So I came across this blog post entitled, “15 best practices of email marketing” and I’m still trying to figure out if this is a joke or for real.  I’m gonna guess that it’s for real.  I’d love to know who wrote this, but I can’t find it on the site anywhere….

I just want to say before I get too far along that I’m not a bad guy or trying to be mean.  If anything I’m trying to save those less experienced in email marketing who might stumble onto that post looking for some sort of “Best Practices” and might think that this gibberish constitutes “Best Practices”. 

“Best Practices” for email marketing are always changing.  Jeanniey Mullen pointed out at the Email Experience Council‘s Email Evolution Conference (follow on Twitter) that 70% of email Best Practices published in 2006 are now wrong.  I tend to agree with Stephanie Miller of ReturnPath that Best Practices are never absolute, anyway.

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s take a look at these “15 best practices of email marketing“:   

1. Avoiding the Spam Filters

Huh?  Okay, let me check that off of my list….  Seriously, that’s like saying that a Best Practice of driving is not hitting anybody.  A driving Best Practice might be to make sure that your brakes work before pulling out of your driveway.

The Deliverability side of Email Marketing can probably list 15 of its own Best Practices…. 

To make sure your emails don’t get flagged as spam — and deleted before they even get to your subscribers — avoid using words such as ‘Free’, ‘$$$’, ‘Save’, ‘Discount’, etc in both the subject line and the content of your email.

ISP filtering has more to do with your sender reputation and that of your IP address and less to do with using “Free” in the subject line.  I spent a lot of years delivering email for FreeCreditReport.com, so there’s a double whack for you; “Free” right next to “Credit”.  I’ve also had SpamAssassin ding me for using “2006” in a message. 

2. Maximizing Click-Thru Rates

Okay, good, check off one more box….  Definitely something to strive for, but hardly a Best Practice along the lines of being sure to capture and record the Time/Date stamp and IP address of your subscribers when they sign up to receive your email messages. 

There are Best Practices that focus on message layout and design, and, of course you want to have a compelling value proposition and call-to-action, which aren’t really Best Practices as much as they are marketing basics.  We could say that a Best Practice is to only send messages relevant to the recipient’s subscription. 

And it’s definitely a Best Practice to protect what ever information that you collect from a subscriber directly or their behaviors or actions on your Web site.  If you have a sister company that is aching to get her hands on your subscribers, you send the subscriber an email with a compelling reason why they should subscribe to your sister company, but it’s the subscribers decision to make.  

3. The Power of Personalization

While the author claims that including the recipient’s name lifts clicks up to as much as 650% that still doesn’t make personalization a “Best Practice”.  Actually, unless you have the ability to do personalization well, it might be a Best Practice for you not to use personalization.  If you can’t control case you might want to think it over. 

For example, if you address me as “Dear john”, you’re lazy – you pretend to take an interest as me as an individual, but not enough interest to spell my name properly even if I don’t.  Just because I entered my name in lower case I expect that if you intend to address me personally that you do so properly.  And the same goes if I entered my name in upper case; you don’t know me well enough to be shouting at me, and is that really the way that you want to start a conversation? 

And the last thing that you want to do is personally address someone as “Dear Stupid“….

4. One-Click Unsubscription

Okay, I’ll give them this one.  The recipient’s ability to opt-out of promotional messages is the law and it’s always a Best Practice to follow the law.  The CAN-SPAM Act does not specifically require an opt-out link, but a method of opting out that may include a link or an unsubscribe request by return mail.

The one-click method is the best, in my opinion, due to the fact that you won’t have to worry about an unsubscribe email request being filtered and missing it.

5. Signup Confirmation

Wow, 2/5….  It is certainly a Best Practice to confirm a subscription.  It looks like the author is referring to a double opt-in method of subscription.  This is a good practice for just about everyone, but there are instances where it just won’t fit.

Take a paid subscription dating service, for example.  You’ve just taken the recipient’s credit card number and activated their site subscription that includes match alerts.  If the recipient is paying you to send them email messages, do you really need to ask them – after just accepting their credit card – if they’re sure they want to receive the messages that they just paid to receive?

While there are Generally Accepted Best Practices, not all Best Practices apply to all organizations all of the time.  However one Best Practice that does apply to all organizations all of the time is to have the recipient’s permission to send them promotional messaging.  Referencing a clear and concise Privacy Policy easily available is always a Best Practice, too.

