Email Marketing Etiquette 101

Playing on words in the world of search I thought I would have some fun and separate email marketing into three groups: The White hat, The Grey hat and The Black hat. The “Black hats” are nutty insane spammers. These non-ethical types don’t care what kind of injury or harm they’re causing.  They send millions of pieces of spam each day. They’re wicked, and they feed off their immoral acts.

The “The Grey Hats” are much more like the everyday person. They are usually decent people who don’t want any problems. All they want is to “get the brand/message out.” They’re often good business people, who have been in business or sales for years. But since they’re new to email marketing, they make some blunders, and they typically have no idea what kind of mess they’re about to create. So if this is you don’t be a “Grey hat” and educate yourself and your staff.
“The White hat” email service providers and businesses who email on their own know their etiquette and follow the email delivery guidelines of all rules and regulations:

First rule of email marketing: gather or obtain permission before you email anyone.  Since your recipients pay for every email they receive (monthly ISP bills, bandwidth costs, time, etc.), permission is the foundation of being a “White hat” of email marketing.  Build your own mailing list via outbound calling. If you buy lists of email addresses be careful since they may be loaded with bad addresses, and people who didn’t opt-in to receive anything from you. No the source and reputation of the firm if you buy or append emails.  Good email marketers collect the email addresses on their own sites. Of course, this is a longer and harder way, but at least you are sure for 100% that everyone on the list actually wants to hear from you. Your response rate (deliverability, opens and clicks) will be considerably higher, and depending on the size of the list, the cost of delivery may be lower depending on how you’re emailing out. 

Always clean your email list. Despite the fact that a White hat is using an opt-in list and methods of collecting email addresses, it is necessary to check the emails for validity before sending the message out. Some recipients can change their emails and forget to update their profile with you while other may have been fired.  Whether manually or using email verifier software, check for invalid and misspelled email addresses, invalid domains and typos. Also, make sure you won’t be sending to people who unsubscribed.  Having an automated unsubscribe process is key and separating the hard bounces from the soft bounces if your software offers this will assist in calling and mailing campaigns to help omit bad emails.  Hard bounces are analogous to a bad telephone number while soft bounces are being caught in a spam filter.

Do you know and understand the laws when it comes to emailing. Be sure to read and comply with the CAN-SPAM laws.
Generally speaking, if your email is a marketing or sales type of message, you need to follow the rules, or each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. Always have an opt-out solution and make sure you physical address and phone number are on the email that is sent.

Be careful of emailing too often unless you’re a news or market source. You might risk making your customers or potential customers sick of you. Add value when you have something important to share. How you would react if you were in the shoes of the recipient?  Also is your content and frequency right for the industry you’re emailing to. Will you be sending email newsletters every single week or month? If so do you have competitors doing the same thing?  Will the content of the message be relevant to the recipients’ wants and needs?  Is the message compelling enough for the receipiant to share with other’s?

Permission to email can never get old. If you’ve been gathering email addresses for a period of time, and you have waited months to send an email to everyone, a reminder of how you obtained the recipient’s email address is a must. If you don’t email your subscribers base list for a long period of time, people will forget what email lists they subscribed into. You can include a line like “You are receiving this email because you subscribed to our mailing list at “
It’s no no to use an anonymous email address in the “Reply-to”, or in the unsubscribe link. Use your company domain, and be sure the emails to that address go to a live person.
Don’t send complicated emails such as Flash, Sounds, JavaScript, Videos, etc.. Use HTML email or even text based if you’re so inclined.  Include a plain-text version of your newsletter together with the HTML part.  Deliverability rate will be higher on text based, but in today’s world if you’re compliant an HTML email is fine.  As mentioned early on provide an easy way to unsubscribe. You may provide an option to unsubscribe be sure to include an unsubscribe link somewhere at the bottom of the message.

Check the content against a spam filter. It’s a good idea to test how your HTML newsletter will pass through an anti-spam filter. You can check the content of your message with a special program Lyris Content Checker for free . Lyric Content Checker will tell you how your newsletter ranks in Spam Assassin. You will know which words in your message trigger the anti-spam filter. You will be able to disguise or change those words or phrases on the fly before sending the email. Lyris, Inc. is not a list broker or agent of any kind. They do not sell, rent or trade lists.

You might want to test your email message.  You can send it to friends, family, and colleagues. Try the email in as many different email applications as you can. Open your own emails, and click on every link. Check any reporting if you have it as most all service providers do this before launching.  Make sure all the tracking works. Hit the “reply” button and see if you get replies to the appropriate accounts. You want to uncover and correct any embarrassing mistakes before sending to your message. Here’s an example of reporting for the top three articles in a newsletter over a few hours of a launch.  You can clearly see what the audience is most interested in and what’s being shared on viral bases.

Many times the newer marketer makes the mistake of entering their entire email list into the CC field of the email program they may be using.  This method of delivery has some downsides: a) you reveal your entire list to all people within the list, this may not be acceptable for everyone; b) someone from your recipients can click “Reply to All” button by mistake and the reply addressed to you will be distributed to all of emails listed on the cc. c) CC doesn’t allow sending a personalized email message to all the recipients.  Sure it’s a short cut when you can insert the greeting like “Dear Customer”, but agree that’s not as friendly as “Dear Jane”.

Track and know your statistics with every message within an email and include the ability for the recipient to push the email messages through to their social media groups and RSS Feed Aggregators such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Digg,, Google Reader and MySpace to name a few.


If you become a White hat of email marketing and look to manage and improving email delivery.  Your firm can reduce your email delivery costs, increase conversions, build better retention and develop quality new business that matches your services and products.  Be a White hat.