15 Tenets of Proper Email Marketing Etiquette

Pamela Vaughan
Pamela Vaughan



handshakeThe ultimate vision for inbound marketers is to "make marketing that people love." Rather than annoying and interrupting prospective customers with unsolicited and pushy messages, inbound marketing strategies are based on permission. And if inbound marketing is permission-based, marketers should be sure they're practicing proper etiquette in their inbound efforts. This is particularly important in email marketing which, when executed poorly, can ride a fine line between pushy, outbound behavior and permissive, inbound behavior.

Are you following the proper inbound etiquette in your email marketing communications? To make sure you are, check out and always adhere to the following principles of proper email marketing etiquette.

The Principles of Proper Email Marketing Etiquette

1. Obtain permission first. This is definitely the single most important rule of proper email marketing etiquette; failing to adhere to it is not only a violation of etiquette, it's a violation of the law. After all, permission-based marketing needs to have permission, right? Make sure every contact in your database has opted in to receive email communication from you. And if a contact has only opted in to receive a certain type of communication, such as new blog posts, don't add them to other segments of your list that have opted in to receive other communications like product updates.

2. Don't purchase contacts for your database. While purchasing lists for your email database is not against the law since those contacts have opted in (if you're purchasing from a credible vendor, that is), doing so is definitely not an email marketing best practice. While those contacts may have opted in to receive communications, they didn't specifically choose to receive email communications from you. Purchasing lists and sending those contacts emails will results in confused and unqualified email recipients. Don't waste your money; build your list organically.

3. Don't spam your list. Although our Science of Email Marketing research revealed that sending more email doesn't result in a significant drop in click-through rates, there is a fine line between sending enough email messages and spamming your list. The best way to determine which side of the line you're on is to do some testing to determine your optimal email sending frequency.

4. Don't over-automate. Executed carefully, marketing automation can be a helpful way to maximize the impact of your email marketing program. That being said, the key words there were "executed carefully." Don't automate your efforts so much that you're violating our previous etiquette rule and spamming your recipients. Balance automated messages with non-automated messages, and be sure you're either excluding or cutting back on non-automated emails to leads who are already being nurtured by behavior-driven automated campaigns

5. Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe. According to CAN-SPAM laws, every email you send needs to provide recipients with an option to unsubscribe. Since this is not only a matter of etiquette but also a matter of the law, you should also make it as easy for users to unsubscribe as possible. To save potential unsubscribers, offer an option on your opt-out form for them to opt-in to a different type of email communication from you instead, such as your newsletter rather than your product updates. This can save the unsubscribe and also show contacts you respect their individual needs.

6. Honor unsubscribes. If a user has decided to unsubscribe, honor their request, and remove them from your list as soon as possible. Again, this is a provision of the law, but doing so in a timely manner will also ensure you uphold a positive brand image.

7. Scrub your list regularly. Understanding the difference between hard and soft bounces and acting accordingly can help you maintain a clean email database and execute accurate reporting. While soft bounces indicate only temporary deliverability problems, hard bounces mean permanent deliverability problems (e.g. an invalid email address), and those addresses should be removed from your email list.

8. Re-awaken inactive subscribers. Be respectful of inactive subscribers on your list. If a recipient hasn't opened or clicked on your emails in a long period of time, it's likely that they're no longer engaged. Send these contacts a re-awaken email asking if they'd like to unsubscribe from your list or subscribe to a different type of email communication you send. This not only shows recipients you're paying attention and don't want to keep bombarding them with irrelevant information, but it will also help you prevent uninterested contacts from lazily marking your email as spam instead of unsubscribing, which will damage the deliverability rate of your email campaigns overall.

9. Personalize and segment your communications. Intelligent email marketers understand the importance of both personalization and segmentation in their email sends. Personalize your email by sending it from a real person in your company and using the recipient's real name in the email's greeting. In addition, slice and dice your database into different segments depending on their varying interests, demographic information, or industry. Send different segments targeted information and content that appeals to their specific problems and needs. This will make your emails even more tailored and valuable to your recipients.

10. Direct the "Reply to:" address to a real person. Email is inherently a form of two-way communication. Respect that. If your recipients feel the need to reply to one of your emails, enable them to reply to an actual person in your marketing department. The "Reply to:" address should be sent to someone's name and personal email address, not a general 'marketing@company.com' address.

11. Use HTML wisely. It's totally cool (and smart) if you want to make your emails look a little bit prettier and better formatted than simply plain text. Just don't go overboard, or you'll annoy your recipients. Stick with design treatments like bold text, headers, bulleted lists, anchor text, and an image. Don't muck up your email with Flash and javascript.

12. Offer a plain text version. While it's totally acceptable to spice up your emails with HTML, always offer an unformatted, plain text version, as well. Because not all email clients know how to properly render HTML, offering the option of plain text viewing will enable those recipients to read your email regardless.

13. Make sure emails are mobile-friendly. It's no longer enough to make sure your emails are readable in multiple email clients. According to a recent email marketing report from Return Path, email opens on mobile devices increased by 34% from April 2011 through September 2011 as compared to the previous 6 month period. And of those mobile email viewers, 43% check their email 4 or more times per day, according to Markle. As mobile usage continues to increase, you need to make sure your emails can be easily read on such devices as smartphones and tablets, too. Take the necessary steps to optimize your emails for mobile devices. (Good news for HubSpot customers: The HubSpot software automatically mobile-optimizes your emails for you!)

14. Leave out SPAM trigger words. Including SPAM trigger words in your email's subject line will not only make your email sound spammy to readers and discourage them from opening it, but it will also run you the risk of bypassing recipients' inboxes and landing straight in their SPAM boxes instead. To ensure you're not incorporating any of these SPAM trigger words, bookmark and consult this exhaustive list.

15. Proof/test all email content before you click "send." Face it: we're only human. And humans make mistakes. Hey, even The New York Times recently dealt with the ill-effects of some careless email marketing after sending an email that was meant for just a few hundred recipients to 8.6 million people. Don't let such a faux pas happen to you. Ask a colleague to proof every email you are about to send for grammar, spelling, formatting, and broken links. And always double check that the segment of the list you're about to email is actually the right segment, lest you pull a New York Times.

What other important email marketing etiquette principles do you stick to?

Image Credit: buddawiggi

Download the Science of Email Marketing 2014 report.

Related Articles

We're committed to your privacy. HubSpot uses the information you provide to us to contact you about our relevant content, products, and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For more information, check out our Privacy Policy.

Outline your company's marketing strategy in one simple, coherent plan.