Email best practice is dead, long live best practice

There is plenty of best practice published for email marketing, from blog posts to books, whitepapers and more.

However not all best practice is created equal and I’m looking at email creative best practice in particular. When should it be followed and when should you consider ignoring it or doing the opposite?

Let’s start with a few examples of commonly seen and published best practice.

  • Subject lines should be below 70 characters in length.
  • Short emails work better. Reduce your email content and length.
  • Emails should be a maximum of 700 pixels wide.
  • Include the first name in the subject line.
  • Don’t include the first name in the subject line.
  • Use your brand in the from name.
  • Use competitions to encourage engagement.
  • Avoid the word free in subject lines.
  • Send campaigns Tuesday to Thursday.
  • Don’t send campaigns during lunchtime.

Best practice? In tests I’ve seen all of the above ignored at one time or another and great campaign results still produced.

For example, short subject lines are intended to work by allowing quick evaluation and getting the customer to open to find out more. However short subject lines can lead to poor qualification of which customers open and whilst opens look good clicks or conversions are hit. Short is often good but it’s not wrong to use long subject lines too.

Keeping the email width to 700 pixels is intended to avoid left to right scrolling as we are more used to vertical scrolling of documents. Almost every email follows this best practice rule. However, there have been a clutch of super wide side scrolling emails of late, Hugo Boss and Selfridges are examples sending several. These emails are getting engagement and being interesting by being different. They are deliberately doing the opposite to everyone else.

Putting a first name in the subject line worked when it was different. If you use it every time your list will become numb to it.

This is very Purple Cow like, as Seth Godin says in his book, be remarkable. What works now won’t always work in the future, as it becomes commonplace and boring.

So don’t be a slave to best practice that is more tips than best practice. To get your message across you may need to be different, be contrary, be bold and standout. And of course run split tests to evaluate.

There are other types of best practice that shouldn’t be ignored. Simple points such as test to ensure your email displays correctly in email clients, be legal, have clarity of opt-in to ensure low complaints and high deliverability, don’t purchase lists. These really are hard rules and being contrary to this foolhardy.

A good email has to answer the questions that the customer has. To engage and start the conversation think about how these questions are answered by your creative and campaign

  1. Do I know the person/company sending this email?
  2. What’s this email about?
  3. Why should I read it, what is it offering me?
  4. Does this have value for me?
  5. What action is it asking me to take?

So obey the immutable best practice and for the rest consider if it will help you stand out and ensure the above questions are answered as quickly and as clearly as possible.

Long live best practice!

Tim is the Operations Director at smartFOCUS. For Digital marketing tweets follow him on Twitter: @tawatson.

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Tim Watson

About Tim Watson

Tim Watson has over 8 years experience in B2B and B2C Digital Marketing, helping blue chip brands with successful email marketing.

He is an elected member of the UK DMA Email Council, supporting the email marketing industry. Tim Chairs the Legal and Best Practice hub of the Email Council, authoring and reviewing DMA whitepapers and best practice documentation. He is also a frequent speaker and blogger on emerging email marketing trends.

Tim works as an independent email marketing consultant providing strategic support to email marketing teams.