Email Marketing Best Practices

You get a ton of email on a daily basis. And how much do you delete without ever opening? Based on my own experience: a lot.

So what can we, as marketers, do? How can we maximize the number of our emails that get opened, as well as the results those emails get once they’re open? Read on to find out.

The Basics

There are some basic things that apply regardless of what the purpose of your marketing emails is. Keep these things in mind when you’re creating your emails and you’ll almost certainly get a higher response rate.

Always Require an Opt-In

People get so much spam these days that it pretty much immediately gives email recipients a bad impression of your company. That’s not productive. And honestly, most email recipients won’t even open an email from someone they don’t recognize.

Whether you decide to go for a single opt-in or a double opt-in system, make sure that those on your email list have indicated that they want to receive emails from you.

Always Offer an Unsubscribe Option

This is vital for commercial emails (and required by law in some areas). Make sure that if your subscribers decide they don’t want to subscribe any longer that they can easily do so. A simple text link in the footer area of your email is sufficient, and most email users expect to find an unsubscribe link there.


Keep Your Emails Short

People are busy. We don’t have time to read emails that resemble novels (or even short stories). You want a few paragraphs, with a few sentences each. If a recipient opens your email and sees a huge block of text staring back at them, they’re more likely to just close your email and delete it or decide to come back to it later (and who knows if they actually will).

Longer emails work in some cases, such as if you have a fanbase hungry to read every email you send. In most other cases, short emails get read and the longer ones get archived.

Make Sure You’re Adding Value

Whatever emails you send, make sure that they’re offering something of value to the recipient. This could be news, information, an offer, or something else that they’ll find useful and interesting.

If your emails do nothing for your recipients, then they’re way more likely to unsubscribe. You need to make sure that your subscribers want to keep getting your emails, and that means they have to be getting something out of them.

Be Wary of Images

Image-heavy marketing emails are popular. But at the same time, most email clients won’t load images by default. That means that your recipients are essentially getting a broken message when they open your email.

Some companies are using this creatively to their advantage, but for the most part, it’s not a good thing for your subscribers to see an essentially blank message with alternate text instead of images. So think carefully about whether the benefits of using images in your emails outweigh the downsides.

You shouldn’t avoid images altogether, but use them sparingly.



This shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s all too common to see emails with typos and spelling mistakes. Even though typos and mistakes happen to everyone, it still comes across as unprofessional. Make sure that your emails have been proofread by more than one person before you send them out.

Types of Marketing Emails

There are a few different kinds of emails you might send for marketing purposes. There are sales emails, customer retention emails, and emails to get customers back. All share a lot of similarities, as well as some key differences.

Emails to Get More Sales

One of the most common email marketing campaign purposes is to get new customers, or more sales from existing customers. One of the great things about most email marketing campaigns is the fact that the people you’re emailing have already opted in to receive your emails. That means you’ve already overcome the biggest hurdle to gaining their business.

Sales emails need to build trust with your recipients, so they feel comfortable doing business with your company. That means you have to make sure that your message doesn’t come across as too “salesy” or pushy.

Emails to Retain Customers

Customer retention emails are more often informational than sales-driven. There might be an offer for existing customers included, but here the main goal is to keep your existing customers happy. That means giving them information that makes their experience with your products or services better.

Your customer retention emails should be crafted to build a better relationship with your existing customers. Give them something of value, make them want to keep doing business with you, and build on the trust you’ve already established.

Emails to Get Customers Back

We all lose customers at one point or another. Maybe they no longer have a need for what you’re selling, or they’ve moved over to one of your competitors. In any case, a well-crafted email can draw them back to your offerings.

Emails to get customers back need to rebuild any trust that might have been lost, while also providing an enticing offer. This kind of email needs to combine the strengths of a sales email and a retention email, while also going beyond both.

Crafting Your Email’s Content

The content of your email will vary a bit based on what your goal for the email is. But there are a lot of commonalities between the different kinds of emails. And of course the basic format of an email is going to be largely the same regardless of what its purpose is.

Every email you send is going to have certain things in common: a recipient, a subject line, and some content. Using each to your advantage is important.

Subject Line

A good subject line is vital to getting your email opened. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s the first step in delivering your marketing message.

A good subject line does a few things.

  1. It catches the attention of the recipient.
  2. It makes the recipient want to open the email.
  3. It doesn’t mislead or try to trick the recipient.
  4. It creates an appropriate sense of urgency.

Getting your recipient’s attention is first and foremost. Most people get a lot of emails during the average day. Anywhere from dozens to hundreds (or more). Your email needs to stand out among the noise, which means it needs to catch their eye. This can be done through the use of capital letters, certain keywords, personalization, and similar tactics.

