Email marketing

Email marketing best practice


Before you begin planning your email marketing campaigns it is worth taking the time to consider your target audience, what your objective is and how you will measure your results. There are a number of important elements that contribute to a successful email marketing campaign.

Cleanse your marketing lists

When it comes to email marketing the quality of your marketing lists is much more important than quantity. To maximise the quality of your email marketing lists it is best practice to cleanse your marketing lists on a regular basis. For example, to ensure that only people that engage with your emails continue to receive them you could look at your list every 12 months and remove those people in your list that haven't opened your emails in the last year. This would also help you comply with the retention principle of UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR), namely that you retain the individual's personal data for no longer than necessary. 

Email deliverability

You should take steps to ensure your email message will be accepted by email service providers such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. If you notice problems with your deliverability, check that you are not on a blacklist. You should prompt your customers to add you to their safe senders list or address book within your email message. Your email marketing software provider is responsible for making sure its email technology is up-to date and compliant with today's legal requirements. A responsible email provider will also be able to handle bounce codes, feedback loops and connection optimisation. 

Email from-address

To increase deliverability and consistency with branding consider using a sub-domain of your website to send your emails from e.g. if your web domain is your email sub-domain could be It is advisable to use a from-address alias so the customer immediately recognises who your email is from e.g. John's Café. Avoid 'no reply' prefixes, it is good customer service to monitor the inbox for responses from your email marketing campaigns. . 

As part of the regulations on electronic mail marketing you must not disguise or conceal your identity.

Avoid spam words

For each email marketing campaign there should be a process to check the spam score for your email message e.g. you should avoid words and characters like free, cash, £££s or exclamation marks. You should avoid writing in capital letters. Ensure there are no spelling mistakes in your subject lines and the main body of your email messages.  A quick search on the internet for 'spam words to avoid in email marketing' should give you an up-to-date list of spam words that it is best practice to avoid in your email communications. Most email marketing software will enable you to scan your email template prior to sending, giving your email a spam rating and flagging spam issues that should be rectified before you send.

Effective email subject lines

The subject line will determine the open rate for your email marketing campaign. It is useful to think of the subject line as the shop window trying to encourage the customer to enter the shop. If your subject line is engaging and relevant to your customer they will be encouraged to open your email, try to invoke the customer's curiosity e.g. Exclusive deal inside for you.

Keep your subject lines short i.e. around 50 characters or less. Avoid the temptation to include details of everything that is in your email within your subject line. Subject lines that are too long will be truncated so the recipient won't see all the added detail anyway. It is best practice to highlight content that will pique the interest of the recipient and entice them to open your email. Get to the point by front-loading your subject line with important words that you think will attract the customer's attention. 

You could personalise your subject line by including the recipient's name, organisation or details of a previous purchase, but don't overdo it. You can also increase open rates by creating a sense of urgency and offering an incentive e.g. "Your 20% discount on perfume ends midnight tonight". It is a good idea to test your subject line to see what works best for your email campaigns e.g. split testing two different subject lines. Good email marketing software will easily enable you to A/B test two different subject lines on a proportion of your marketing list. The subject line that gets the most opens over a set period of time will be sent to the remainder of your marketing list.

Preheader text

Customer opens can also be encouraged by adding preheader text to your email, something that can often be underused by email marketers. This is the text that appears just below the subject line in the email inbox. It should elaborate on the subject line and not repeat it. Keep your preheader text short so that it displays across different devices and is not cut off - something between 50 and 100 characters is ideal.

Example of subject line and preheader text

From               Subject
John's Café    Waffle Wednesdays - Buy 1 Get 1 Free
Treat a friend or family member to a waffle on us when you buy one every Wednesday

Email content - increase clicks

Once a customer has opened your email whether they are compelled to click on your links will be determined by the quality of your message, content in your email and relevance to them. There are a number of factors to consider including design layout, email header, call-to-action and images. Read more about creating engaging content for your email marketing.

Unsubscribe link

Remember that you're legally required to give recipients the opportunity to stop receiving your email marketing messages. You must have an 'unsubscribe' or 'opt-out' option on every email edition you send out.

When should I send my email?

When customers sign up to your email marketing be upfront as to the type and frequency of your email messages so they know what to expect and when. You should aim to send your emails at a time that they are likely to open them. This is unique to all businesses so the only way to work out the best time of day and best day of the week to send your emails is to test, analyse the results and test again eg you could A/B split test your email by sending out on a Monday and a Wednesday and see which generates more engagement - when doing this be sure to send the same email and use the exact same subject line so that you are only testing the effectiveness of the day sent and not the email copy.

Test your emails to get it right

There is no magic bullet for getting email marketing right. The best way to make your email marketing successful is to test and analyse the results and retest. By using A/B testing, you can determine the most effective email subject lines, best design elements, email copy and best time of the day or day of the week to send your email. However make sure you are only testing one element at a time as changing too many factors at once will skew your test results and you will not know which factor or factors made the impact. See measure performance and improve your email marketing campaigns