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Guide | Beginner

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.

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. 

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.

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, your email marketing account will get suspended or your IP address/domain can be blacklisted [11]. This either prevents your 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]

Email Marketing Best Practices

  1. Obtain explicit consent.
  2. Always send from an Email Service Provider (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]

How do I check if my domain has been blacklisted for email spam?

There are several ways to check if your email domain has been blacklisted:

  • Use a blacklist checker: There are many online tools available that can help you check if your email domain has been blacklisted. Some popular blacklist checkers include MX Toolbox, DNSBL, and Spamhaus.
  • Check your email logs: Your email server logs may contain information about emails that were not delivered, including any error messages. If you see a message indicating that your email was rejected because your domain is blacklisted, you will need to take action to get it removed.
  • Monitor your email deliverability: If you notice a sudden drop in your email deliverability, it may be a sign that your email domain has been blacklisted. Keep an eye on your bounce rates and engagement metrics to identify any issues.

It is important to check if your email domain has been blacklisted because it can have a significant impact on your email deliverability. If your domain is blacklisted, it means that emails sent from your domain may be automatically blocked or sent to spam folders, even if they are legitimate. This can make it difficult for you to communicate with your customers, partners, and employees via email. It can also damage your reputation and affect your ability to conduct business. Therefore, it is important to regularly check if your email domain has been blacklisted and take action to address any issues that arise.









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