Sending an email or two is easy. But a long-term email strategy that grows your business requires an intentional approach using email marketing best practices. From the right tactic to get new subscribers on your list to the best ways to let readers unsubscribe, the world of email marketing has rules worth learning.
By focusing on email best practices, you’ll connect with your customers and grow your business by turning subscribers into sales.
Not knowing these guidelines might mean sendouts that look right on desktop but wrong on mobile, a mailing list that’s large but unengaged, or emails that never get opened. By focusing on email best practices you’ll connect with your customers and grow your business by turning subscribers into sales.
If you’re just getting started with email marketing or have hit a plateau in growing your email list, this article includes tips to enhance your emails and help you develop an email marketing strategy that works. We’ll walk you through 20 email best practices to help you optimize your emails, moving beyond sending one-off emails and toward building a sustainable email marketing strategy that pays dividends for your business.
20 Email Marketing Best Practices
- Use double opt-in email sign-up
- Send a welcome email
- Avoid using a no-reply email address
- Personalize your emails
- Write casually and conversationally
- Keep emails brief
- Make emails easy to skim
- Perfect the subject line
- Consider your preview text
- Have a compelling CTA
- A/B test your content
- Use audience segmentation
- Make your emails accessible
- Optimize for mobile
- Set a consistent cadence
- Use analytics to drive your email marketing strategy
- Include share options for distribution
- Use lead magnets for more subscribers
- Regularly clean your email list
- Make it easy to unsubscribe
1. Use double opt-in email sign-up
Sending information and offers through email is a form of permission marketing, a term coined by Seth Godin in his book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers. Godin advocates for customers to opt into marketing and decide when, where, and how they’re advertised to, suggesting this is the most effective (and respectful) way to turn onlookers into customers. When a website visitor, prospective customer, or previous buyer signs up for your mailing list, they’re giving you permission to communicate with them.
Double opt-in email sign-up, compared to single opt-in, helps you collect email addresses with an additional confirmation step that ensures you truly have someone’s permission to send them an email. This method prevents fake sign-ups and also helps ensure you’re compliant with anti-spam regulations and laws like GDPR.
Here’s what double opt-in email sign-up looks like in action:
- A website visitor fills out a sign-up form on a landing page on your website.
- They receive an email confirming their sign-up for your mailing list.
- After confirmation, they are officially a subscriber who has opted in to receive emails.
Many email marketing platforms, like Mailchimp, provide the option to enable double opt-in email sign-up to help businesses maintain high-quality mailing lists. This email marketing best practice will help you build an engaged list and maintain a high open rate that leads to sales.
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2. Send a welcome email
After a customer has opted in to receiving emails, send them a welcome email to establish an early connection and prepare them for what’s to come. Welcome emails generally have an average open rate of over 86% and are worth taking advantage of. Most email marketing services let you send an automated welcome email after a new subscriber joins your mailing list. Ensure your welcome email is evergreen and relevant to newcomers.
Here are a few different ways to make your first email to a subscriber count:
- Introduce yourself and your business. A welcome email is a good opportunity to build brand affinity for your company and strike an emotional chord with a subscriber. Tell a new reader a bit about yourself and why you started your company, bringing them behind the scenes of the journey from idea to launch. Add personal touches like a photo of your team and a handwritten signature at the bottom of the email.
- Send a curated list of your best content. If part of your email marketing strategy is sharing useful information and tips, new subscribers will miss out on the rich backlog of your previous content. Use your first email to a new reader to curate a handful of your most popular articles or sendouts.
- Provide a discount or promotional offer. Often, businesses incentivise website visitors to sign up for an email mailing list by providing a promotional discount, like 10% off their first order. In this case, use your welcome email to follow through on that promise, providing subscribers with a discount code and even curating a selection of products they can splurge on. Alternatively, use the element of surprise and provide newcomers to your email list with an unexpected discount to spark delight.
