With new mobile devices to design for, Gmail rolling out changes without any warning, and non-stop changes to promotional calendars, it can be hard to stay on top of best email practices.

Anyone who has been in the industry for more than a year or two can easily fall into a best-practices rut – relying on outdated knowledge and outdated features. And some of those outdated practices are probably hurting your KPIs and subscriber experience.

Below are five common practices we see in email and how you can update your campaigns to provide a better subscriber experience.

1) Don’t: Avoid good messaging to avoid spam filters

All caps, ‘free’, and special characters alone will not usually land your message in the spam folder. While filters do look for specific phrases and words to calculate your spam score, these words are only one of many factors that are considered. Don’t completely avoid these words if they are correctly communicating relevant information to your subscribers.


  • Use ‘Spam Filter Trigger’ words sparingly – but if, for example, you have a ‘Free Shipping’ offer, you should still promote that ‘Free’ offer.
  • Test! Set up A/B tests to see what types of special characters, phrases, and other content receives the best open rate for your audiences.
  • Check out other subject Line and copy best practices from DEG Copywriters Cara McDonald & Sarah Norden.

2) Don’t: Give your preheader a prime location in your emails

Preheaders support the subject line and play an important role in getting a subscriber to open an email and take the first step in your conversion funnel. When we look at the anatomy of an email, the subject line and preheader are focused on getting the open. After you have an open, these elements are cluttering your message and distracting your users from the rest of your content – which should now be focused on getting a tap or click.

Lipovac email process


  • Use tools like ExactTarget’s preheader tool to show preheaders in the inbox but hide the copy from your email campaign.
  • Develop preheaders that support your subject line copy with additional information encouraging subscribers to open your email. Let your email body content encourage your subscribers to click through to your website.

3) Don’t: Put your unsubscribe link in hard-to-find places.

If subscribers want to leave your email program, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible. It’s good for your email program when subscribers opt out when your content is no longer relevant to them.

For subscribers who are trying to opt-out of your email program, your goal is to make unsubscribing easier than marking your email as spam. Just a few spam complaints from an ISP and you could land yourself in deliverability trouble.


  • Make your unsubscribe obvious and easy to find.
  • Create a compelling reason for your subscribers to stay in touch when they opt out by promoting cross-channel opportunities. Even if they click unsubscribe, they might continue to engage with you on social networks, direct mail, or other channels.

4) Don’t: Ask subscribers to move you out of the promotions tab, update their address book, or fill out long subscription center forms without providing any value to the subscriber.

In a perfect world, all subscribers would be excited to see every single email you send, want to help you build your brand by filling out surveys, and feel compelled to aid their favorite email marketers by filling out preference centers. In reality, your email is one of many that your subscriber will receive and they’re likely only interested in content that provides explicit value to them. Requests that seem to be focused on making an email marketer’s job easy can rub your users the wrong way, provide little or negative value to your subscribers, or just flat out won’t work.


  • Focus on asking your subscribers to take actions that will provide value to them. For example, instead of filling out a long preference center, have them take a style survey to gather preferences.
  • Accept changes that ISPs make to how they help subscribers manage their inbox. It turns out, ISPs like Gmail are trying to create a better experience for their users when they roll out features like the promotions tab – and we should be doing the same.

5) Don’t: Design your email newsletter like your print newsletter or like a replica of your website.

We frequently see email programs where marketers repurpose a print newsletter directly into an email newsletter or repurpose a website into an email. The logic is that these designs work well in those instances and it is a lower level of effort to repurpose those designs to fit into your email marketing program.

There are pitfalls with both of these tactics. If you’re adapting print material to your email, you’re likely forgetting important things like CTAs, designs that work well on varying device sizes, and developing an experience that resonates with your email subscribers. Likewise, when we see marketers adapt their websites directly into an email, we see highly unusable headers and footers that take up large amounts of space and other content that works well on a website but prevents subscribers from quickly digesting the message you’re delivering.


  • Find a primary message and goal for your email and then try to eliminate any content and messaging that will distract your subscribers away from that message.
  • Design with your subscribers in mind. Typically, subscribers spend 3-to-10 seconds with your email. When you are designing a campaign, ask yourself ‘Do subscribers get the main point of your email in three seconds?’ If the answer is no, consider trimming out less valuable content.
  • Audit your navigation and footers to identify if subscribers are clicking on all of the links. If they aren’t, consider removing them to allow subscribers to focus their attention on the most valuable content.

Even when you’re busy keeping up with a growing list of email trends and best practices, it’s important to continue to reevaluate your program to make sure you aren’t in a best-practices rut.

What other email best practices have you found that are outdated?

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