Be an email marketing overachiever by brushing up on our top 26 email marketing best practice tips, tricks, and terms (gold star not included).
As the primary driver of customer acquisition, email marketing can yield the highest ROI of all your marketing channels. Keeping up-to-date on email marketing best practices enables you to continually improve your program and reap a growing return on investment. But that can be easier said than done if you’re also responsible for maintaining the day-to-day details of your company’s email program.
To help, we’ve compiled our top tips and lessons in this A-Z of Email Marketing Guide to ensure you stay at the top of your email game. Brimming with succinct and consumable email marketing terms and concepts, this guide also serves as a resource directory for additional email delivery and best practices information provided by SendGrid.
Email blasts are officially over. Knowing your audience is one of the most important pieces of data you can leverage to improve your email strategy. But understanding your audience extends beyond just simple demographics.
Do you know how your audience prefers to receive communication and when they are most likely to engage? (Hint: see tip M below which covers metrics and how to measure and learn more about your audience.) Understanding the ins and outs of audience behavior allows you to effectively personalize your email messages with language, tone, and delivery that truly speaks to them.
Email marketing is just a numbers game. More email addresses equals more clicks and opens—right? Nope.
Don’t fall to the temptation of purchasing an email list. Sending unexpected (i.e. spammy) email to recipients who have not opted into your emails almost ensures your emails land in the spam folder and your email domain ends up on a blacklist.
Promote your email sign-up on your website, blog, landing pages, “thank you” pages (after users have filled out a form), as well as at any live events. Most importantly, communicate what they are signing up for when they submit their email address. Building your subscriber lists the right way will ensure that email engagement remains high and your emails get in front of the eyes that matter.
For a deep dive on growing your email list, check out our How to Grow Your Email Marketing List Guide.
For tips on how to authentically grow your email list, check out our guide.
✓ Design your email and write your copy around your CTA.
✓ Make it bold and prominent.
✓ Don’t clutter the space with a CTA that’s too big or diminish it with one that’s too small.
✓ Consider (tactful) multiple placements to draw the eye of the reader.
Download these tips here
Your call(s) to action is one of the most important pieces of content in your email. Beyond persuading your subscribers to open your email (via a compelling subject line), your next goal is to get your subscribers to click on your content.
Delivering an actionable, inspiring (and dare we say, clever) CTA is your biggest content opportunity in your email. Be sure to build contextual content around your CTA that also helps inspire a click.
Be clear and concise in your CTA, and don’t ask for too much up front. Sometimes one CTA in your email is enough (like if you’re promoting a sale, or want someone to download an eBook) while other times a few CTAs are appropriate. Test what resonates best with your audience and don’t be afraid to take some risks.
For more tips on testing CTAs, download our CTA Guide.
Whether you’re using a template, hiring a designer, or have a developer on hand to code your emails, your email design should align with your overall brand found on your website.
You don’t want your recipient to open your message and have no idea who it came from. Clicking through from an email to your website should be a fluid experience so they know exactly how and where they can take the next step.
The best way to evaluate the success of your email campaign is by reviewing your engagement after each email send. Engagement metrics like opens, clicks, unsubscribes, etc. are your window into your recipient’s inbox and how they feel about your emails.
If you see high open and click rates, your recipients are finding your emails useful. If you see addresses on your email list that never engage, it may be time to try to bring them back on board with a re-engagement campaign.
If you’re watching your engagement metrics, then you should be able to derive how often your recipients would like to be contacted. An even better way to figure out how often you should email your recipients is to let them tell you in a preference center.
A preference center is a powerful tool that helps maintain the right expectations between the sender and the recipient. There are different forms of preference centers that make sense depending on your program. Check out 3 common preference centers here to see which one is best for your program.
For more information on preference centers, read our blog post.
Email marketing can be perceived as overly spammy or promotional–especially when email marketers try to ask for too much from their recipients up front. Before asking your subscribers to purchase anything or sign up for a service, offer them something of value first.
This could include a free download of a whitepaper with helpful industry tips or a free trial/discount code or coupon to encourage them to get started with your brand or service.
Every interaction you have with your subscribers should provide value—make sure you’re the one providing the value and they’ll do the same in return.
It’s the jolliest–and spammiest–time of the year, unfortunately. Subscribers are already expecting increased promotion and deals leading up to the holiday season, but it’s still important to remain mindful and courteous about your sending so you don’t end up overwhelming your users.
Our delivery experts recommend modifying your preference centers during the holiday season to include a checkbox that asks your subscribers if they’d like to opt into holiday email communications. This helps to properly set expectations with your recipients and helps you better tailor your holiday email content to their needs.
For other holiday email hacks, listen in on our webinar with some of our delivery team members.
The holidays are a great time to flex your email marketing muscle. Unsure what’s a myth and what’s not? Take our quiz by selecting “true” or “false” to find out.
Get in the holiday spirit and get creative with your branding.
Although you may be tempted to try new ideas for the holidays, it’s important to ensure brand consistency so you don’t confuse your recipients.
Increasing your sending volume to keep up with holiday demand won’t affect your deliverability.
