Email Marketing Best Practices for 2017 [The Do's and Don'ts]

Email is not dead—far from it. If you know what you’re doing, it can still be extremely valuable. This article about email marketing best practices for 2017 can help you ace modern email marketing.

In the era of social media and mobility, who still bothers with email anymore?

More people than you might expect, actually. According to a 2015 Radicati Group study, there are still approximately 2.5 billion email users worldwide.

That means 33% of the population of the world uses email to communicate.

Do This Not That

From a marketing standpoint, that means email can be an invaluable tool for connecting with your audience.

That said, it can also be rather challenging - the modern web user tends to be rather jaded. Even if we’re interested in a product, we don’t necessarily like having it shoved down our throats.

There’s a reason ad blocking software is at an all-time high, a reason that even social media can’t seem to get advertising right.

With this in mind, you need to be very careful about how you shape your email marketing campaigns.

If you do things right, you can generate an impressive number of leads (around 25% of Black Friday sales in 2015 were through email, and 61% of consumers actually like to receive weekly promotional emails).

If you do things wrong, though?

There’s a good chance a lot of people who might have otherwise been prospective leads will blacklist your store entirely.

You don’t want that. So let’s talk. Here are several email marketing best practices you should follow if you want your conversion efforts to succeed in 2017.

Do: Send With A Clear Goal In Mind

You should never send an email without a purpose in mind. Do you want to generate more leads for your store?

Generate more purchases from repeat customers? Increase brand awareness?

Have more people signed up for your email newsletter?

Before you start sending, think about what you want to achieve, what emails you’ll send, what those emails will contain, and how often you’ll send them.

In that, email’s just like any other marketing avenue. Going in without a plan is a surefire way to fail.

Don’t: Be A Spammer

Everybody hates spam. Not only that, it’s illegal—the US government passed the CAN-SPAM act way back in 2003.

Other governments have similar legislation, as well.

Mind you, this legislation doesn’t cover everything that a user might consider ‘spammy’, so there are some other guidelines I’d like to lay out so your emails aren’t in poor form.

To avoid looking unprofessional in the eyes of your target audience (and to avoid potential legal hot water), you need to make sure your emails meet the following criteria:

  • Only collect email addresses from subscribers who’ve given you their express consent to email them.
  • Once a customer has opted-in to receiving emails from your company, send them a follow-up email requiring them to opt-in again.
    This will ensure you don’t have any customers accidentally signing up.
  • Make it clear who you are in your emails. Include several ways a customer might contact you, including a phone number, address, social media accounts, etc.
  • Avoid sending too many emails over too short a period of time. I’ve unsubscribed from several newsletters I’d otherwise be interested in following because they sent me upwards of two to four emails a day.
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe from your emails. There should be a clear link in the body of your email for anyone who wants to remove themselves from the mailing list, and the process should be totally seamless.

Do: Automate The Outreach Process

Even for smaller retailers, email marketing can be mentally exhausting.

You’re going to want to do everything you can to make it easier on yourself and your team.

Here are just a few points in the process where you could apply automation software.

  • A welcome email/an email thanking a user for subscribing
  • Reminder emails for upcoming sales and events
  • Post-purchase follow-up emails
  • Valued lead/customer loyalty ‘thank you’ emails
  • Behavior-triggered emails: ie. abandoned carts, lack of login for a certain period of time, etc.
  • Surveys

And so on. The Online Marketing Institute offers an excellent explanation of the automation process, in addition to several workflow diagrams detailing what’s involved in creating an automated email drip campaign.

Don’t: Write Boring Emails

The last thing you want is for your subscribers to be bored, unhappy, or let down by your emails.

Even if you’re automating, it falls to you to make sure that your subject lines are short and attention-grabbing, your email contains plenty of cool images, and a minimum of salesy content.

Writing a quality email is an art in and of itself—this piece from Forbes offers some excellent guidelines to that end.

Do: Personalize Your Emails

Don’t send every single email to every single user in your database. Different customers are going to be interested in different products, offers, and information.

