In the conclusion of our three-part series on email deliverability, Gene Gusman, Director, SRE, Deliverability Ops, discusses ways to promote healthy deliverability through the entire subscriber lifecycle. Find the first and second parts.
In the last installment, we talked about how to promote healthy deliverability for the first part of the subscriber lifecycle. This time, I will discuss some additional best practices for the first and every part of the subscriber relationship.
Your subscribers decide whether to read your emails and whether to interact and continue reading them based on who they come from, what they are supposed to be about, and what they actually say when opened. It is important to get this right not only at the beginning but throughout the relationship with the subscriber. Each of these plays an important role.
Who is this from?
From address. The “From” field in an email tells the subscriber who authored the message. It consists of a “Friendly” portion, typically displayed along with the subject line in the list of messages, and the actual “Message From” field email address. These should be familiar and expected by the subscriber. Ideally, the domain should be part of the main domain for the company or brand. So, if your main domain is brand.com, sending from email.brand.com is something the recipient would expect. Sending from email.nothinglikemybrand.com is not. Using email, somethingsortoflikemybrand.com may recall the brand but the actual domain may not be expected.
If you do use something other than a subdomain of your company or brand domain, point that out to the subscriber when they sign up. Using an unfamiliar or unexpected “From” field might dissuade them from opening the mail. This could end the relationship before it even starts.
What is this all about?
Subject line. The subscriber is counting on the subject line to tell them about the message. It should accurately reflect the content of the email, which should be consistent with what the user expects. In the United States, the use of a deceptive subject line is a violation of the CAN-SPAM act. It should have a call-to-action or otherwise attempt to engage the user to open it. The length should be under 50 characters as some email clients will truncate long subject lines. Mobile email clients have even shorter limits. If you do exceed these limits, include the critical content at the beginning.
While specific characters and words associated with spam in subject lines may not always cause mail to be filtered, avoid that possibility by not including them. Be careful not to use too much punctuation and take care when using symbols and emojis. If the recipient associates the subject line with spam, they will be less likely to open it and may delete it or hit the spam button. Whenever possible, test your subject lines on a sample of your audience and then choose the best performer for your campaign.
Pre-Header. The more information you can provide to engage the user before they actually open the mail, the better the chances are they will open it. The pre-header is a short summary that supports the subject line. It should further motivate the recipient to open the message. The text you include in the pre-header will be displayed in the preview area after the subject line in the recipient’s inbox, for email clients that support it. If you do not use a pre-header, the preview text will be taken from the first visible part of the body of the email message. As with the subject line, the length should be limited. Email clients vary in their subject and preview text character limits, so describe the main idea at the beginning in case some of the text gets truncated.
The content of your message should be in line with what was promised at signup so the reader expects it. Make the content compelling. Provide something the subscriber wants, needs, or finds valuable to them. When appropriate, personalize the message to the individual recipient to help with engagement. Encourage the subscriber to actively participate through surveys or feedback requests. Replying to an email enhances the sender’s reputation and improves or helps to solidify deliverability.
Unsubscribe link. For all messages that are not transactional or relationship-related, an opt-out link is legally required. Review your transactional and relationship program to determine if it is appropriate to include an opt-out link. The link must be visible and functional. If it is not a one-click unsubscribe, the form on the landing page must be functional.
The entire process must be sufficiently easy to perform. If there are multiple programs, the user must be able to opt-out of all commercial email if they wish. Make it easy to unsubscribe. Consider placing the link at the top of the email as well as the bottom. If the recipient does not want the mail, it should be easier to click the unsubscribe link than to hit the spam button, which users, unfortunately, do as a way to unsubscribe.
Images. Avoid using excessively large images and keep the image content to less than 1/3 of the overall content with text taking up at least 2/3. Make sure that the important parts of the message can still be understood with images disabled. To help with this, include alternate text for the images.
In case you forgot… Remind the subscriber that they signed up and what they signed up for. It helps to include a line of the form “You are receiving this message because you subscribed to…”
Physical address. Always include the primary physical address. This is legally required.
QA Content and Links. Review the HTML to avoid errors. Coding errors can trigger spam filters or cause rendering issues in certain email clients. Use responsive design to optimize viewing on all email clients and test. Pay attention to the mobile experience. Verify the functionality of all links. Erroneous links can also trigger spam filters or content blocks.
Time to hit send
Whether at the beginning or at any other point in the subscriber lifecycle, keep things relevant by sending from a recognizable address, using an accurate and expected subject line, and providing content that is clean, correct, compliant, and compelling. I hope this three-part series has provided value for you and your email program.
Interested in more best practices for email deliverability?
Gene Gusman is Director of Deliverability Operations, North America at Cheetah Digital. He is a technologist with over twenty years of experience in marketing and publishing technology. He leads the optimization efforts of the messaging infrastructure for deliverability while helping clients to get their messages to the inboxes of their customers.