Gradually increase your sending volume in order to keep up with the holiday rush. Ease into it and don't send erratically—spikes in your sending can trigger Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to flag you as a suspicious sender. It's always better to be safe than sorry, so keep this gradual volume increase in mind all year.
Send to the biggest email list possible to get the most return.
Practice good list hygiene. Evaluate the engagement metrics on your recipient list and be sure to segment (or prune) your list appropriately. It’s never a good practice to send to non-engagers...especially during the holidays! If you do, the only gift you may receive is a spam complaint!
Reward your VIP recipients.
Show your high engagers that you care. Show them special appreciation and if you’re looking to test out new content during the holidays, start with your VIPs—their engagement levels will tell you if your test is working.
Pay close attention to your engagement rates during the holidays.
Although this is true all year, be especially vigilant in monitoring your opens, clicks, and spam reports during the holidays. If you’ve increased your sending frequency at all, or tested new offers, these metrics will be very telling for how you approach your email program next year.
An IP address is a unique number block that identifies a device using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a certain network. When it comes to your email, your IP address is directly linked to your sender reputation and how ISPs judge your sending patterns.
Most email service providers (ESPs) provide the option to send email on a shared IP pool or a dedicated IP address. When you’re sending from a dedicated IP address, you are the sole sender and your reputation (and how it affects your deliverability) is yours, and yours alone.
If you’re sending both transactional and marketing email, it’s a good idea to separate those two streams of email. Because transactional email is crucial and requested by your user, it’s wise not to risk that delivery by combining it with the reputation of your marketing emails (typically much lower engagement).
How many IPs you add from there will depend on your monthly sending volume. Check out our recommendations on IP addresses based on monthly email activity.
Learn more about shared vs. dedicated IP addresses in this blog post.
✓ Customize the “From” line
✓ Write clear subject lines
✓ Address your reader by name
✓ Brand your company
✓ Personalize your content
✓ Deliver a strong call to action
✓ Send HTML and plain text emails
✓ Make it easy to unsubscribe
✓ Pre-populate customer information
✓ Disclose your location
✓ Say “thank you”
For more email marketing strategy tips, download our Email Marketing 101 Tips content bundle.
Don’t set yourself up for failure on your next email campaign—create a checklist of all the important steps you need to consider before pressing “send.” These might include checking your image to text ratio, ensuring you have a text version to support your HTML email, having your copy proofread, and testing to see how your email renders on various clients and browsers.
We’ve compiled a simple checklist that you can reference, but be sure to add your own items custom to your program to make sure you have a seamless sending experience, every time.
When the time comes when you do make an inevitable mistake (nobody is perfect), it’s a good idea to have a plan for when things go wrong. An apology email may be an appropriate response and, when executed correctly, maintains trust with your users (and it will even help humanize your brand).
Download Checklist Template
Email truth: people who opted in to receive your email two years, two months, or even two weeks ago, may not be interested in receiving your email anymore. Monitor your engagement metrics on a regular basis and remove unengaged users to help maintain good deliverability. (Hint: Check out R for re-engagement campaigns—they are one of the most effective tools to use to keep your list clean).
As your business scales, you will likely find yourself sending email to lots of different countries all over the world. Ensure you are compliant within each country you send email to by tabulating the different countries you send to and cross checking applicable email legislation.
For US and Canadian senders, keep in mind that in order to be compliant with both CAN-SPAM and the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), you need to include your physical business address in your email (usually the footer).
For more on CASL, watch our webcast: CASL Compliance 101.
There are many ways to measure the success of an email campaign. It’s important to choose which metrics you want to measure against before you send and consistently monitor them with each send so you can track your improvements. SendGrid helps you track nine unique metrics with our Event Webhook. Learn more about our Event Webhook in our Event Webhook Guide.
To determine what metrics are best to monitor, first determine the purpose of your email. If you want recipients to read an important update to your terms of service (and the content is directly in your email), you will want to use a compelling subject line and measure your opens. If you want to extend an offer or discount, clicks (and subsequently visits and conversions from your offer) are your main metric to watch.
Email marketing is its own art form (yes, maybe we’re a little biased!) and so is email design. There’s a lot to consider when designing your email templates, so to maximize your email program, work with an email design specialist to create branded, responsive templates that you can test and iterate off of.
If you don’t have your own email designer, SendGrid’s marketing solution, Marketing Campaigns, includes customizable templates that you’ll feel confident using.
Be honest with yourself when evaluating your opt-in process. Just because someone has signed up for an account with their email address as their username, or entered to win a giveaway, doesn’t mean they want to receive additional promotional email from you.
Requiring your recipients to expressly opt-in to receive your email communication is permission marketing 101 (see P below for more on permission marketing). Providing an unchecked box as part of the sign-up flow that people must click in order to opt-in to receive emails cultivates an engaged list of subscribers who will be excited to receive your email.
Email marketing is all about building and nurturing relationships and those relationships start by asking for permission. Coined by Seth Godin, permission marketing is not only the most effective, but the best way to ensure you have a good relationship with your customers.