For that reason, it’s important to segment your email lists, and personalize each email you send.

Including the recipient’s name is a good start, but that’s not the only thing you can do. Consider also doing the following:

  • Figure out why customers are visiting your website, and shape the copy of your emails based on that.
  • Build a ‘persona’ for each email segment—a list of general demographic details, interests, and purchases that apply to the general group.
  • Utilize time and location. Make reference to when an email is being sent—you might wish someone a Merry Christmas in an email sent during December, for example.
  • Talk about local businesses, locations, or other details where relevant.

Don’t: Forget Your Links

Even if it’s the most creative, on-brand, lovingly-crafted marketing message you’ve ever sent, an email is a wasted effort if it doesn’t include a strong call to action.

Make sure your email messages offer users the opportunity to click-through to whatever product or service they’re referring to.

You might consider including a sidebar with icons and links similar to the ones on your website.

As far as your call to action is concerned, active questions (for example “Isn’t it time you did X instead of Y?”) tend to resonate.

That said, it’s important that you tailor yours to your brand—the most important thing about a call to action is that it’s in-line with how you do business.

Here are a few excellent examples of well-made CTAs to get you started.

Do: Ensure Your Emails Are Easy To Read On Mobile Devices

By now, you should already know that the vast majority of web users do most of their browsing on mobile devices.

That includes reading emails.

As a result, if the messages you send out aren’t easy to open and read on a smartphone or tablet, you’re alienating a large portion of your customers—much the same as if you fail to make your storefront mobile-friendly.

To ensure people reading email via mobile can access your emails

  • Reduce the size of your images through compression.
  • Make use of an email HTML editor to alter the style of your email so that the images are sized by screen rather than by pixel.
  • Increase the size of your buttons and links.
  • Consider investing in a responsive email template—you can find a few here.
  • Avoid overloading your emails with rich media.
  • A streaming video can be great if you know a segment will be reading an email on desktop, but can cause mobile devices to chug.

Don’t: Buy Email Lists

It can take a frustratingly long time to grow an email list organically, and there’s no ‘magic bullet’ that’s guaranteed to win you more subscribers.

I fully understand the temptation to just purchase an email list outright. But you should never, ever do it.

Seriously, don’t.

A sure sign that a marketing tactic is a dud is that reputable vendors refuse to use it—and any email marketer that’s worth your time will outright refuse to work with purchased lists.

Not only that.

Buying emails is in the same vein as buying links. What you get is likely to be low-quality, and incredibly unlikely to lead to anything worthwhile.

Instead of throwing away money on purchased lists, consider incentivizing users to subscribe.

A discount on a product or service or access to a video, white paper, or webinar can go a long way towards convincing people to give up their email.

Privy is a great plugin to use to grow your email list organically through high-converting popups.

Do: Track Your Emails & Monitor Progress

In order to determine how well your email marketing is resonating with customers—and how well it’s meeting your core goals—it’s important to monitor the messages you send.

Be sure to track metrics such as conversions, click-throughs, bounces, subscription rates, and unsubscribe rates.

And if you track open rates, make sure you only consider them in conjunction with other metrics.

Just because a user has opened an email, doesn’t mean they’ve actually bothered to read its contents.

Open Rates as a metric are functionally useless on their own.

Do: Keep Your Emails Simple But Enticing

A good email contains a single core message—it doesn’t highlight a dozen different offers, and it doesn’t ramble about ten different selling points.

Email read times tend towards fifteen seconds on Android, and three seconds on iOS.

You need to make your emails short and sweet if they’re going to resonate at all with your customers.

Even more in-depth emails like newsletters, shouldn’t be more than a few hundred words at the absolute longest.

Don’t: Send Emails Without Testing, Editing, and Proofreading

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen a newsletter or marketing email with blatant typos or misaligned images.

Emails should be treated the same as web pages or blog posts.

Don’t ever send them without proofreading them, and make sure you test them on multiple devices to ensure they display properly.

