume spam use, such as loans, insurance, and prescription drugs.

Do Internal Testing Before the Real Send

Send an e-mail to a “seed list” (a select group of internal people) and have the group open the e-mail on different browsers to make sure that all the links and buttons are working properly and the copy is spelled correctly. Nothing is worse than sending an e-mail with spelling errors, or having a client click on your call-to-action link that sends them to a nonexistent web page. E-mail management technologies often offer a preview and test e-mail functionality, making internal testing very easy and manageable.

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