Bushbalm, a company that develops a natural skincare product line, encourages website visitors to sign up for its mailing list with a promotional discount. In its welcome email, it provides a limited-time special offer for new subscribers.
Your first contact with a subscriber is an opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered; instead, set an intention for your welcome email that serves your business goals.
3. Avoid using a no-reply email address
With a direct line to a subscriber’s inbox, email marketing is an opportunity to build a solid relationship with readers. The type of email address you use can impact this relationship. As an email marketing best practice, avoid using a no-reply email address. Instead, opt for a valid email address that subscribers can actually respond to. Here’s the difference between the two:
- No-reply email address. This type of email address is not set up to receive incoming emails. They are often structured as email@example.com. This is a good option for transactional emails (e.g., buying or shipping confirmations, password resets, etc), but avoid them for regular emails to subscribers.
- Valid email address. This type of email address is set up to receive incoming emails. They are often stylized with aliases, such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. This is a good option for regular emails to subscribers.
Monitor your business’ inbox for incoming emails and respond in a timely manner. As your company grows, set up your inbox to filter out out-of-office auto-responders and auto-forward subscriber responses to your customer service specialists. An email that appears personalized encourages engagement and feedback from your newsletter subscribers that can help inform your business and positively impact your email delivery rates.
4. Personalize your emails
Forge a connection with subscribers and provide them with the most value possible by personalizing the emails you send. One of the simplest ways of adding a personal touch to emails is addressing subscribers by name using merge tags on email marketing platforms that dynamically add personalized information to your emails. However, this is just one of many ways you can add personalization to your sendouts.
Opt for an email marketing platform with robust automation features that allow you to create an email experience that feels tailored to each subscriber:
- Website browsing emails. With an email marketing platform that integrates with your website, if a website visitor becomes a subscriber and also opts in to website cookies, you can send them emails based on their browsing history on your website. For instance, in the case of an online store, an automated email can send them a few of the items they clicked on but didn’t buy.
- Abandoned cart emails. Sometimes customers get to checkout but don’t make a final purchase. Automated abandoned cart emails can send a reminder to their inbox, prompting them to buy.
- Birthday offer emails. Collect birthdays on email subscription forms to send offer codes on a subscriber’s birthday as a celebratory gift.
- Product purchase education emails. When someone makes a specific purchase, send them emails that help them make the most of their latest buy.
Personalization helps you send “just in time” emails that provide subscribers with a custom experience.
5. Write casually and conversationally
As a business, you want to approach customers in a way that feels polished and professional. However, in practice, this can lead to stiff formality that makes your emails sound cold and impersonal. Instead, opt for a tone in your emails that’s casual and conversational.
- Avoid complex language. Often people subscribe to an email list because they want information from experts. However, expertise can be conveyed without using overly complex language that makes writing harder to understand and alienates readers. Instead, keep your language simple and clear.
- Use contractions. One way to make writing sound more natural is by using contractions like “who’s” and “there’s” versus “who is” and “there is.” We generally default to speaking with contractions, and a good rule of thumb for a conversational email tone is to write how you speak.
- Leave out jargon and acronyms. Your industry likely has jargon and acronyms that insiders are familiar with. However, this won’t be the case for everyone who reads your emails. Write out acronyms in full and use common terms so there’s no room for confusion.
- Speak like a trusted adviser or friend. While drafting emails, adopt the voice you might use while giving advice to a friend. Be direct and honest, but also light hearted.
These small changes can be the difference between emails that are immediately archived and ones where subscribers read until the end.
6. Keep emails brief
On average, a person sends and receives 121 business emails each day; an email you send a subscriber is just one in an endless digital pile. Give your email a better chance at being read by keeping emails short and to the point.
