Back in November of 2010, I wrote an Email Insider column titled "'Best Practices' Are Dead,” in which I argued that the term “best practices” has been much abused and was too broad to cover what I called the never-break “ethical imperatives” and the okay-but-unwise-to-break “recommended practices.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that column would be the genesis of my new book, "Email Marketing Rules: How to Wear a White Hat, Shoot Straight, and Win Hearts," which discusses 108 email marketing best practices.
That column discussed six practices that I consider critical to being a legitimate member of the email marketing community. All six involved permission, which is still the vital element that separates us from spammers.
The book expands on those never-break rules, bringing the total to 10, which I’m delighted to share exclusively with you here:
1. Follow the law, but recognize that doing so gives you no protection from spam complaints or being blocked by ISPs.
2. Make sure consumers are aware that you are adding them to your email list.
3. Never make an email opt-in mandatory for a customer interaction.
4. Make unsubscribing easy, taking no more than two clicks, and honor opt-out requests immediately.
5. Accept that permission expires.
6. Accept that knowing one of your customer’s email addresses doesn’t constitute permission to reach him at any of his other email addresses.
7. Accept that securing an opt-in to another channel doesn’t constitute permission to reach a consumer via email as well.
8. Don’t share email addresses with other brands within your company.
9. Don’t buy email lists or barter for email addresses.
10. When renting out an email list, the list owner should never share the list with the renter.
In addition to adding more never-break rules, I changed the name of these rules from “ethical imperatives” to “fundamental imperatives.” I did that not because I’ve wavered on the ethical essentialness of these practices, but because these “white-hat” permission practices have also become essential to a successful email marketing program.
Since writing that column in 2010, ISPs have continued to crack down on commercial senders who send email to folks who don’t want it by broadening that definition of “don’t want it.” Now, in addition to looking at spam complaint rates, ISPs are also looking at the percentage of your subscribers who are engaging (opening, clicking, scrolling through, etc.) with your emails. If your engagement rate is too low, you will find your emails junked or blocked, just as if your complaint rate was too high.
That change has been tough on some marketers, who previously didn’t mind so much having lots of unengaged subscribers because it lowered their percentage of complaints. The short-term fix to the deliverability problems that have been caused by excessive inactivity has been to drop inactive subscribers.
But the long-term fix is to completely reassess how new subscribers are acquired and how prospective and new subscribers are messaged, and to focus time and resources on those acquisition sources bringing in engaged subscribers. Strong permission practices are now critical to adapting to this new email marketing environment.