Email Best Practices

Email marketing best practices

Members of your audience will receive many emails in a day. The content in your email must quickly communicate the message and intrigue them enough to engage. The perfect copy should drive an almost subconscious reaction and response.

Be strategic and don't get lost in the inbox.
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Email marketing statistics

66%brand marketing emails are opened on mobile devices (AWeber)

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.Most desktop and email opens happen within these times (Harland Clarke)

72%U.S. consumers say that email marketing is the number one way they’d prefer to receive permission-based promotions (Salesforce)

33%email recipients who open email based on the subject line alone (Convince & Convert)

58%open rate for emails with subject lines fewer than 10 characters (Adestra)

13 hourstime spent per week dealing with email (Meetcontent)

16%click-throughs from users who did not open email or download images

Engagement

The #1 reason to send marketing email is to get subscribers to your website for engagement!

Clicking on links

All email sends should have links. Even administrative announcements should have links to more information. Always link to your website; engagement happens at your website. Your website should be in sync with your email messages. The information in your email should always be available on your website, minus private events.

Monitor your inbox

Engage back with subscribers if they engage with you. Once they engage, use that information. Keep a list of those who are engaged and use that to build on the relationship.

Attract your subscriber

Email will need to sell itself within an email preview pane.

Use a familiar sender name

In the Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC) use a Send Classification. Only send emails from a group account.

For example: Indiana University President Michael McRobbie uses iupresbn@iu.edu.

By using a group account, your personal email will not get bogged down with out-of-office replies. Sending from your personal account increases the chance of your email getting hacked.

Digital signatures

Attach a digital signature to your group email account. A digital signature allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to acknowledge the legitimacy of your email sends. By putting a digital signature in place, receiving mailboxes have some verifiable information to cross-reference with your email campaigns and can more easily determine if your email is real or fradulent.

Keep subject lines short and sweet

It is recommended to use subject lines with fewer than 50 characters. Email subject lines will get cut off if they are too long, particularly on mobile devices.

Here are some subject line tips:

  • Do tell them what’s inside.
  • Use concise language.
  • Be straightforward and encourage engagement.
  • Start with action-oriented verbs. Avoid sensational words (i.e., magic or free) and imperative verbs (i.e., must, have to). Readers associate these words with spam.
  • Make people feel special. You’re invited!
  • DON’T USE ALL CAPS or overuse exclamation points!!!
  • Don’t be afraid to try different subject lines and personalization to see if you get better engagement rates.

Utilize preheader text

The preheader is the line of text that appears beneath or beside the subject line in the email’s inbox. Most mobile inboxes display 75–100 characters. Focus on the first 5–8 words to catch the reader's attention and entice them to open.

Brand your email

Every IU email must include the following IU assets:

  • IU trident
  • campus branding bar at the top of the message
  • Fulfilling the Promise banner at the bottom of the message

With proper branding, subscribers will recognize the sender when previewing the email. Be sure to select colors that match or complement the colors of IU. You can find these assets and more branding tips at brand.iu.edu.

Content

According to a report from Litmus Email Analytics, the average time spent reading an email is 11.1 seconds, up 7% from 2011. The percentage of emails read for more than 18 seconds has also grown to 44.4% compared to 38.4% in 2011. The bad news is that 11.1 seconds still isn't a lot of time.

Less is more

Time yourself and read your content and see how long it takes to read and look at the pictures. The best emails will be under 750 words total. You want to put enough content in to get your message across, but at the same time you run risks if your content is too long. Those risks include:

  • Ending up in the spam or junk folder
  • Having users be overwhelmed by the amount of content in your email and not reading it
  • The email content is heavily formatted and is so long that it creates display problems in various email clients.

Simple is safer with email. Create an email that is easy to read on all email clients. The fancy design can happen on your website.

You can view your email in different browsers by subscribing to an email testing service like Email on Acid or Litmus.

Single column design

Start with a single column layout to make your email cross-device-compatible. A single column design is sufficient for most emails (other than product-based or newsletter style) and makes it easier to accommodate mobile devices.

Mobile-first design

Email designers should use a “mobile-first” design. This means that they design the email with mobile primarily in mind, then make sure it also works on a desktop client.

One way to conform to different devices is using Responsive Design.

Color

A white or very light color background is best as it enhances the font colors and ensures readability. If using a color for background, consider contrast guidelines when it comes to accessibility. Limit the use of color so as not to confuse the user about what to focus on.

