Best practices are like brands; they relieve us of the burden of decision-making. If we had to deliberate every single choice in between sitting down at a blank screen and hitting the “SEND” button to launch a campaign, well let’s just say that inbox clutter would no longer be a problem. Best practices – proven conventions and tactics in email marketing – make our jobs as marketers a little easier because someone has already done the testing and deliberation of many of these choices.
The challenge with best practices however is that they often persist even when the environment in which they were identified has evolved. This causes them to outlive their usefulness, rendering them not only less effective but in many cases counter-productive. Here are some email best practices that have reached their expiration date:
1. “Tuesday is the best day to send email.”
The conventional thinking was that Monday was the worst day to send email because people were just returning to their desks after the weekend and needed a day to get back into the swing of things. Friday was also out because it did not leave enough time in the week to act on an email. By the same reasoning, Thursday was better than Friday as it left more time to respond to an email’s call-to-action before disappearing into the weekend ether. So of course Wednesday was even better than Thursday, and Tuesday was better still. There are two reasons why this best practice should be retired. First, the logic behind it is now false, as the weekend is not as interruptive as it once was. Mobile devices and perpetual connectivity let one week in the inbox flow seamlessly into the next. But the other reason this best practice should be put to pasture is that it became extremely popular, making it the email best practice equivalent of, “nobody goes to that restaurant anymore, it’s too crowded.” In email, one of the greatest challenges we face is inbox clutter, so placing your message in the inbox on the same day as all your rivals hamstrings its chances to arrest and enjoy attention. A recent study has shown that Tuesday is the busiest email day, with the sharpest spike in inbox volume between 10am and 11am. The same study tracked engagement rates and found that messages on Tuesdays were the least likely to be opened and clicked.
2. “Write as much as you want, as long as you can still hold your audience’s attention.”
This best practice is attributable to Lester Wunderman, the father of direct marketing. Originally a reference to direct mail copy, the concept of writing as much as you want as long as you maintain your audience’s attention has been adopted by email marketers. The email mantra is to reach conclusions by testing and measuring, and email marketers have justified this particular best practice by monitoring their engagement metrics to ensure long messages were still driving clicks. Seeing clicks all the way down in the fourth or fifth paragraphs is even further vindication. However, metrics can only tell you how your subscribers did respond to long copy, not how they might respond to shorter copy. More importantly, a too narrow focus on an individual message’s metrics tends to promote myopia. The big picture in email marketing is maintaining and nurturing a long-term subscriber relationship. With inbox clutter an ongoing challenge for all marketers, the winner today may be the message that holds the most attention, but the winner over the long run is going to be the brand that shows the most respect and empathy towards its subscribers. When the inevitable thinning of the newsletter herd occurs, brands that do not try to monopolize subscriber attention are more likely to retain their place in the inbox.
3. “Don’t use ‘Free’ or ALL CAPS in the subject line.”
This best practice was born in a different era of deliverability, where a single suspicious activity could trip a spam filter and send a campaign spiraling into the junk folder. Modern spam filtering is far more sophisticated and far less draconian. It is a fairly navigable system with many tools that increase visibility, not an inscrutable minefield. What has happened with ‘Free’ and ALL CAPS recently is that an increasing number of legitimate marketers are using them in subject lines because they accurately and effectively telegraph what is inside the message. The more who do, the of a spam stigma is attached to each. (The words “Viagra” and “Cialis,” on the other hand, remain the bastion of spammers so trying to use them in the subject line of a legitimate email is an exercise in futility.) Threat Level Orange on “Free” and ALL CAPS has officially been lifted. Feel FREE to try them in your own subject lines.