Email Marketing | Updated 05-11-2020

Email Marketing Best Practices


This email marketing guide is to remind us that we need to be cognizant of ever-changing best practices and, more importantly, laws. We work so hard to in our day-to-day to build a rapport with our clients that we can't let something slip by us that should be at the forefront of our minds. 

In 2014, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) came into effect, reinforcing best practices for email marketing to combat spam and related issues. Similarly, in order to make Europe "fit for the digital age," the European Parliament recently enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for data protection reform across the European Union.

However, these statues are relevant even for those people who don’t work or live in Canada and Europe. In fact, the US has had similar laws and best practices in place since 2003 with the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act. While these principles are the same at their core, CAN-SPAM's differences include how people can be opted-in and are considered opted-in, how records are stored for these opt-ins, and how subscriber opt-outs are managed.

In this digital age where more people are prevalent online, it gets harder and harder to set regional and national boundaries. Unless you're absolutely certain that your list doesn't - and will never - contain addresses from Canada or Europe, err on the side of caution. Doing so protects our clients and ourselves as their digital representatives.

The Bottom Line

As marketing professionals, we need to ensure that we are capturing email opt-ins appropriately, getting confirmation of proper list procurement, handling opt-out requests promptly, and implementing proper list-management practices [12].

What’s the risk?

At the lowest level, our client’s email marketing account will get suspended or his IP address/domain can be blacklisted [11]. This either prevents the company from sending additional emails or causes all of its emails to be flagged as spam until the issue is resolved.

At the highest level,

  • Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) consisting of fines of up to $1million for individuals and up to $10 million for corporations per violation. [10]

  • Vicarious liability. This means that corporate directors can be found to be liable for the wrongful acts of a corporation or organization, and the corporation can be found to be liable for the wrongful acts of its employees. [10]

  • Private rights of action. This means that after July 1, 2017 individuals can sue another individual or organization for damages after proving actual harm or loss after receiving an unsolicited and unwanted Commercial Electronic Message (CEM). An individual cannot sue an organization if the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission or CRTC has already taken action against it. [10]

Best Practices

  1. Obtain explicit consent.

  2. Always send from an ESP. Never send it from your personal email.

  3. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message. [1]

  4. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message. [1]

  5. Identify the message as an ad. The law provides a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement. [1]

  6. Tell recipients where the company is located. Your message must include a valid postal address for the company whose product is being promoted. This can be its current street address, a post office box registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox registered with a commercial-mail–receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations. [1]

  7. Tell recipients how to opt-out of receiving future emails from you. Your message must include a clear and evident explanation of how the recipient can opt-out of receiving email from you in the future. It should be easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Provide a return email address or another easy, Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice. Another option is to create a menu that allows a recipient to opt-out of only certain types of messages, but there must be an option to stop all commercial messages. More importantly, make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests. [1]

  8. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process requests for at least 30 days after you send your message, and you must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to provide any identifying information beyond an email address or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once someone opts-out, you can’t sell or transfer that email address, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. [1]

  9. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. Even if you hire another company to handle email marketing, you can’t contract away legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible. [1]

  10. Connect an email sending domain. Use Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) email authentication, which verifies a sender's identity. When you send an email, your recipients’ email filters may review your DNS records to verify the "From," address. Give the ESP permission to send emails on your behalf by connecting an email-sending domain to prevent your email from getting caught in spam filters. [9]

  11. Do not send an image-only email. [6]
    1. Email spammers are notorious for using images to hide the text of their email; if it’s in an image, most email clients won’t be able to read the spammy message about a far-off prince who desperately needs them to wire him money immediately. To make up for this blind spot, many spam filters will reject image-only emails.
    2. You don't want people to have to go through an extra step to see your message (e.g. click to "download images" in Outlook). If the image is blocked, the entire email will appear to be blank and the recipient is more likely to ignore, unsubscribe, or mark the message as spam.
    3. Depending on the end user’s internet connection and browser speed, it may take a while for the email to load. The longer it takes to load, the more likely he is to click away from the email, send it to the junk folder, or unsubscribe.
    4. Do you want recipients to be able to find your email when they want to? Of course! There may come a time when an email recipient wants to reference an email you sent him a while back which has now been lost in his busy inbox. Give him the option to search for that email by using text for most of your content.

