120 rules for doing email marketing by the book

Email marketing is a strong and trusted channel. Going hand-in-hand with that, a well-established channel should have well-defined norms and behaviors, best practice guidelines and Imperatives. But where to start if we want to do it by the book?

120 email marketing rules to live by

Chad White, breaks down email marketing into 120 easy-to-understand rules in Part 1 of his book Email Marketing Rules in which of course he goes into much more detail about each rule as well as go into key email marketing principles and the future of the channel.

So following these rules you can actually do email marketing “by the book”

Fundamental Email Imperatives.

These first 11 rules should be followed to the letter.

  1. Follow the law, but recognize that doing so gives you no protection from spam complaints or other negative reactions.
  2. Make sure consumers are aware that you are adding them to your email list.
  3. Never make an email opt-in mandatory for a customer interaction.
  4. Treat new subscriptions as conditional on the subscriber engaging with your emails.
  5. Make unsubscribing easy, taking no more than two clicks, and honor opt-out requests immediately.
  6. Accept that permission expires when a subscriber hasn’t engaged with your emails in a long time.
  7. Accept that permission grants are limited to the email address offered, even if you know one of their other addresses.
  8. Accept that securing an opt-in to another channel doesn’t constitute permission to reach a consumer via email, too.
  9. Don’t share email addresses with other brands within your company.
  10. Don’t buy email lists or barter for email addresses.
  11. When renting an email list, the list owner should never share the list with the renter.

Practical Email Marketing Guidelines

The remaining 109 rules are the Practice Guidelines. How these rules are executed upon will vary as each company seeks the best execution for their brand.

  1. Focus on maximizing the value of a subscriber, not on maximizing the results of a campaign.
  2. Measure your negative performance metrics, not just your positive ones.
  3. View email performance by subscriber segments, paying close attention to how your most valuable subscribers react.
  4. Recognize that many of the actions prompted by emails are not easily trackable or measurable.
  5. Don’t attach too much meaning to your open rates.
  6. Benchmark yourself primarily against yourself.
  7. Use an email service provider to send your commercial email.
  8. Accept that ESPs have relatively little control over the deliverability of your emails.
  9. Use email authentication and send from a domain you control.
  10. Keep your spam complaint rate under 0.1%, preferably well under.
  11. Don’t obsess over content filtering when writing subject lines and creating email content.
  12. Avoid overreacting to the introduction of new inbox organization tools and services.
  13. Don’t add role-based email addresses to your email list.
  14. Use confirmed opt-in to protect yourself from low-quality email acquisition sources.
  15. Recognize that not all subscribers are equally valuable or desirable.
  16. Focus on adding engaged subscribers to your list.
  17. Recognize that the best email acquisition sources are closest to your shopping and customer service operations.
  18. Don’t force people to register as a customer in order to receive promotional emails from you.
  19. Make your email signup forms and links prominent to boost their performance.
  20. Tell consumers why they should sign up to receive your emails.
  21. Avoid using overly rich signup incentives because they can attract low-quality subscribers.
  22. Deliver email signup incentives to the email address provided.
  23. Set expectations regarding how many emails you’ll be sending subscribers and what content will be in them.
  24. Keep your email signup forms short and simple, and collect additional information after signups.
  25. Recognize that requiring email subscribers to share additional contact information lowers signups significantly.
  26. Only ask subscribers for information you will use.
  27. Explain to subscribers how sharing additional information with you will benefit them.
  28. When profiling subscribers, ask them questions that lead you to a clear response.
  29. Routinely audit your preference center and acquisition sources to make sure they are up to date and working properly.
  30. Use the signup confirmation page as a “pre-welcome message” to continue to engage new subscribers.
  31. Send a welcome email immediately after signup.
  32. Send a series of welcome emails to inform and engage new subscribers.
  33. Message new subscribers differently depending on their acquisition source and customer history.
  34. Include an unsubscribe link in your welcome emails.
  35. Fulfill subscriptions quickly after sending your welcome email(s).
  36. Pay special attention to subscribers during their first weeks on your list, as this is when they are most engaged.
  37. Use a recognizable and consistent sender name for your emails.
  38. Keep your subject lines short but still coherent and descriptive.
  39. Recognize that an unopened email delivers a brand impression and call-to-action through its sender name and subject line.
  40. Measure the success of a subject line by how well it drives clicks and conversions.
  41. Use snippet text like a “second subject line” to support and extend your subject line.
  42. Use a single, flexible email template for all your routine promotional emails.
  43. Design your emails to render well and function properly across a wide range of platforms and devices.
  44. Design your emails so they convey their message even when images are blocked.
  45. Design your emails with a clear content hierarchy so they can be easily scanned by subscribers.
  46. Design your email content so it can be viewed in screen-sized chunks.
  47. Pay extra attention to the top portion of your email that appears above the fold and ensure it’s well-branded.
  48. Design your emails so they are harmonious with, but don’t exactly mirror, your website’s design.
  49. Create an email content calendar to aid in resource allocation and content and design planning.
  50. Provide context for products featured in your emails.
  51. Give your customers and other people a voice in your emails.
  52. Offer subscribers non-promotional calls-to-action.
  53. Use faster channels to help determine the content of your emails.
  54. Make your calls-to-action clear in language and positioning.
  55. Offer subscribers many paths to click through from an email.
  56. Don’t limit your email calls-to-action to online only.
  57. Keep the weight of your emails reasonable to avoid long load times and deliverability issues.
  58. Do not include attachments on your commercial emails.
  59. Use motion selectively in emails to engage subscribers.
  60. Don’t include sound effects or auto-play videos with sound enabled by default in your emails.
  61. Don’t avoid creating long emails because you think subscribers won’t scroll.
  62. Don’t expect subscribers to scroll back to the top of your emails.
  63. Include links to your social media pages and your mobile app in your emails.
  64. Don’t place anything important after your footer copy because subscribers are unlikely to see it.
  65. Use a consistent email design, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it occasionally.
  66. Keep a swipe file of your most successful email campaigns and components to inspire future campaigns.
  67. Signal the arrival of the holiday season and other seasonal events by altering your email designs.
  68. Make your opt-in forms, welcome emails, and other email marketing components seasonally relevant.
  69. Send subscribers more email when they are in the market or otherwise predisposed to take action.
  70. Message your subscribers differently during the holiday season.
  71. Recognize that once-a-year gift-buying makes subscribers’ interests less predictable during the holiday season.
  72. Recognize that what subscribers do is more important than what they say.
  73. Send subscribers some segmented messages based on their expressed and implied preferences.
  74. Use dynamic content and personalization to add targeted content to emails.
  75. When personalizing content, have a good default set up for when you don’t have data for a particular subscriber.
  76. Avoid misleading uses of personalization that suggest an email’s content is deeply personalized when it is not.
  77. Optimize the delivery time of your emails to increase their visibility in the inbox.
  78. Include promotional, seasonal, and service content in your transactional emails.
  79. Address moments that matter by creating a variety of triggered emails that boost sales and improve customer service.
  80. When using behavior triggers, be careful not to cannibalize natural behaviors.
  81. Be careful not to come across like Big Brother when using behavior triggers and personalization.
  82. Avoid offering special incentives in messages triggered by a non-purchase.
  83. Place a cap on triggered email volume and establish a messaging hierarchy.
  84. Keep an inventory of your triggered email programs and regularly schedule time to update and fine-tune them.
  85. Use segmentation, triggered emails, and other tactics to send your most engaged subscribers more email.
  86. Define inactive subscribers by their email behaviors, but also consider their customer behaviors.
  87. Send your inactive subscribers different messaging at a lower frequency.
  88. Send a series of re-permission emails before you remove a chronically inactive subscriber from your email list.
  89. Design your landing pages so they look good and function well across a wide range of platforms and devices.
  90. Use language and images from the email on the landing page to create a smooth transition from email to landing page.
  91. Use landing pages that minimize the number of clicks it takes for subscribers to convert.
  92. Don’t make subscribers hunt for the items featured in your emails.
  93. Design well-branded landing pages and email administration pages that offer a clear path forward.
  94. Don’t remove a landing page too quickly without providing an alternative.
  95. Create a pre-send checklist to reduce the possibility of making a serious mistake.
  96. Don’t draw undue attention to email mistakes by overreacting.
  97. Take steps to reduce the impact of email marketing mistakes when they are discovered quickly.
  98. Have an apology email drafted but only send it, or resend an email, in the case of a very serious error.
  99. Recognize that list growth can also be boosted by reducing unsubscribes.
  100. Clearly identify the subscriber on the opt-out page and in the preference center.
  101. Give subscribers options in addition to completely opting out.
  102. Be gracious as subscribers opt out to avoid brand damage.
  103. Confirm an unsubscribe request via the channel through which it was requested.
  104. Routinely audit your opt-out processes to make sure they are working properly.
  105. Use your email metrics to identify areas for improvement and future testing.
  106. Create a calendar or list of tests to run so you can methodically build on your findings.
  107. Perform tests on groups of active, unbiased subscribers.
  108. Make sure the results of your email tests are statistically significant.
  109. Challenge your new champions in order to verify gains and uncover new gains.

A big thanks to Chad for sharing these. The last rule I would like to add for each marketer is to go over to Chads’ blog and subscribe to his newsletter.

Recommended reading:
Find the best email marketing services for small businesses here.
Check out Firstsiteguide for additional blogging tips.

Jordie van Rijn

Jordie van Rijn is an independent email marketing consultant. He specializes in smart email marketing, event-driven campaigns and email tool selection. As a consultant, Jordie will help you get the most out of your email marketing efforts.