10 Commandments of Email Marketing


Email marketing is part voodoo, part know-how. As such, an optimal response can be hard to obtain. Do you go with best practices? What about new research? How do you figure in the special needs of your market?

Over the years, I’ve developed a set of 10 Email Marketing Commandments. A mix of best practices, trial and error, and user experience research, they can be applied to just about any client.

Thou shalt know thine audience.

Your communications should not be about you. You are not the center of your audience’s universe. They are. And the more you know about them — what they think, what they want, what they know — the better you’ll be able to cater to them.

Give them information that’s important to them, and they’ll be much more willing to read about information that’s important to you.

Thou shalt acknowledge thy reader’s attention span, and keep it short.

People decide in just a few seconds whether an email is worth reading — assuming they open it at all.

Help them understand in those few seconds that you’re not asking for a lot of their time. Keep copy brief, yet lively. Avoid run-on sentences, and say as much as you can with images. Struggling with how to start? Try one of these opening phrases.


Thou shalt not use low-quality images.

If you’re going to try and say as much as you can with images, they’ll need to be high-quality images that catch your eye, give you a feeling, and demonstrate exactly what you’re talking about.

Will this take some time and/or money? Yes. But if you think about your favorite e-newsletters, I’m betting image quality is part of the reason they’re your favorite.

Thou shalt honor thy white space and thy margins.

Make your email easy on the eyes. Cramming as much copy as possible into an e-newsletter is not going to win you any admirers. Generous amounts of white space and nice, clean margins make for a more enjoyable reading experience.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s open rate.

The days of using open rates to measure the success of an email campaign are over. These days, it’s all about the click-through. So don’t ply your readers with a misleading subject line just to get a few more opens. They’ll resent you for it later. See more about subject lines below.


Thou shalt not be a creep about offering an unsubscribe option.

If you have an e-newsletter, you MUST provide an opt-out link. A visible opt-out link. One that works. And no guilt-inducing messages on the landing page. That’s just tacky. Like ex-boyfriend/girlfriend-who-can’t-let-go tacky.

Thou shalt not send on a Monday or Friday.

At least not if you want your audience to read it. Monday is bad, because people are usually buried at the start of the work week. Fridays are also not great, because people have pretty much checked out, mentally.

When should you send? Research shows that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays around 2 p.m. are your best bet.

Thou shalt not include a sales pitch in the subject line.

Again: tacky. Also: not effective. Check out MailChimp’s research on subject lines for some ideas on how to entice readers to open without going gimmicky.

Thou shalt not use exclamation points in vain.

The exclamation point is like the Labrador retriever of the punctuation world. It’s excited, and it wants you to be excited, too!!!

Excessive use of exclamation points doesn’t engender enthusiasm in your readers. It just wears them out. So use them sparingly.

Thou shalt make thine emails accessible.

Nearly 20% of the U.S. population lives with some sort of disability, be it visual, physical, or mental/neurological. Make sure you’re optimizing your emails for the differently abled. Here’s a great infographic on the topic.


Got any other tried-and-true email marketing best practices? Please share!


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