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Email Marketing Etiquette for Small Businesses

Emily Post, the queen of decorum, once wrote that manners are simply an awareness of others, “no matter what fork you use.” While her name may evoke visions of thank-you cards and seating arrangements, her words of wisdom are more important than ever to businesses in this electronic age—especially when it comes to email marketing.


Small Business Guide to Email Etiquette


An awareness of your audience and respect for their time and needs is more than a matter of courtesy. How, when, and what you email can determine whether you have customers for life or irritated readers who send you to their spam folder.


In the evolving world of email marketing, it can be difficult to keep up with what’s acceptable and what’s as gauche as putting your boots on the coffee table, so I’ve compiled a list of “letters” on the subject and some responses to help you navigate the murky waters of email marketing etiquette today.


How to build an email list the right way

Dear Jimdo: I want to grow my business’s email listserv, but I’m not sure how to go about it. Should I buy contacts lists and add all the email addresses in my contact file?


Kind Reader: Buying email lists is akin to belching at the dinner table. In other words, it is never okay.
Fifteen years ago marketing guru Seth Godin hit the nail on the head when he called email marketing “permission marketing.” This means that to ensure your readers are engaged in your brand, and aren’t going to mark your messages as spam, you must get permission to email them first.


To build an email contact list that is robust and relevant, you should build it organically, and the first step is to make it easy for people to sign up. More and more businesses are encouraging website visitors to sign up for emails by employing popup windows or sign-up forms in website headers. A lot of businesses neglect to use their social channels to collect emails, so be sure to invite followers on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to sign up for emails.


Opt into emails on site An increasing number of companies like Ann Taylor are using pop-up
windows to offer visitors the chance to opt into emails the moment they arrive on the site.


Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you build your email list:
  • Don’t make your email list simply a numbers game where the higher the number of subscribers, the better. Focus instead on cultivating a quality list of engaged and loyal followers who look forward to receiving your messages.
  • To keep your list as relevant as possible, you should ask inactive addresses—or people who haven’t engaged in any of your email campaigns in the last six months or so—to confirm their opt-in status. Don’t worry about shortening the size of your email list: confirm opt-in messages are actually proven to be effective at re-engaging inactive subscribers, and your readers will appreciate your desire to send them information they really want.


Note: How you confirm inactive subscribers will depend on which email marketing system you use. Some systems like MailChimp require you to export the list you want to reconfirm, then email them from a private account asking them to resubscribe. With services like Constant Contact, you can send a confirmation email campaign from their system, and then you won’t be able to email any addresses that don’t reconfirm. The reconfirmation process also allows you to clean out any invalid addresses that would affect your bounce rate.


The best time to send an email campaign

Dear Jimdo: I’m really unsure how many email messages I should send out to my customers, and when is the best time to send them. What’s the right formula—Twice a day? Only on Tuesdays? Every other month? Help!


Kind Reader: Sending emails at the right intervals is critical to keeping your subscribers well-informed and happy. Just as you wouldn’t send nine invitations to your wedding, you shouldn’t message your list incessantly about an upcoming promotion or your latest blog post. The number one reason people give for unsubscribing is too many messages, so sending too many emails is sure to have your readers scrambling for the unsubscribe button.


Finding that sweet spot for your audience will take some experimenting. It varies a lot from audience to audience, so you should do split testing to determine which day of the week, time of day, and frequency works best for your subscribers. If you haven’t done split testing before, here’s an excellent step-by-step guide on how to test for optimal email frequency, dates, and times. MailChimp users can even skip the testing and use the software’s Send Out Optimization feature.


Frequency also depends on the kind of content you have. If you are running sales or promotions or have new products, weekly emails might be appropriate. If you don’t have a lot of new information, or if you have a blog with only a couple of posts per month, monthly or quarterly newsletters might be a better idea. At a minimum, email your contacts at least every six months so they remain active, engaged, and remember your brand.


Learn more about Mailchimp, our favorite email newsletter system, in Jimdo's Mailchimp Review. We also have more information on embedding newsletter signups right onto your site in our article 20 Widgets to Improve Your Website.