Sundays, a furniture company, sent out short and to-the-point emails for their biggest sale of the year during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
According to Campaign Monitor, the ideal email copy length is between 50 to 125 words. This is just a guideline and you should experiment with the length that works for your company’s audience. However, avoid emails that are too lengthy and make readers click away mid-way through. Instead, get straight to the point and make the information you’re trying to convey obvious to a reader––whether that’s an upcoming promotional sale or the launch of a new product line.
7. Make emails easy to skim
People generally don’t read every word of an email, at least to start. Instead, while reading online, people often adopt an F-shaped reading pattern that is optimized for efficiency, initially focusing on the upper portion of a text, before scrolling vertically. A reader’s eyes skim for important details to get a broad idea of what a newsletter sendout is saying.
Structure your emails to help readers quickly take in as much information as possible. Here are a few tips for avoiding giant blocks of text in favor of skimmable content:
- Keep your paragraphs short. Use the “one idea per paragraph” rule and keep your message clear, concise, and to the point.
- Use bullet points and lists. Breaking down information in bullet points and lists (like this one) is more skimmable than sentences in a block of text.
- Throw in headers. For longer emails, use catchy and informative headers to divide up your email.
- Add in graphics. Add in relevant graphics or photographs, like snapshots of your products, to break up text and draw the reader’s eye.
- Bold important information. If your email has a central message, like prompting readers to answer a survey or announcing a collaboration, put that message in bold.
- Use CTA buttons. Make the action you want the reader to take obvious with a colored CTA box and clear CTA text that stands out.
- Leave some white space. Skimming is harder without breathing room between lines of text; use white space strategically to make your email flow.
These simple tips can make your emails easier to read and ultimately get your message across more easily to subscribers.
8. Perfect the subject line
Spending time crafting an engaging and informative email only matters if a subscriber opens it. That’s why a headline that catches a reader’s eye from their cluttered inbox is so important. Avoid gimmicks like ALL CAPS, excessive exclamation marks, and emoji overload and try these tips instead:
- Think like a copywriter. While an email subject line isn’t a magazine ad or billboard, think of writing a line that commands the same attention or builds a sense of intrigue about the contents of your email.
- Keep it short. Most email clients have a character limit, after which your subject line is cut off. Say more with less words by limiting the character count of your subject line.
- Let readers know what’s ahead. Don’t be coy. Let subscribers know what awaits them in opening your email.
- Add a sense of urgency. If you have a special pricing promotion or a sale on your website is coming to an end, let readers know directly in the subject line.
- Make it timely. Looming calendar dates like holidays or events can inspire action. If you’re an accounting service, let subscribers know when tax day is coming; if you sell bespoke ornaments, let readers know about the Christmas delivery cut off.
- Stay original. Overuse of terms like “free” can get readers to tune out and can also impact deliverability.
Think about the subject line that will make a reader click instead of opening another email in their inbox.
9. Consider your preview text
If a subject line is your title, the preview text is your subtitle. While the subject line is what a subscriber sees first, the preview text gives you another chance to inspire someone to open your email. Don’t default to preview text that pulls in preheader text or the first line of your email. Instead, customize your preview text and choose a line that coaxes readers toward reading what you have to say.
Rather than using the preview text to simply restate the subject line in slightly different words, consider these two lines as complementary. Here are a few examples from real companies:
- Company: Allbirds
- Subject line: Endorphins Incoming …
- Preview text: Run ready essentials to get your new year started.
- Company: Bullet Journal
- Subject line: The Last Resolution
- Preview text: Find better tools for change
- Company: CB2
- Subject line: FLASH SALE: 20% OFF
- Preview text: 2 days only.
- Company: Fable
- Subject line: Show us your best #FableShelfie
- Preview text: The winner gets $500 to Fable.
- Company: Warby Parker
- Subject line: Want a peek at our next collection?
- Preview text: Warby Parker Right this way
Take advantage of preview text to tell subscribers what’s to come in your email and entice them to click and read your message.