Permission marketing goes hand in hand with not buying lists, securing opt-in, and sending wanted content. Once somebody has given you permission to communicate with them, make sure you are listening to them and gauging their responses so you don’t overdo it and make them change their mind about your messages.
Email is a powerful tool for communication, but it should be much more than a one-way conversation. Using a “no-reply” email address as the reply-to address in your marketing email is like putting a wall between you and your recipients and stunts two-way communication–a factor that will likely discourage recipient engagement.
Allowing your customers to reply directly to an email campaign opens up opportunities for conversations you may have never been able to start before. All feedback is valuable, so opening yourself up to this form of communication feedback will only help your program in the long run.
If you’re unsure on how to handle incoming mail to welcome engagement, check out our Inbound Parse Webhook.
Re-engagement campaigns help maintain a strong email list free from inactive email addresses. But how do you know when to remove subscribers? Removal (or sunsetting) rates can vary based on your industry.
A standard best practice is to first segment out your recipients who consistently have low engagement rates and then send them a “winback” email asking them if they’re still interested in receiving your email. (Some vendors will include a special offer or discount in this campaign.) If your recipient does not re-opt-in, it’s time to remove them from your list.
For more details and sample sunset schedules, check out this blog post.
When you hear the word segmentation in reference to email, just think of it as a form of personalization. Email marketing (much like direct marketing) used to be more of a “batch and blast” form of communication—everyone gets the same message at the same time.
These days, you’ll experience higher engagement if you cater your messages to specific characteristics you know about your customers. Segment your email streams according to factors such as:
The more you cater your messages to your subscribers’ tastes, interests, activities, etc., the more likely you are to reach and resonate with your recipients. Check out our complete Segmentation Guide to perfect your own process.
For some insider segmentation tips, check out this blog post.
It’s important to A/B test every part of your email, from subject lines to your calls to action (CTAs). Some tips to keep in mind during your tests:
Remember, your product changes and so do your recipients, so a good email marketer is never done testing.
For more tips, check out our A/B Testing Guide.
At some point in your email campaigns, even if they once opted into your emails, some recipients may not want to hear from you anymore. That’s ok (and a natural part of the email lifecycle), as long as you have a solid unsubscribe system in place for these users. The ability to unsubscribe from your email program should never be challenging and should be available in one click.
And no matter what, don’t make your users have to log into any sort of account to unsubscribe from emails. Remember: If users can’t find the unsubscribe, they CAN find the SPAM button.
When it comes to maintaining good deliverability with the major ISPs, consistent sending volumes is a must. That means you won’t send 100 emails on Monday and then 100,000 on Tuesday.
Breaking up your sending volumes to a consistent level shows the ISPs it’s just business as usual (and you’re not a phisher or spammer). If you do end up sending high volumes of mail, make sure you build up your volume gradually (this can be done when warming up a new sending IP)—send too much mail at one time and you’re asking to be throttled by ISPs which can delay delivery time, frustrate your users, and likely cause a decrease in engagement.
If you’re a high-volume sender who sends millions of emails a month, check out our guide specifically for sending large volumes of email.
✓ In your first email, thank your subscriber and set expectations for what type of messages they’ll be receiving from you.
✓ Send no more than 3 welcome emails in a series.
✓ Remove any addresses that bounce after you send the first welcome message.
✓ Try including various content pieces and promotional offers to determine what resonates best with your new subscribers.
✓ Test various subject lines, sending intervals, and times of day to see what results in the best engagement.
It may seem obvious, but give your new subscribers a warm welcome! Welcome emails give you an opportunity to say “hello,” re-introduce yourself, and set expectations for what kind of email your recipients will be receiving from you–and how often.
Welcome emails also provide the perfect opportunity to send subscribers to your preference center so they can adjust the frequency and type of email they’ll be receiving from you. Getting started on the right note can make a world of a difference in keeping your subscribers happy.
Consider sharing an example of a recent newsletter or promotional email you’ve sent on the sign-up page, so your subscribers know what to expect and there are no surprises once they start receiving your emails.
We know this is a familiar customer service motto, but it’s worth repeating for email marketing. Don’t send email just to send email (or to hit quotas). Send email that is going to be valuable to your users and that will strengthen your relationship with them.
Listen to your subscribers by watching your metrics, grant unsubscribes in a timely fashion, and never forget to show your appreciation by saying “thank you.”
Your VIP recipients are your biggest brand ambassadors. Subscribers who always open and click (and maybe even share!) your email deserve a little extra attention for their loyalty and engagement. Plus, you can glean important information from your VIPs.
Have a new email template or call to action you’d like to try out? It’s a good idea to start with your VIP recipients first. Survey your VIPs to see how you can improve your email program (or highlight what you’re doing right) and be sure to reward them with special offers and discounts. Reward and retain them and you’ll both notice the benefits.
If you’re interested in putting all of these tips into practice, check out our full-featured marketing email service, Marketing Campaigns. With a flexible workflow, powerful list segmentation, and actionable analytics, Marketing Campaigns helps you build meaningful relationships with your recipients at an affordable price.
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