Nearly all email marketers comply with two basic requirements of CAN-SPAM, according to the EmailLabs 2006 audit of best practices, but they miss many opportunities to rev up email deliverability.
For the audit, we identified 10 best practices directly or indirectly related to deliverability. We defined deliverability as delivering an email message that complies with all CAN-SPAM provisions to the inbox with properly rendered images.
Here’s what our audit of 203 commercial email messages revealed.
The Good News
- 100 percent of messages we studied include a working unsubscribe link. The unsubscribe link is not only a best practice but also a CAN-SPAM requirement. It affects deliverability in two ways. First, recipients can use it to delete their addresses from your database, thus keeping your list cleaner, reducing outdated or abandoned addresses, and ultimately, reducing your bounce and spam-complaint rates.
Most, if not all, whitelisting or email accreditation programs require an unsubscribe link to qualify for inbox placement or bypassing filters, two major deliverability objectives.
- 91 percent post their companies’ street addresses. Again, this is required under CAN-SPAM. Omitting it won’t necessarily get your email blocked,, but you won’t meet the legal requirement. If you’re one of the other 9 percent, you should check your templates and ensure you comply with the law.
- 65 percent don’t ask to be added to recipients’ safe-senders list or address book. Most email clients won’t block email from a sender listed on the recipient’s personal whitelist or in the address book. Whitelisted email also appears with properly rendered images.
- 63 percent don’t provide a link to an archived version of the message on a Web site. You can never be completely sure recipients actually see your email messages as you intended. Hosting your newsletter, offer, or announcement on your Web site provides a second chance and may be a step readers are more likely to take, over whitelisting you or changing their email client’s default settings to read your message in full-screen or with images.
A side benefit: You can track clicks on the Web version to see who opens your email in addition to reviewing (notoriously unreliable) open rates.
- 47 percent don’t provide a feedback email address or other contact. A contact address gives subscribers another way to reach you to report a problem, especially with unsubscribing. That link may prevent someone from hitting the “report spam” button in desperation. Example: “Please contact our customer care department at email@example.com if you wish to modify your subscription.”
- 45 percent don’t provide a link to update profiles or change addresses. This practice gives the recipient an option other than unsubscribing from your list. Over 30 percent of subscribers are estimated to change their preferred email address annually.
- 42 percent don’t design their email messages for either the preview pane or blocked images. If you don’t optimize your messages for preview-pane reading, up to 70 percent of business readers won’t see some or all the message content, our 2005 preview-pane survey showed. In addition, most major desktop and Web email clients now block images by default. Only 30 percent of business readers have changed their settings to permit default image loading.
- 21 percent don’t use a recognizable sender email address. The best practice here is to use an email address that includes your company name, whether it’s before or after the “@” sign, as well as the email purpose (“offers@XYZ.com,” “newsletter@XYZ.com”). Don’t use a generic name (“reply@,” “info@”), and constrain the address to 16 characters or fewer so the entirety is visible in the inbox. Monitor the mailbox the address points to for live replies, spam complaints, unsubscribes, and comments.
- 19.2 percent don’t use a best-practice subject line. Subject lines can make the difference between opening a message, deleting it, or reporting it as spam. A best-practice subject line clearly identifies the email’s purpose and could reduce false spam complaints. Key elements include:
- A brand, such as the company or newsletter name
- Enticement to open
- Content description (lead article or main offer)
- Call to action
- No spam elements, including all capital letters or excess punctuation
The Big Finish
- 82 percent don’t offer readers an email administration center in their messages. You can tie up many deliverability best practices outlined here into a neat bundle by using an email administration center, a standard list of essential information that includes these items:
- E-mail address the message was sent to (helps with unsubscribing if your page doesn’t automatically load the address)
- Contact information: company name, street address, mailing address, telephone, email address, and phone number
- Unsubscribe or profile-update link
How We Performed the Audit
We reviewed 203 commercial messages of all types (newsletters, solo mailings, announcements, and promotional messages) in six market segments (travel, retail, financial, publishing, business services, and consumer services). Check out the audit to see the full results of the study and to compare your own email program.
And as always, keep on deliverin’.
Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.
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