  12. Focus on content-first emails. [7]
    1. Make your emails in a way where they make sense when you take the images out. Many clients, including big ones like Outlook, block images as a default. Unless the recipient is actively right-clicking and opening the image boxes, your text is going to have to be able to stand on its own. When crafting your email, put more focus on your content than the ratios. When you run an email test, you’ll be able to see exactly how that text will show up. You're in good shape if it makes sense without the images.
    2. Use alt text with images. This will help you get a sense of what to do when images are turned off. Once again, you should use this but stand on content. Content is king for a reason. However, always consider accessibility as a best practice when using alt tags. Setting the right alt text will enable screen readers to accurately describe images to those using them. However, not all images need alt text. If your image is purely for the aesthetics of the email, such as a spacer gif or shadow, be sure to set an empty alt=”” on the image. This simply tells the screen reader to skip over these images.
    3. You need to have some balance for the basics to work. Make sure to have a balance between image and text that makes sense for the type of devices you’re sending to. If you’re mostly looking at mobile clients, an image focus is a good balance. If you’re going to be mostly in Outlook, you may want to focus more on the text. Find the balance based on your specific campaign needs.

  13. Keep email subject lines fewer than 50 characters. This ensures that people scanning your emails read the entire subject. [8]

  14. Best day and time to send? Tuesday between 10-12 EST [13]


Contact List (who’s receiving the email)

Suppression (domain(s)/addresses to always remove) and Seed (addresses to always include) lists

Goals and Metrics (What is the intent of this email? What does success look like?)

Email Planning (email content and send date)

Email Copy

Email Art

Links/Calls to Action

Email Service Provider Setup

Email Template Design and Programming

Email Template Testing

From Address (example:

From Name (example: name)

Email Subject (30-50 characters)

(optional) Email Preview Text (100-140 characters)

Email Send

Email Reporting

Ongoing Contact/Subscriber List Management (Depending on list size and rate of growth, audit every 1, 3, or 6 months is recommended)

Design Resources/Ideas


  • Email Service Provider (ESP): A paid-for platform that generally serves as a buffer between your emails and spam filters. An ESP also provides email templates and analyzes campaigns. Examples include HubSpot, MailChimp, and Content Contact.

  • U.S. CAN-SPAM Act: A United States law that establishes requirements for commercial emails, gives recipients the right to have companies stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. Each separate email in violation is subject to penalties of up to $42,530. [1]

  • Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL): Canada's anti-spam legislation that protects consumers and businesses from the misuse of digital technology, including spam and other electronic threats. It also aims to help businesses stay competitive in a global, digital marketplace. Penalties for the most serious violations of CASL can reach $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses. [2]

  • Marketing Email: Any email sent that primarily contains a commercial message or content intended for a commercial purpose (i.e. nurturing leads through your funnel). Marketing email is generally sent to groups of contacts that are prospects or customers and must follow local laws.

  • Transactional Email: One-to-one emails that contain information that completes a transaction or process the recipient has started with a company. A common example is in e-commerce: Once a customer purchases an item, he receives an email receipt that has information about the item, price, and shipment. Transactional email is sent to individuals in response to an action on their part, rather than a large list of recipients. [3]

  • Commercial Electronic Messages (CEMs): An electronic message sent by any means of telecommunication that encourages participation in a commercial activity, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit. Electronic messages do not cover facsimile or normal voice-to-voice telephone communication. These include email, text, sound, voice, or image messages, and possibly some social media content. 

    Examples of CEMs:
     An e-newsletter which provides information that is not commercial in nature, but contains a link to a sponsor's website
     An online client satisfaction survey
     A mass email providing general information about a business or organization
     An electronic message that requests consent to send a CEM, is in itself a CEM.

  • Implied consent: You may rely on implied consent for sending CEMs if it is done under certain conditions, as set out in section 10(9) of CASL. This may include having an Existing Business Relationship (EBR) based on a previous commercial transaction with the recipient; or having an existing non-business relationship based on, for example, membership in your club; or if the recipient participated as a volunteer for your charitable organization; or where a person makes his email address publicly available by publishing it on a website. In the latter case, this conspicuous publication of an email address must not be accompanied by a statement indicating he does not want to receive CEMs at that address. If the statement is not present, the CEM must relate to the recipient's business role, functions, or duties in an official or business capacity. There is a time limit attached to the life of the implied consent, whether business or non-business. It must have been created prior to 1 July 2014 in order to rely on the 3-year transitional provision set out in section 66 of CASL. Section 66 deems implied consent for a period of 36 months, starting 1 July 2014, if there is an existing business or non-business relationship with the recipient. In order to rely on the transitional provision, the parties' relationship must also have included communication regarding the sending of CEMs. [4]

  • Explicit Consent: Express consent means that a person has clearly agreed to receive a CEM, either in writing or orally. The recipient must take proactive action to indicate express consent (in other words, express consent must be obtained through an opt-in mechanism, e.g. signing up at your website). Remember that an electronic message that contains a request for express consent is also considered to be a CEM under CASL, and therefore is not a method through which express consent can be obtained. Express consent is not time-limited; once express consent is obtained you are able to send CEMs until the recipient notifies you that he no longer wants to receive them. [4]

  • Toggling: In order to comply with the express consent provisions under CASL, a positive or explicit indication of consent is required. Accordingly, express consent cannot be obtained through opt-out consent mechanisms. [5]


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