When Advice Goes Stale: Outdated Best Practices?
I do a lot of travel for work, where I often get the chance to discuss email marketing best practices with experts from other areas of digital marketing who have some level of responsibility to email marketing as a discipline. Often, what strikes me is the "best practices" and recommendations that are being made to clients. During a recent speaking opportunity, I got some pretty funny questions from attendees that I am obviously compelled to share.
Here is an example of some of the dialogue -- enjoy! And feel free to chime in or ask questions of your own. I'm here all week!
The conversation started innocently enough. We were discussing the pieces of an email that need to be reviewed prior to hitting the send button. So, the obvious and initial direction was the more obvious points: proofreading and editing. While email is certainly a less formal communication channel, it's still a reflection of your brand -- and nothing says "I don't pay attention to what I am doing" more than erroneous typos, spelling and grammar errors. And go beyond Spell Check, which doesn't catch everything.
Next, we moved to link functionality, rendering and design. Here are some of my favorite questions (defined as those that made me scratch my head and wonder why some of this advice is still being doled out):
Attendee: I've noticed that a lot of email communications are getting shorter, with less copy. Why is that? When you have all this room to really explain your offer or promotion, why not use the space?
Me: Email isn't really read -- it is scanned. You have about three seconds to get someone's attention, and another five to seven seconds to truly convey your message. That needs to be done with effective headlines, bullets and calls-to-action. Less is more.
Attendee: I was told to not include more than 68 characters per line within my email communications. Why is that?
Me: Wait, what? 68 characters per line? While it is true that most email applications will render 68 characters or less within the body of the email, I wouldn't use it as a copywriting rule of thumb. Keep your copy concise -- write for the scanner, not the reader. Avoid large blocks of text -- never more than four lines of copy appearing together. It can be daunting for the recipient, depending on the type of message.
Attendee: I was told to avoid words like "free" "call" "lose" "money" or "opportunity" in my subject line so that I am not placed in the bulk folder. Is this something I really need to worry about?
Me: If you had asked me that question five years ago, I would have said "yes" and handed you a document of common spam trigger words. Realistically, today, trigger words like that aren't as much of a concern. For legitimate email marketers, the elements that drive inbox placement have more to do with spam complaints, bounces and a recipient's engagement with your email communication. It is about your reputation as a sender, not the words that appear in your subject line.
Attendee: Why can I only have 35 characters in my subject line?
Me: Subject lines are subjective, and response is unique to an individual at any given moment in time. Recipients want the subject line to be engaging, to grab their attention and to pull them into the message. Do it in 35 characters or 135 characters - as long as it gets the job done. If you have nothing compelling to say, it doesn't matter if you said it in 35 characters.
Subject lines should always be tested, in real time, for impact on a specific message at a single moment in time. You don't always have to include your company name at the front of the subject line or even include an offer. You may be surprised what works and what doesn't -- and how that varies from one day to the next.
What do you think? Is there advice you are getting from experts that may not be sitting well? Feel free to post your thoughts. I'm happy to provide any insight I can!