Do: Be Honest and Transparent

Be upfront about the content your email list will offer, and how frequently you’ll send out messages.

Don’t underestimate how much people appreciate transparency, especially in an era where people are constantly (and clumsily) trying to sell everything to everybody.

People will appreciate it if you’re clear about what you get by signing up—it’ll both increase your engagement rate and decrease your unsubscribe rate.

Don’t: Focus Solely on the Sale

Like most modern marketing, email marketing is as much about cultivating relationships as it is about generating leads.

If you focus solely on selling a product to your readers, they’ll pick up on it.

People will start to unsubscribe (and those that don’t will probably just relegate your email to their ‘spam’ folder).

If you’re going to succeed, you need to give people something of value—entertainment, a good deal, information, et cetera.

Emails aren’t just sales pitches. If you treat them as such, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Do: Give Your Emails A Distinct “Flair”

I’ve touched on this to some extent already, but your emails should be pleasing to the eye no matter what device they’re read on.

They should be empathetic, considerate of the audience they’re written for, and, most importantly, creative.

Your emails should be the sort of thing recipients want to forward to their friends and family.

Don’t: Go Overboard

Some emails turn ‘trying too hard’ into an art form. They’re overloaded with too many images, repeat the recipient’s name like some sort of cult mantra, or are otherwise so loud it hurts the eyes to even look at them.

Don’t let those emails be yours—it’s important to personalize, yes, but it’s also important to know when to dial back.

Bonus: Email Marketing Tips (things you should never write in your outreach email)

Don't Use Bombastic Email Subject Lines

Click-bait subject lines, such as “Open Now”, “Must Open”, “Once in a Lifetime Chance”, “Unique Offer” are just about as efficient as those infomercials you see on TV.

In fact, nothing will make a webmaster discard your email quicker than such subject lines, even if the content inside the message is top-notch.

While there are no hard and fast rules about what works as far as subject lines are concerned, always make sure they indicate what is inside your message.

Here is a template that usually works: “Headline [Guest Post]”

Don't Address The Influencer with "Dear/Admin/Webmaster"

Reaching out to a webmaster, and not personalizing the email using their name is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

It indicates that you haven’t bothered to look for their name in the first place.

Influencers receive canned emails all the time.

Take the time and put in the effort to treat each influencer as a separate individual they are.

Create a custom email each and every time. Even if you don’t have their name, starting with a simple “Hi” or “Hello” is still miles better.

Don't Make It Only About Yourself

In an attempt to persuade the influencer, marketers will often start talking about their work, their credentials, and their skills.

And in 99% of the cases, they will overdo it.

While you should definitely introduce yourself, an influencer will not waste their time to read about you and your accomplishments.

Your goal should be to provide them with something of value in your email, something they might be interested in reading or viewing.

An influencer once open your email, they will immediately start to think of ways how collaborating with you will benefit them.

If you are simply going on about yourself, you are not going to give them any reason for collaboration.

Don't Demand An Answer From the Influencer

Because influencers are extremely busy, you need to respect their time.

When you are writing an outreach email, try to avoid inserting clichéd sentences like “I am looking forward to your response”, “Waiting for your answer”, “Respond ASAP” which demand an answer to your email.

Pressuring them into answering your messages will just demonstrate that you don’t value their time.

Don't Ask Them To Share/Link To Your Content

Your outreach email should not contain phrases like “Please link to my content”, “Share this link” and so on.

Again, Influencers or their editors/assistants are already aware that you are contacting them for the purpose of establishing some sort of collaboration, so there is no need to point it out yourself.

Of course, what you should do is share a link to your content, which influencers might find useful and interesting, but that is as far as you need to take it.

Ultimately, it is their decision, and insisting on it is not going to help your case.

Closing Thoughts

There you have it—a complete guide on email marketing best practices for the New Year. Now get out there and get the word out about your business.


Christina Coons is a professional digital marketer at Northcutt, an inbound marketing agency. She specializes in e-commerce, social media, and public relations, and spends her days helping brands succeed online.