10. Have a compelling CTA
Emails are a great medium to inspire action; that’s where call-to-actions (CTAs) come in. Add CTA buttons to your emails to help make it explicit what the reader should do. Your CTA text should be short (one to five words) and concise, while your CTA button should stand out from the rest of your email and be clearly visible to a reader.
The sustainably crafted dinnerware brand Fable used a straight-forward CTA in a promotional email to drive subscribers toward a sale on its website.
Mejuri, an everyday fine jewelry brand, uses a fitting CTA to drive traffic to the gold collection on their website.
By tracking the click-through rates (CTR) on your CTA across emails, you can determine which messaging is effective and which offers subscribers find most compelling.
11. A/B test your content
One valuable feature within most email marketing platforms is the opportunity to experiment with your email content through A/B testing by sending out different versions of a single email.
Here’s how A/B testing works:
- One version of your email (A) is sent to a subset of your mailing list (e.g., 100/1,000 subscribers).
- Another version of your email (B) is sent to a different subset of your emailing list (e.g, 100/1,000 subscribers).
- After a period of time, one of the two emails “wins,” determined by performance based on metrics like open rate, click-through rate, or another variable you set within your email marketing platform.
- The winning version of the email is then sent to the remainder of your email list (e.g., 800/1,000 subscribers). This process can be automatic or manual.
With A/B testing you can compare different elements of your email sendout to see what performs best. Here’s a list of the different elements you can experiment with through an A/B test:
- Preview text
- CTA button
While A/B testing can be an effective strategy, developing multiple emails can be time intensive and unrealistic for a small business. To start, test simpler aspects of your emails, like headlines and preview text. As your email marketing strategy expands, consider testing other features of your emails too.
A/B testing is an email marketing best practice because it allows you to put your hypotheses to the test. If you suspect that a shorter email will perform better than a longer one, you can run the experiment. If you have a hunch that asking a question in a headline will yield a higher open rate than a statement, you can let your subscribers decide. A/B testing different elements of your emails over time will get you closer and closer to the winning formula that works best for your business. While email testing is valuable, ensure you’re measuring the right thing. While metrics like open rate and click-through rate are valuable to know, it’s even more important to know how effective your emails are in goals like converting customers to subscribers.
12. Use audience segmentation
One key advantage of email marketing, as compared to other marketing channels, is the ability to send tailored emails through audience segmentation that yield more targeted and granular campaigns.
By capturing important details about subscribers when they sign up, or creating different segments based on email or website activity, you can send relevant updates to different segments of your mailing list (e.g., four segments of 250 subscribers each) rather than sending broad emails to your entire list (e.g., one segment of 1,000 subscribers).
A small email study conducted by Mailchimp sampling 2,000 users who sent segmented campaigns found evidence that segmented campaigns are more effective than non-demented campaigns:
- 14.31% higher opens than non-segmented campaigns
- 100.95% higher clicks than non-segmented campaigns
- 9.37% lower subscribes than non-segmented campaigns
Here are a few different ways you might segment your email list:
- Based on provided demographic information like gender, age, or location. If you’re a clothing company that offers clothes for men and women, you can send different emails with product options and information for each segment.
- Based on expressed content interests. A furniture store that sells items for kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms can inquire what content a website visitor is interested in during the sign-up process.
- Based on requested email frequency. If you generate a lot of email content, you can ask subscribers at sign-up how often they want to receive your content and subsequently segment them into categories like “bi-weekly,” “weekly,” or “daily."
- Based on website activity. Depending on when an email subscriber last visited your website, or what they viewed while on site, you can send targeted reminders and prompts.
- Based on purchase history. Segment customers based on what they’ve bought, allowing you to send follow-ups for feedback or specific product-focused content.
- Based on email engagement. Email marketing platforms generally provide information on how subscribers engage with your emails, including opens and clicks, that can be used to create segments.
Many email marketing platforms make this process simple and automated. However, segmentation works best with a wealth of content, which can take time and energy to create. As you grow your business, and expand your email marketing strategy, you can make your email campaigns more granular and targeted over time.