How to avoid email unsubscribers

Dear Jimdo: The other day I was astonished to learn that one of my most loyal customers unsubscribed from my emails. Why would she do this? What can I do about it?


Kind Reader: Just as you can’t force someone to come to your birthday party, you can’t keep someone on your mailing list once they’ve requested to be removed. You must honor their request within 10 days in compliance with the CAN-SPAM law.


Make it simple for readers to unsubscribe from your listserv with every email you send, but don’t make unsubscribing so easy that people do so accidentally, as often happens with one-click unsubscribing.
Give readers the option to update their subscription preferences so they can receive fewer messages or only ones with special offers. And if they still want to unsubscribe, offer an exit survey to see what they disliked and use their feedback to improve your messaging strategy.


After frequency, relevance is the number-two driver of unsubscribes. If your unsubscribe rate is creeping up, re-examine your content and ask yourself whether it’s really what your readers want.


Confirming unsubscribes One-click unsubscribe processes means readers often accidentally remove themselves from lists.


Ask readers for confirmation before removing them, and ideally offer them the opportunity to "opt-down" to fewer emails.


How to personalize an email marketing campaign

Dear Jimdo: I want to address my customers like they’re real people in my emails, not just addresses on a list. Do you have any advice for how I can make my emails more personalized?


Kind Reader: Good instincts! People like to be treated as individuals, and personalizing email messages is more than just good manners. Personalized promotional emails have six times the transactional rate of non-personalized ones.


Personalizing emails begins with the customer’s name, which many businesses collect and don’t bother to use. Add your customer’s names to your email system to ensure messages are addressed to individuals, not Dear First Name.


Here are a few more ways you can personalize emails:
  • Segment your email lists based on your customers’ shopping habits, location, and interests. Use these segments to target your email messages.
  • Give subscribers options for what days, what type of content (blogs, promotional offers, etc.), and how often they receive your emails during the opt-in process.
  • Make the REPLY TO address a real person, not a role address such as And be sure to answer any replies you get, so people know they are contacting a real person and not an automated inbox.


How to optimize email campaigns for mobile devices

Dear Jimdo: I tend to check emails on my cell phone, and I know my customers are doing the same. I’ve read about mobile-friendly email design, but is it really so critical that I make my messages easy-to-read on mobile devices? Won’t they be able to get the gist of my message without my going to the trouble of reformatting them?


Kind reader: You are correct that more and more people are reading their emails on smart phones and tablets. The 2013 Experian study reports that half of all email opens are on mobile devices, and 39 percent of all unique clicks are on mobile devices as well.


You shouldn't ask your readers to get the “gist” of your message through a mobile-incompatible design. That same Experian study revealed that emails with responsive designs received a 63 percent higher click-through rate and an 18 percent increase in transaction. With that in mind, wouldn’t you go out of your way to design your messages so your audience can view and interact with them easily?


There’s much to be said on the topic of mobile design, but here are a few rules of thumb to help you create emails that are easy to navigate on smartphones or tablets:
  • Put ample space between links so they are easy to touch and follow. Even better: employ large, clickable buttons with calls to action, like “Shop Now” or “Read More.” Targets should be 44x44 points per Apple’s standards.
  • Fonts should be large—at least 14px, according to email testing service Litmus.
  • Use a slender and simple design.
  • Get right to the point. Keep your message short and sweet, then deliver your call to action.
  • Test your email message on a mobile phone before you send it out—on both iOS and Android devices—and make sure everything is legible.
Email example from Martha Stewart Living This mobile email from Martha Stewart gets props for easy vertical
scrolling and spaced out links. A larger font and tappable buttons would make it even better.


Good email etiquette is about more than minding your p’s and q’s—it’s about building trust with your audience, improving communications, and ultimately, increasing revenue. If you practice good email manners over time, your customers are sure to thank you—perhaps even on a dusty old card.


Jane Douglas-Jones

Allison Guilliom


Allison is an American blogger with a Pinterest obsession currently living in Japan. She has a monster appetite for travel, music, Detroit coney dogs, and random acts of derring-do. Oh, and pasta. She can eat her weight in pasta.