In general, legitimate e-mail marketers have yet to adopt widely accepted e-marketing best practices, with the exception of the specific requirements of the US 'CAN-SPAM' act, according to research from EmailLabs.
The 2006 Email Marketing Audit of 203 commercial e-mail campaigns found that the inclusion of a working unsubscribe link, as required by the CAN-SPAM Act, was the only best practice that was universally adhered to.
Best and worst marketers
Looking at the adoption of e-mail best practices ranked by industry, it was travel companies (including airlines, hotels and booking agents) that demonstrated the highest adoption rates of the eighteen best practices considered in the audit, scoring six top ratings and none of the lowest ratings.
Financial marketers (such as credit card companies, mortgage brokers and banks), all of which increasingly rely on trustworthy e-mail communications, performed the worst of all market segments.
Why no best practices?
According to Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services for EmailLabs, "It's not surprising to see widespread adoption of the federally mandated 'working unsubscribe' link and company address. But what is surprising is that commercial marketers are not incorporating other best practices into their e-mail campaigns."
As EmailLabs points out, taking the time and effort to design an effective e-mail marketing campaign contributes to brand strength, sales lead generation, and the building of a base of loyal customers - and incorporating e-mail best practices greatly reduces the chance that customers (or potential customers) will delete the e-mail having mistakenly assumed it to be 'spam'.
EmailLabs audited senders in six market segments: travel, publishing, business, retail, consumer, and financial services.
The top three most widely ignored practices involved including a subscription or administration centre, providing a site-search function in the email itself, and including a forward-to-a-friend link. By ignoring these features, e-mail marketers are missing opportunities to build relationships and gain new customers. Other key best practice adoption trends included:
- Travel marketers are increasingly using a subscription link function, allowing customers to easily update their e-mail address and personal information;
- Publishers increasingly optimise their messages for preview panes and blocked images, and include a subscribe link in the e-mail to make it easy for people who've received the original message from a friend to subscribe.
Eighteen best practices
EmailLabs has identified eighteen best practices for e-mail marketers, to help ensure not only that messages are delivered successfully but also to increase the likelihood of the recipient trusting and reading them. The following were the criteria used in the audit study:
- Subject line use: Used personalization and action, conveyed information enticingly, short length, avoided bad practices such as all capitals.
- Sender from name: Company or brand name, not email address, generic department or unfamiliar person's name.
- Sender line email address: includes company or brand name, not generic address such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- Accommodates preview pane and blocked images: Key content displayed even with images blocked or only a portion is viewable; use of text links.
- Link to Web version: Link provided, preferably near the top.
- Forward-to-a-friend link: Button or text link to Web form to launch a copy of the message to another recipient.
- Profile/address update/change: Provide a link anywhere in the email to allow reader to change address or preferences.
- Opportunity to subscribe: Provide a button or link to a subscription form.
- Unsubscribe link: Provide a working button or link to an unsubscribe page.
- Display recipient's email address: Display the subscriber's email address anywhere in the email.
- Request to add sender to safe-senders list: Text line, preferably placed at or near the top of the email.
- In-message navigation and Web-site links: At least two non-email links pointing to departments or destinations on the site.
- Website search function: Blank form or link to site search function in email message.
- Contact-us/Send-feedback link: Link to contact information or contact email address clearly placed.
- Physical mailing address provided: Postal (not a P.O. Box) or street address plainly displayed.
- Telephone number: Phone number displayed within the email.
The complete audit study has been made available for free download from EmailLabs - click here (PDF document, 1.15Mb). The company also operates an e-mail newsletter called The Intevation Report, which provides updates on e-mail marketing and best practices (click here).