The Golden Rule in Email is Relevance

mobile-emailLike most of you, I get a lot of mail. A whole lot. Hundreds of messages a day hit my inbox and while some I asked for, many I didn’t. It is a near constant stream and my inbox looks more like a Twitter feed.

There is an industry that has grown up around email creation and delivery. Blog sites and field experts do an amazing job of helping marketers understand and implement best practices for getting their emails into inboxes, opened, and clicked (a proxy for read). A quick Google search on “email best practices” leads to a list of sites claiming to have the answers to questions like:

  • Ratio of images to text: Many people will tell you 25 percent images to 75 percent text is ideal.
  • The perfect subject line length: Is it too short? Too long? General best practices say to keep it under 50 characters, while still enticing the reader to open. 
  • The perfect (and not so perfect) subject line words to use: Using “Free” is a great way to get ignored, quickly – or worse, put into spam. 
  • The perfect time to hit send: Executives are more likely to read emails early in the morning or late at night. Consider your audience before picking a time.
  • The best person to send it from: Should it come from the company as a whole? A customer service person? The company’s CEO?
  • The best email address to send it from: Does sound like an address you want to get an email from?

Each of these best practices is important. Otherwise they wouldn’t exist. But after reading the first 40 Google search results I saw no sign of the Golden Rule of email best practices. I read a lot of blog posts telling me how the message should look, how many typefaces I should use, how wide the message should be, where my logo and the call to action should be, how to write a subject line, etc.

Again, important, but no sign of the most important best practice of all – make the message relevant to your audience. There is absolutely nothing more important than this.

I got more than 200 messages in my inbox today. I looked at or deleted each one. I actively looked for one. The one I looked for this evening is a daily blog. The content is so relevant to me that when I don’t see it, I go looking for it. The author has connected with me by writing content that is relevant to a subject I care about in a way that is personal and engaging.

His subject lines ignore all the rules. His text to image ratio is terrible by best practice standards. His call to action comes when it comes. He only uses one type face. Sometimes his posts are long and sometimes his posts are short. There are times in which I don’t connect with the message, but more often than not I do. Often enough that I seek his message out of a crowded inbox every day.

By contrast, my favorite retail store sends me at least one message a day and not one of them is relevant to me. This store knows exactly what I have purchased and when I purchased it. They know my buying habits and their emails follow every “best practice” I can think of. Yet each message I get from them is filled with beautiful pictures and limited text presenting items and categories I have never shopped before. I delete every one of them now.

I get over 200 emails a day. I delete many. I look for one. Relevance matters. In my inbox it matters most.

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