Email Marketing Misconceptions and Best Practices

Email marketing is one of my favorite digital channels to talk about as it is an extremely effective means of communicating with customers. It is also consistently ranked the channel with the highest return on investment. That said, with the abundance of free email templates and new drag and drop email designers, many businesses delegate email marketing efforts to traditional marketing departments who are uninitiated to the intricacies of the platform.

The accessibility of email is by no means a bad thing, but it has also led to some confusion. In this post, I’ll attempt to dispel a few common misconceptions and discuss best practices for your email marketing strategy.

Delivery and Deliverability are the Same Thing

Most people involved in email marketing understand the general concept of bounces and the negative impact they can have on your ability to reach subscribers, but all too often, mailbox placement or deliverability is misunderstood.

Delivery Rate

Delivery refers to the number of emails that were received by email service providers (ESPs) that did not bounce. Bouncing is the email equivalent of a “return-to-sender” and generally happens after an email address is retired.

Too many bounces or sends to dead email addresses can send a negative signal to email service providers, eventually leading to your domain being flagged or blocked in the long term or your email marketing platform may freeze your account.


Deliverability refers to your email’s ability to bypass spam filters and land in a recipient’s inbox. This metric can be harder to track than delivery rate since ESPs generally don’t alert you when your email has been marked as spam. Though harder to quantify than delivery rate, this metric can have just as big an impact on the success of your campaigns.

Deliverability is effected by three major factors:

  1. Identification – Having the correct records to prove you are who you say you are.
  2. Reputation – Essentially a scoring system that varies across ESPs, based on recipient engagement and abuse complaints.
  3. Content – Many ESPs will flag your email for suspicious subject lines, email formatting, URL shorteners, or lack of “unsubscribe” options.

You Should Never Send More Than Once a Week

How much is too much? The cliché answer is, “it depends on your list,” but I’ve also often heard it said, “once a week is enough for most email lists.” I don’t hate once a week as a general guideline or starting point (again “most lists” is key), but what troubles me is that I’ve literally had clients that were afraid to break this cadence for any reason.

Consider your customers and the content you’re sending. Don’t be afraid to send more often when you have relevant or useful content for your subscribers. This may sound controversial, but you can’t be afraid to upset a single subscriber with your cadence if the rest of your list is continuing to engage positively with your content.

A key indication that you’re sending too much would be finding a dip in engagement. Many marketers think they’ll see unsubscribe rate spike if they send too often, when in fact, I’ve often seen the opposite effect. If users stop opening your emails, they are less likely to unsubscribe. After all, in most cases, you must open an email to remove yourself from a list.

Unsubscribes are the Worst Thing That Can Happen

It’s easy to take unsubscribes from your list personally, but the truth is it could really be worse. Firstly, unsubscribes, unlike abuse complaints, do not hurt your sender reputation as far as ESPs are concerned. In a similar vein, an unsubscribe is always going to be better for your sender reputation than unengaged users who stay on your list indefinitely.

Including an option in the unsubscribe process for subscribers to give feedback on why they are unsubscribing can yield a lot of valuable information as well. Surprisingly, a good number of subscribers in our experience choose to give feedback in this way. Use trends in these responses to better understand if you’re sending too much or if your content is no longer resonating.

Short Subject Lines Lead to Increased Opens

The industry wisdom has, for some time, been that shorter subject lines increase engagement because they allow mobile users to see them in without concatenation. While this is an objective fact, I have not seen a consistent or substantial difference in engagement based on subject line length and I’m not the only one.

The truth is, when it comes to all things subject lines, the best advice I can offer is TEST! In all my experience across multiple industries, I have nothing close to a rule of thumb. I’ve seen certain strategies work for certain clients while others find the opposite result is true. Every decent email platform can run A/B test campaigns and if you aren’t already running tests on something else, subject lines are an easy variable to throw in.

My one word of advice when testing subject lines is to try as best you can to isolate a variable that you can repeat over multiple campaigns. Subject length is a great example of this. By testing similar subject lines of differing lengths over multiple campaigns, you can hopefully learn something actionable about your list. All too often, I’ll see clients testing subject lines with no clear, objective difference. In these cases, the only take-away is one worked better than the other.

Keep testing and reviewing your email marketing practices so you can tailor your strategy to your needs. As it is one of the highest returns on investment, there is no harm in trying and trying again to get it right for you and your business.

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