Use email-safe fonts

Arial and Georgia are IU brand-compliant fonts and supported in most email clients.

It is essential to keep your email design professional; hence, use less than four types of fonts in a single email. A good practice is to use one font style for headlines and another (a simple font) for the email body copy. Having a good fallback font is also a good practice. Your fallback font ensures your design still looks good without custom web fonts.

As far as colors of the fonts are concerned, restrict it to less than four to maintain that formal touch. A light color background is best as it enhances the darker font colors.

Make links obvious

Underline and color links so users are enticed to click on them.

Images

While images do have unquestionable, compelling results, images do not always load automatically in an email. The trick with email is to use images in a way that will benefit your email's performance rather than detract from it.

Plan for missing/blocked images

If images aren’t downloaded, it may be impossible to get your message across. To prevent this, include descriptive alternative text (alt text) for your images. You can even style alt text to improve its appearance. If you have background images, add a fallback color.

Using text in an image

Add any information that is in your image to your alt text to make sure your message doesn’t get lost.

Do not send image-only emails

Emails that are image-only are a bad idea. It’s likely an image-only email will trigger spam filters. In earlier days hackers would send image-only emails to get users to click on them. Some email service providers (ESPs) will still block them. If a recipient requests plain text, they get nothing. Use email HTML.

Limit the use of images in your HTML

Spam filters measure the percentage of text vs. images. Using too many images can cause your email to be blocked or end up in the junk folder.

Size your images

Use photo editing software to size and crop your images before placing them in your email.

Store your images

Make sure the images you are using in your email are uploaded to your tool or stored on your server (i.e., don’t link to other people’s images).

Call to action

Call to action (CTA)—let it take the center stage

Unarguably the most important part of an email, a CTA must be placed above the fold, or in the area that will get the maximum visual attention. Content placed above the fold gets 84% more attention than content placed below it. Keeping it short and crisp—that's the way to write an ideal CTA.

Footer

Social media

Providing links to your social media pages such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., can make a difference in grabbing the reader’s attention. Apart from social media links, limit the number of links you provide in the footer to three or four.

Forward to a friend (FTAF)

A forward-to-a-friend link is also a great idea to extend the life of your email and to safely share it with someone else. FTAF allows safe forwarding to others and increases visibility.

Unsubscribe

Do not forget to add an unsubscribe link. The CAN-SPAM Act—a law that set the standards for commercial email usage—dictates that it must be easy for subscribers to opt out of receiving emails, and those opt out requests must be honored in a timely fashion. In SFMC, be sure to use commercial send classifications. They allow subscribers to unsubscribe from newsletters if they are not interested in engaging with you.

Physical address

The CAN-SPAM act requires that the sender's actual physical location is listed in the email.

Subscribers

Build a solid, permission-based list where your recipients have expressly opted in to receive your emails. Review and maintain your subscriber list to ensure you’re sending targeted communications. Email addresses and domains change and sending to invalid email addresses can cause your emails to be blocked as spam.

Deliverability

Email deliverability is how you measure the success of your emails reaching the inbox without bouncing or being marked as spam. If you have issues with high bounces, flagging spam filters, or low engagement, you may have email deliverability issues.

Whitelisting

At IU, all SFMC emails are sent from the same dedicated IP address. Our IP address is whitelisted with IU and other ISPs, which means your email sends will always get delivered to IU e-mail addresses and should rarely get blocked by other ESPs.

Throttling

Simply adjusting the time period over which your message is sent can have a huge impact on deliverability. Many ESPs will only accept emails coming in at a particular rate. SFMC can send 10,000 emails in minutes. Schedule your emails to deploy more slowly and over an extended period of time. This is called throttling. It is recommended to throttle your external email list sending to 500–1,000 per hour (except IU domains). Send your emails at earlier times so that all emails can be sent by your targeted completion date and time.

Segmenting

Segment your emails by domain, or split your lists into multiple parts. Consider separating your marketing and transactional email traffic to keep their reputations independent.

Remove bad addresses

Remove those addresses that could not be delivered because the recipient is invalid, i.e., hard bounces/unknown users. Remove addresses with hard bounces from your list before your next send.

Accessibility

Basic requirements for accessible email campaigns

To meet basic accessibility requirements, an email message must: