Federal regulation called CAN-SPAM exists to govern the way in which you can legitimately conduct email marketing. Best practice also states that you should try to get the recipient to give you their permission to receive your emails ("opting-in"), but even those who give you permission may not remember who you are if you don't email them soon after the opt-in. Taking your recipients for granted with any of these circumstances can, at very least, lead to an instant deletion of your email but at worst can lead to them reporting you as a spammer, which will hurt your chances to succeed at email marketing at all. You can't do email marketing if you're blacklisted by major ISPs or spam filters.
2. Avoid poor, obtuse, and misspelled subject lines.
Your email subject line is the most important element of your email marketing piece--a great subject line can ensure more people open your email. If your email gets open, you're at least on the way to helping your marketing efforts. On the other hand, a bad subject line severely diminishes your response rates. Trying to be too clever or not obvious enough might mean few recipients even open your emails.
3. Avoid unrecognized or unbranded senders.
Recently, I received an email about a company's news but with a woman's name in the sender field. I just happened to know this woman from 12 years ago. Were she the president of the company the email was coming from, it might have made sense, but she was not and there was no reason I would have correlated her name with the email subject line. It would have been more sensible if the email came from the company owner or the company brand name than from this otherwise unknown individual.
4. Don't rely on attachments to deliver your content.
I'm betting you've received promotional flyers and event invitations only as PDF attachments in email. That's a huge email marketing no-no. Attachments can be blocked by spam filters or can cause suspicion in recipients wary of opening files from unknown/untrusted sources. Furthermore, attachments require recipients to take an extra step (downloading and opening your file) to even see what you're promoting. Why make it harder to get your message across?
5. Avoid jargon-filled body copy.
Don't assume that your email recipient understands all the fancy internal vernacular you use to describe your products or services. Stick to the K.I.S.S. method of copywriting and double-check your message with an outside colleague or friend to be sure she understands what you're trying to say. (This person can also be a second set of eyes for proof-reading purposes)
6. Don't promote an event but requiring a click-through to get the basics.
Email can be quite effective at driving event registration, but don't force your recipient to click a link just to learn when, where, and for how long your event will last--put all of that important information directly into your email.
7. No or too few calls to action.
Just as with any other marketing or advertising, your email needs to have not just one, but multiple calls-to-action distributed throughout your message and in different forms (text, images, links).
8. Lack of tracking.
These days it's super-easy to get detailed tracking on your email marketing. Either use customized URLs you can track through your website analytics or better still an email list management and delivery system ("ASPs"). Solutions like Constant Contact, WhatCounts, AWeber, Responsys or SilverPop not only allow you to track and measure your email campaigns but also to manage your unsubscribes, deliver additional functionality, and conduct campaign analysis.
9. Segment your email list.
One of the additional benefits of using email ASPs is that they easily enable you to categorize and segment names on your email list so you can send different messages to different segments. Doing so makes your delivery more relevant and more likely to generate you better response rates while reducing your unsubscribes.
10. Don't over-deliver.
Speaking of unsubscribes, one of the most common causes for someone unsubscribing is delivering too many emails to any single recipient. The right frequency of email deliveries varies by company and target audience, but it's important to review your campaign statistics to help determine what's right for you.
11. Don't forget or ignore mobile.
Checking email is one of the most common uses of smartphones, so it's important that your email is optimized for a mobile experience as well as a PC-based one.
If you cover all these bases then you should feel confident that you're on the right track towards successful email marketing.
Client advocate, digital strategist, and thought leader HOLLIS THOMASES, founder of Web Ad.vantage, helps companies navigate the complexity of the ever-changing digital marketing landscape and develop digital strategies. @hollisthomases