Some of you might be afraid of triggering spam filters by using certain techniques like those mentioned above, but the truth is that most spam filters use a cumulative points system for flagging email, which means using one or two (or even three) of these things isn’t going to get your message flagged as spam. What’s even more important is your sender reputation and engagement metrics.

Once you’ve got their attention, you need to get them to actually want to open the email. That means there has to be something enticing in the subject, while at the same time ensuring there’s nothing in there that’s going to deter them.

What those two things are is going to largely depend on the purpose of your email and what you’re message is.

The last thing you need to be wary of is misleading or disingenuous subject lines. There’s nothing worse than opening an email expecting one thing and getting something completely different. It breeds mistrust among your recipients, and is more likely to lead them to unsubscribe.

An appropriate sense of urgency is a necessary part of your subject line. For a sales email, you want the recipient to open the email immediately. But for other types of marketing emails, a sense of urgency might not be as important. Make sure that you consider how urgent your email needs to sound.

Keep in mind that subject lines have been growing shorter recently, too, partly due to the increase in mobile device email access. That means you have even fewer words to accomplish what’s been outlined above.

Message Preview

Since a lot of people are now using mobile devices to check their email (many times instead of or at least more often than they’re checking on their computer), the way emails are displayed is a little bit different than it used to be. Now, in addition to showing the sender and subject line, the first few lines of message text (generally 100 characters or so) are also shown in a lot of mobile email clients.


What this means is that your subject line and your first few lines of text need to complement each other without repeating the same message. The first few lines should be a continuation of the message started in the subject, while also being able to stand on its own (in case your recipient hasn’t paid much attention to the subject line).

Content Guidelines

The good news about this section is that you’ve presumably already overcome the biggest hurdle: getting your email opened. The content is there to get them to take the next step and respond to your call-to-action.

The first thing is to keep your content short. It should be a few short paragraphs, set up in a way that makes it easy to scan.

Make sure that you have a clear call-to-action, and preferably only one per message, especially in sales emails.

Make sure that you comply with all of the anti-spam laws in your area. It’s generally a good idea to make sure that you include full contact information, not just because of spam laws, but also because it builds trust.

In sales emails, it’s generally a good idea to avoid relying on images for your message. It’s different with customer retention emails, as you already have a relationship and a base level of trust that means your recipient is more likely to load images in the email. But a sales email presumably doesn’t have that same baseline of trust. So make sure that your message will hold up whether images are loaded or not.

In customer retention emails (or things like newsletters), multiple navigation links are actually favored over a single call to action. You want to appeal to the widest number of recipients and increase your click-throughs to further engage with your customers. So link to multiple things of interest, rather than just using a single call-to-action.

Personalization can work for or against you, depending on how well it’s done. Using full names is usually a bad idea. It instantly screams “auto-fill”, which is a turn-off to readers. Personalizing with a last name is difficult, as you never know whether you’re addressing a male or female recipient (and first names are not always indicative). Personalizing with a first name works in a lot of cases where formality isn’t important. And usernames of course can also be a good way to personalize in an informal email.

Whether you choose to personalize or not is a tough decision. If you do, make sure you either use first names or usernames for the best results. And whatever you do, don’t personalize based on the recipient’s email address.

Email Design

In its most basic form, a marketing email can be a text-only document, no different from the hundreds of other emails we send and receive on a daily basis. But on the other end of the spectrum are highly designed emails that resemble simplified web pages more than traditional emails.

Here are some guidelines for designing those second types of emails.

  1. Keep your message width between 500 and 650 pixels. 600 pixels has been shown to be the most optimal width.
  2. Graphics should be used to support your message content, rather than being your message content.
  3. Avoid background images with text on top, as not all email clients will keep them, and even those that do may not format your text properly, making the message unreadable.
  4. Make sure that any images you do use have alternate text and a background color so that if they don’t load, the message isn’t entirely lost.
  5. Use web-safe fonts (arial, courier new, georgia, impact, tahoma, times new roman, and verdana). Make sure if you use an alternate web font that you specify a web-safe fallback font.
  6. Don’t embed multimedia content. Instead, link a still image in the email to the content on the web.

It’s a good idea to test your email designs to see which ones perform better. A/B and multivariate testing is an invaluable tool in designing any kind of marketing material, regardless of the format.

The Need for Mobile-Friendly Emails

More and more people are checking their email primarily from their smartphones these days. That means that your marketing emails need to be mobile-friendly. If your subscribers can’t see your email in a way that’s readable on their phone or other mobile device, there’s not much chance your email will reach them at all.

Responsive email design (where the design adapts to the size of the screen the email is being viewed on) is a fairly new discipline, but it’s one that is gaining popularity alongside responsive web design. With plain text emails it’s not necessary, as they’re responsive by nature, but with HTML emails, it’s something to keep in mind.


You now have the basics on what you should be doing to maximize the success of your marketing emails. Following these guidelines will help improve your chances at email marketing success.