Do’s and Don’ts of Email Marketing: The Complete List

Andrew Copeland
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Email marketing is an art, not a science. Try as we might to boil it down into a repeatable formula; there are just too many cultural variables at play. Time, place, personality, and past experiences are all factors that can influence whether or not somebody is receptive to your outreach – and this is not something that you can easily control.

Email marketing is especially sensitive since we directly interact with another person’s inbox. Coming on too strong or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can get you blocked or, worse – labeled as a spammer. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to success with email marketing, there are some best practices you should follow. Here are the do’s and don’ts of email marketing.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most lucrative channels at your disposal. Studies estimate that email marketing can produce $36 in return for every $1 spent. But that ROI can be affected by several factors such as list quality, sender reputation, and the effectiveness of your overall email strategy. To get the most significant return from your efforts, you’ll have to consider the following do’s and don’ts of email marketing:

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Building your email list

Do: Grow your list organically. Contacts who voluntarily opt into your emails will always be more interested in hearing from you and are more likely to read your emails than contacts purchased or inherited from another company. 

Don’t: Purchase a list from a database. There are two main reasons not to do this. For one, these contacts don’t know who you are and will most likely unsubscribe or report you as spam. Also, these contacts are just plain low quality, which is why they were available for purchase in the first place. If the first guy couldn’t work them and gave up, it’s not looking good for you either.

Creating subscription types

Do: create multiple subscription types such as:

  • Newsletter
  • Marketing information
  • Promotions
  • Product Updates
  • Customer communications

Multiple subscription types help you categorize your emails and only send relevant messages to your contacts. Existing customers may unsubscribe from your marketing emails, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to get your newsletter or learn about new product updates.

Don’t: Use a catch-all subscription for all emails you send. Some contacts may be interested in certain emails you send but ignore others. Creating specific subscription types will protect your email reputation and increase your email metrics overall.

Sending mass emails

Do: Make sure you have something important and timely to say. Never send an email to your entire database “just because.” If you aren’t providing value to your audience, they will learn to tune you out and may even unsubscribe or mark you as spam.

Don’t: Send unimportant messages to all your subscribers. This is plain annoying and will only create low engagement, and high unsubscribe rates. 

Do: Create segmented lists and suppression lists to avoid annoying anyone. Keeping track of contacts based on lifecycle stage, product interest, last conversion, etc., will help keep your messaging targeted and improve engagement metrics.

Don’t: Send every email to your entire database to “cover all your bases.” Sending irrelevant content or promotions to your contacts will decrease your click rates and increase your unsubscribe rates. Keep your lists segmented and have a strategy behind every email you send.

Do: Keep an eye on your unsubscribe rate. High unsubscribe rates will signal that your emails are more annoying than helpful. Consider sending fewer emails or creating smaller segments if your unsubscribe rate is high.

Don’t: Send emails to unengaged contacts. These contacts don’t want to hear from you anymore; it’s sad but true. Consider sending one or two re-engagement emails at most. After that, it’s time to move on.

Writing subject lines

Do: Be clear and descriptive. Make sure your contacts know exactly what is in the email before opening it. This will give you a more accurate picture of how effective your email strategy is.

Don’t: Mislead or “trick” your audience into opening your email. Inflated open rates are meaningless if your contacts don’t take the desired action. Focus on providing value if you want your contacts to stick around and stay subscribed to your emails.

Do: Use emojis or personalization to stand out. Just make sure you are using relevant emojis that reinforce your message. If you are using personalization tokens, make sure the data is correct. Don’t refer to someone as “ABC123” if that is the first name on file.

Don’t: Overdo it. The more you do it, the less effective it will become. Use emojis and personalization sparingly, and always test your subject lines to see the most significant impact.

Email marketing may take some time to generate results, but it can be a hugely important channel for your business. Don’t be afraid to experience some trial and error.

Creating email content

Do: Make it visually appealing. Plain text emails are effective for 1:1 sales emails, but a well-designed email template with relevant images can make your marketing emails stand out and increase click-through rates.

Don’t: Use too many images. Some browsers may not display your emails correctly, so don’t make them too image-heavy. A clear message and CTA are what your emails need most.

Do: Use the appropriate tone and have a clear message. Make sure to follow brand guidelines and have a clear and consistent voice across all emails. Also, make sure to use the appropriate tone for the occasion. For example, new product announcements should be exciting, while news or company updates may be more informative or journalistic.

Don’t: Try to say too many things in one email. Every email needs to have a single point and purpose. Too much busyness in one email will only confuse people and prevent them from taking the desired action.

Do: Include a clear CTA. If you’re sending an email, chances are you want your contacts to take a specific action like downloading an ebook or scheduling a meeting. Don’t make readers guess what you want them to do. Always include a clear CTA within your emails.

Don’t: Have multiple CTAs competing for attention. Again, every email should have a specific point and purpose. Don’t ask readers to do too many different things, or they will end up taking no action at all. 

Optimizing for mobile

Do: Test your email on different device types before sending. This includes smartphones, tablets, Androids, iPhones, and more. Devices will display emails differently, so be sure to test your email template thoroughly. Using a responsive template and a single-column layout will help ensure consistency across all device types.

Don’t: Assume that it will look the same across all devices. Just because it looks good on your desktop browser doesn’t mean it will render that way for everyone. Failing to test your emails and optimize them correctly can lead to high unsubscribe rates and lower engagement overall.

A/B testing your emails

Do: Test everything and test often. This is the best way to learn your audience’s preferences. You should test subject lines, CTAs, images, copy, and other vital elements. Make sure you are testing around a hypothesis (short subject line vs. long subject line, for example) and not just making random changes.

Don’t: Ignore the value of testing. Creating an A/B test requires some extra thought and effort, but it can make a huge difference in how successful your email marketing is. 

Do: Test one thing at a time. Pick a specific metric you want to improve, such as open rate, and use that as a starting point. See if different headlines or character counts make a difference before moving on to the next test.

Don’t: Change too many things at once, or you won’t know which change your users are reacting to.

Maintaining your email list

Do: Monitor bounces, unsubscribes, and unengaged contacts. A healthy email list is vital to success with email marketing. Pruning your list to remove low-quality contacts will be beneficial in the long run.

Don’t: Be afraid to weed unresponsive contacts. Having a massive email list is meaningless if your contacts aren’t engaging with you. It’s better to have a small number of highly engaged contacts than to risk damaging your reputation with low open rates and high spam reports.

Setting goals for your email campaign

Do: Identify which metrics will support your business goals. Open rates alone won’t translate to new business opportunities. Look at click rates, unsubscribe rates, traffic generated through email channels, and other meaningful metrics to determine how impactful email is to your overall business and marketing strategy.

Don’t: Get hung up on vanity metrics such as # of opens or the size of your list. Set goals for each email – such as downloading an ebook or visiting a webpage – and use that to determine which KPIs are the most important.

Do: Be realistic. Establish a baseline and work towards incremental improvements over time. Take a look at email performance over time and make sure the more significant trend is moving up and to the right.

Don’t: Set yourself up for disappointment. Setting unrealistic goals will make it seem like email “isn’t working” when it is. Make sure you are setting goals that are attainable and based on reality.

Success with Email Marketing Takes Practice

Email marketing may take some time to generate results, but it can be a hugely important channel for your business. Don’t be afraid to experience some trial and error. You will have to experiment to find what works and what doesn’t, but following the do’s and don’ts and email marketing can help you get started in the right direction.

If you want some help with your emails, don’t hesitate to contact us today. We love to talk about marketing. You can also download the free ebook below to learn how we fit email into a larger growth-driven marketing strategy.

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