13. Make your emails accessible
Blindness and visual impairments, like color blindness, are more common than you might think. With a few tweaks to your emails, you can make them more accessible to a broader range of readers who have visual limitations or view your content facilitated with an e-reader. While web accessibility (or a11y) is a broad subject, here are a handful of guidelines that will help make the emails you send accessible to the most people possible:
- Use image alt text. Add descriptive alt text to images.
- Use meaningful anchor text. Avoid using anchor text like “click here” when using hyperlinks; instead use descriptive text.
- Make your emails keyboard-only accessible. Test whether your email can be navigated with only a keyboard for readers who don’t use a mouse.
- Use dark fonts. Font colors like black and dark grey are generally the easiest to read.
- Use contrast. Try running your color selections within an email through an online contrast checker to ensure your content is easy to discern.
By following these guidelines, you can share information about your business that more subscribers can engage with.
14. Optimize for mobile
Since marketing emails are often drafted and edited on desktop computers, how an email appears on mobile can be an afterthought. It shouldn’t be––mobile clients account for 41.6% of email opens. Luckily, there’s an easy fix for this: test your email before you send it, checking how it renders on a mobile device.
Partake, a gluten-free, vegan, and allergy-friendly food company, creates vibrant emails that look great across devices.
Opt for email marketing platforms that have responsive design templates that look good across devices––from desktop to mobile to tablets.
15. Set a consistent cadence
Your email content is one thing, your email cadence is another. As part of your email marketing strategy, decide on the frequency and timing of your sendouts. This can feel like a complex task; there’s no shortage of data on how often you should send marketing emails and when. Yet, arguably, many of these differences in open rates and click-through rates based on cadence are relatively small.
- Frequency. MailerLite found that the median open rate was the highest for monthly sendouts, at 40.33%, and lowest for emails sent more than seven times a week, at 37.67%. On the other hand, monthly emails saw a median click-through rate of 14.29% while emails sent more than seven times a week saw a 16.67% click-through rate.
- Timing. Campaign Monitor found that Fridays had the best open rates, at 18.9%, while Saturday had the worst open rate, at 17.3%. Fridays also had the best click-through rate, at 2.7%, while Saturdays had the worst click-through rate, at 2.4%.
Ultimately, what performs best with your subscribers will be determined by a variety of factors, including your business offering and the industry you exist in. Campaign Monitor’s research ultimately found that the best open rate was only 9% better than the worst; focusing too much on timing is probably less important than other aspects of your emails you can test. As an email marketing best practice, prioritizing consistency will ultimately be the best way to find what yields the highest engagement from your subscribers.
16. Use analytics to drive your email marketing strategy
Use analytics to make data-driven decisions about your email marketing strategy. By paying attention to the email marketing metrics across campaigns, you can adjust your sendouts to better engage your readers. Here are a few metrics worth paying attention to:
- Open rate. The percentage of subscribers who open your email newsletter.
- Click-through rate (CTR). The percentage of subscribers who click on a link in your email newsletter after opening it.
- Unsubscribes. The percentage of subscribers who opt out of receiving your email newsletter after opening it.
Compare the analytics from your campaigns to email marketing benchmarks to see how you compare and whether there’s room for change and improvement. However, while it’s good to be aware of these numbers, avoid over-indexing on their importance. Ultimately, a good open rate or click-through rate is one that's better than what it was yesterday
17. Include share options for distribution
Set up your newsletter to spread by adding options that allow readers to share your emails. While readers can forward emails, you can also prompt subscribers to share sendouts with their friends, family, and followers using share options in your emails. Many email marketing platforms, like Mailchimp, allow you to enable the following share options:
- Campaign URL link
- Facebook share button
- Twitter share button
- LinkedIn share button
Enabling URL and social sharing can get your emails in front of a new audience, helping them to find your business and even promoting them to subscribe.
