Kill It With Fire! 5 Best Practices That Need to Go Away

  |  August 27, 2014   |  Comments

These five tactics have long been considered "best practices" in the email marketing world, but technology has changed and it's time for them to die out.

Despite the view from some corners that email is a stagnant channel, things continue to evolve and progress. The result is that some things that were once considered best practices really should be consigned to the trash can of history. Here are five examples of "best practices" that really need to go away.

1. "View on a Mobile Device" Links

There is just no excuse for still having one of these. It made sense back when BlackBerrys ruled and had horrendous rendering of HTML email, but now it's just a relic.

Today your emails should render well on mobile devices. Whether that means using responsive design or simply mobile-first, you need to ensure that your messages look good and work well on smartphones and tablets and not expect your recipients to follow a link.

Once you've done that there is just no place for that "view on a mobile device" link anymore, so ditch it.

2. Forward to a Friend

Sharing is good. Sharing through email is good. But forward-to-a-friend links suck.

For starters, they no longer work the way you'd like. The point of these links was to deliver the message to the friend as though it came from the original recipient. Today, though, this doesn't work. The rise of email authentication and more recently DMARC means that if you spoof someone's email address, it's highly likely the message will not be delivered. To make matters worse, the amount of actual sharing through forward-to-a-friend links was always miniscule.

Do yourself a favor and nix the forward-to-a-friend link. No one uses it, and even if they do, it doesn't work properly.

3. Keep Your Subject Lines Less Than 40 Characters

This best practice has, I hope, been thoroughly debunked. While it's true that longer subject lines may be truncated on some clients, that does not mean they are ineffective. Many case studies have been published showing cases where longer, even very long, subject lines were most effective. Use split testing to evaluate which subject lines are most effective for your audience. It may be a short one, but it may not. Either way, if your standards mandate less than 40 characters, fix your standards.

4. One-Click Unsubscribe

This arose mostly from a specific interpretation of CAN-SPAM, but it never was necessary. Don't make your subscribers jump through hoops and enter usernames and passwords to unsubscribe - that would be a CAN-SPAM violation and just plain annoying - but don't do one-click. Your unsubscribe link should take people to a landing page that lets them know that they're about to unsubscribe, which address will be unsubscribed, and what any consequences of doing so are. Then, have them confirm that this was their intention.

Why do this? Because users often don't pay attention and may accidentally unsubscribe. They may also just be trying to find your profile management page. Also, there are bots and other systems that may follow all the links in an email, thereby unsubscribing people.

5. Don't Use CSS

Yes, CSS in email can be tricky. Outlook's HTML processing is exceptionally poor and webmail systems are extremely capricious about which CSS features they support and which they ignore.

But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. CSS is important and you can create cross-platform email messages that use CSS to great effect. Responsive design requires the use of CSS!

Move past the "noCSS" standard and onto judicious and effective use of CSS.

Best practices are important. They help raise standards and provide a framework through which to simplify complex situations. But things change and evolve and so must best practices. That means knowing when they're past their best-by date and throwing them out.

Until next time,

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Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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