6. Tuesday / Wednesday = Increased Response

Um, yeah, no….  Who says that Tuesday and Wednesday are universally the best days to send email messages? 

The best day of the week for message response is the day of the week that you get the best response.  And it stands to reason that if everybody and their dad’s dog is mailing on Tuesday and Wednesday, filling the recipient’s Inbox to the brim, maybe a Thursday mailing will work better for you.  Here’s a thought; test it and see for yourself.

7. Repeat Email Communication

Once you have someones email address, unless you’re just a collector, you might want to mail them somewhat regularly….  I’m not sure if I’d classify it as a Email Best Practice as much as good marketing, but I’ll give this one to the author.  3/7, good job!

8. Consistency is the Key

While there is something to be said for consistency, again I’m not sure that this would be classified as a Best Practice.  The author talks about not changing the look or feel of a message, but one should always test against a control group. 

9. On Time, Every Time

On the surface this sounds a little like “Consistency” above, but there is something to be said about meeting expectations.  If a video store has a weekly mailing of new releases and calls it “New Movie Tuesday”, it would be a pretty good idea to make sure the message is sent early on Tuesdays.  Since it’s a good practice to meet the mailing expectations that you set, I’m going to give this one to the author – 4/9.

10. The Half-a-Second Subject Line

Grabbing the attention of the recipient in the hope that they’ll read on is a pretty good idea.  That’s just basic marketing, so I wouldn’t really call it a “Best Practice”.  Good try, though….

11. The Free Bonus Hook-In

Now how the hell is a “Free Bonus Hook-In” a Best Practice?  That’s like saying that offering a chance to win a free iPod to subscribers is a “Best Practice”.  I’m sure that if Omaha Steaks was offering a chance for new subscribers to win an iPod they’d have a lot of vegans signing up just for the chance to win.  And I’d venture to bet that after the sweepstakes was over, there would be a lot of vegans reporting messages from Omaha Steaks as spam….   

12. The Preview Pane

Now I’ll admit that I’m having some fun with the labels of each of these “practices”, and the author does give a brief explanation of each.  But if one is going to enumerate some sort of Best Practices they might want to label them a bit more descriptively.  Understanding how your message looks in a preview pane is just a requisite requirement for an email marketer. 

13. Link-Click Testing

Wow, stop the presses!  Who’d have ever thought of testing links?  While the author speaks to testing link position, there is no mention of actually testing a link to be sure that it resolves to anywhere, let alone the correct destination.  It’s a best practice to always test your links to make sure that they work and point where they are supposed to.  It’s a good idea to test different link placement, language, and call-to-action, but making sure that the links actually work might be a little higher on the priority list.  No points here….

14. Email-Based Learning

Now WTF is this?  You sell shoes, so it’s a “Best Practice” for you to set up “an email-based learning course”?  For what?  Matching accessories?  Really!  Need I say more?  Yet some newb is going to run a search on Email Marketing Best Practices, find this tripe, and think that they need to develop some sort of email-based learning course….

Depending on your business and what it is that you sell or promote, this might or might not be a good tactic, but it is anything but a “Best Practice”….

15. Always Sign on the Dotted Line

Okay, this one is only half-stupid. 

Always include a signature at the bottom of your emails, as it’s one of the easiest ways to attract more traffic to your website. This signature should include your personal details, your company details, and an unsubscribe link. You can use your signature to link back to your website, and even to other products.

Whose signature?  Your CMO?  Your CEO?  Some IT guy?  You?  And what kind of “personal” details?  Height & weight? 

Maybe what the author means is that the footer of the message is a good place to put company contact information, like a customer service telephone number.  That’s always a good idea.  I don’t know if you need to include a description of your company in each and every email that you send.  You do need to include your company mailing address and a way for the recipient to opt-out – that’s the law, and as mentioned earlier it’s always a Best Practice to follow the law….

Email marketing isn’t like elementary school soccer, where everybody gets a trophy.  And it’s not something so simple that it can be numbered and bulleted. 

In his keynote at the Email Evolution Conference, Stan Rapp said, “Its shameful – email the most pointed potent and profitable weapon in the marketers arsenal – gets little respect”.  Is it any wonder why?  If you’re an email marketer and your boss brings you the “15 best practices of email marketing” and asks why you aren’t checking the boxes, what are you going say? 

I think that it was Loren McDonald that said there are three types of email marketers; the clueless, the careless, and the enlightened.  It’s long past time that enlightened start calling “bullshit” when they see it from the other two….