18. Use lead magnets for more subscribers
Lead magnets are an effective strategy to encourage website visitors to subscribe to your email list. A lead magnet is a free resource offered to someone in exchange for their contact details (e.g., email address, name, phone number, demographic details). For example, a business selling productivity journals could have a lead-magnet pop-up on its website, offering an annual planning PDF resource in exchange for an email address.
Encircled, a slow fashion brand focused on sustainable apparel, prompts website visitors to subscribe to their mailing list by asking them to answer a survey that sends them their fashion profile.
Here are a few type of lead magnets you can try:
- Ebook, white paper, or guide
- Email course
- Quiz results
Aside from helping grow your list, lead magnets allow you to provide value to someone from the very first email you send. This leaves subscribers with a positive first impression, letting you quickly build interest in your products and affinity for your brand. Additionally, the information you collect through a lead form can be used for email segmentation and providing subscribers with a tailored email marketing experience.
19. Regularly clean your email list
While growing a large list of email subscribers can be valuable, ultimately, subscriber count is a vanity metric: data points that appear impressive but don’t impact the bottom line of your business.
On the other hand, email marketing metrics like open-rate, click-through rate, and conversions are much more informative. For instance, a list of 5,000 subscribers with a click-through rate of 5% will drive more traffic to your website than a list of 10,000 subscribers with a click-through rate of 1%. Additionally, an engaged list can help your delivery rate by reducing any spam complaints or unsubscribes.
If a significant portion of your list has not engaged with your content for months, it’s worth either attempting to re-engage them or unsubscribing them from your list in order to maintain an engaged list.
- Re-engage inactive subscribers. Use the tools in your email marketing platform to identify inactive subscribers. From there, create a drip email re-engagement campaign or send an email requesting that they express interest in staying on the list.
- Remove subscribers from your list. Remove email subscribers that remain inactive after attempting to re-engage them, or subscribers who don’t respond to an expressed interest prompt.
As an added bonus, many email marketing platforms do volume pricing, charging you based on the number of subscribers you have. Regularly cleaning your list not only keeps your list engaged, but can help you save money that can be re-allocated to other parts of your business.
20. Make it easy to unsubscribe
Try as you might, not every subscriber on your mailing list will be excited, engaged, and energized by your emails. A percentage of your email list will unsubscribe, likely after the email you send. However, as previously discussed, your subscriber count is not the number you should be paying the most attention to. Having unengaged or uninterested readers leave your list is helpful in the long run. Avoid the following email unsubscribe tactics that prevent subscribers from leaving your mailing list:
- Having no Unsubscribe button. Not only is this against anti-spam policies like GDPR, it’s irritating to subscribers and hurts your brand.
- Hiding the unsubscribe button. Avoid black-hat marketing tactics like having the unsubscribe link in white, making it harder to detect.
- Asking people to email you to unsubscribe. Unsubscribing from an email list should be as easy as one to two clicks. Do not ask subscribers to opt-out of a list by sending you an email.
- Asking for feedback before unsubscribing them. Answering a survey should not be a condition of unsubscribing from a mailing list. While it’s perfectly fine to ask readers why they’re leaving, this should be optional and come after a subscriber has been removed from your list.
If opting in to an email list is someone saying “yes” to permission marketing, someone opting out is saying “no.” You should make this process as easy as possible, with a clear Unsubscribe button in the footer of every email you send to stay in compliance with the law and leave a good last impression.
Build an email strategy that turns subscribers into sales
Following what might seem like an endless number of email marketing best practices feels daunting at first. But as you solidify your email marketing strategy, many of these best practices will become second nature. You’ll instinctively opt to structure your email in a way that’s skimmable and impulsively check your email campaign analytics, mining for insights to inform your next sendout.
Putting these practices into use will improve the emails you send subscribers, making readers more willing to get to the end of your message or click to your website. By approaching email marketing with intention, every sendout is an opportunity to turn an email to an inbox into interest in your business.