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17 Email Marketing Terms Every Business Should Know

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • 17 crucial terms that every email marketer must know
  • 17 tips and helpful facts to go with each term

Every industry has its own language. The email marketing community, too, has its own jargon that sets it apart. And if you are unfamiliar with it, navigating the world of email marketing can be confusing.

Whether you send email campaigns (as a marketer) or receive them (as a consumer), you need to understand email terminology.

The following is a list of 17 email marketing terms that every business should know. (Note: This list is not comprehensive, nor is the discussion of the terms, each of which could be the subject of an entire article. So consider this list a starting point).

1. Blacklist: A blacklist contains a set of IP addresses that are suspected of sending out unsolicited email (spam). If your sending IP has a high complaint rate, high hard-bounce rate, or a bunch of spamtrap addresses (see term No. 16), you are more likely to be blacklisted.
Bonus: Having your IP addresses blacklisted is bad. Do everything you can to avoid it from happening.

2. Bounce: An email that is rejected by the receiving mail system is said to have bounced. An email can be returned as "bounced" for many reasons, such as having an unknown alias (username), nonexistent domain name, or full inbox. (See more in the "Hard Bounce" and "Soft Bounce" sections.)

Bonus: Pay particular attention to the number and rate of bounced emails, both of which could negatively affect your overall deliverability.

3. CAN-SPAM Act of 2003: Signed into law in December 2003 by President Bush, CAN-SPAM establishes the standards for sending commercial email in the United States.

Bonus: This act is the minimum standard for sending commercial email in the United States. Most email service providers (ESPs) have much stricter requirements.

4. Click-through rate: Similar to open rate (see No. 12), CTR can be measured different ways. The most common, however, is clicks divided by emails sent. For example, if you sent an email to 100 people and 12 of them clicked on one or more links, your click-through rate would be 12%.

Bonus: Before sending out your next email marketing campaign, determine which links you want your subscribers to click. Design your creative to meet that goal.

5. Cost per thousand (CPM): Most of the major ESPs charge email marketers based on the number of emails sent per given time period (month or year). Rates are based on 1,000 emails. Typical CPM rates can range anywhere from a few cents to several dollars, based on overall volume.
Bonus: When shopping around for an ESP, have a good sense of the total number of emails you plan to send per month or year. Also, ask about overage fees!

6. Deliverability: The number of emails that are sent minus those that bounce equals deliverability. See more under "Inbox Deliverability Rate."
Bonus: Note that there is often a difference between deliverability and inbox deliverability. What matters more is the latter—the number of emails that reach the intended recipients' inboxes.

7. Email service provider (ESP): An ESP is an organization that provides a tool or service that enables marketers to send out mass emails to their clients, prospects, and customers. Many ESPs also provide strategy and consulting services.

Bonus: Not all ESPs are created equal. Much like people (and cars), they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Find the ESP that best fits your business needs.

8. Hard bounce: A hard bounce is an email that does not reach the intended recipient because of some permanent error. In server-speak, it's defined by a 5xx error code. Hard bounces can occur when an alias (username) or domain does not exist. In most cases, emails that have hard-bounced will never be delivered.

Bonus: Hard bounces are often the result of sending email to an old or purchased list. Beware: A high number of hard bounces will have a negative impact on your overall deliverability and domain reputation, making it harder to send emails in the future.

9. Inbox deliverability rate: This term refers to the proportion of emails that reach the intended recipients' inboxes for a given email campaign. Put another way, it's determined by emails sent minus those that bounced, dropped, lost, blocked, filtered as spam, etc.

Bonus: There are many email delivery services (Return Path, Pivotal Veracity, etc.) that can help determine your inbox deliverability.

10. List purchase: Buying an email list normally involves not only an exchange of money but also an actual handover of an email list (a file). Buying a list means that you, the list buyer, actually purchased the list. It's yours. You can do with it as you please. (See "Buying an Email List vs. List Rental."
Bonus: When is it OKto buy an email list? Never! (Though some marketing lists are OK.)

11. List rental: As opposed to buying a list, renting a list does not allow for an exchange of list ownership. Instead, the list renter is merely using the list owner's email addresses to send a targeted message. (See "Buying an Email List vs. List Rental.")

Bonus: List rentals can be very effective as long as clear expectations are set up front, and the subscribers receive value from the email.

12. Open rate: Essentially, open rate is the number of emails opened compared with the number sent. In other words, if you send a campaign to a list of 100 addresses, and 22 emails were opened, you'd have a 22% open rate. Simple, right? Not so fast.

Not all ESPs measure open rate the same way. Some count a click as an "open." Some count those delivered (sent minus bounced) as the denominator. It gets even stickier if you consider that "opens" are really just a measure of an email that's rendered in one's inbox, and so does not necessarily mean the message has been read. (The industry is moving to standardize the way open rates are measured.)

Bonus: Before using open rate as a metric for success, be sure your business knows how it's being measured.

13. Permission-based email marketing: Asking for, and obtaining, permission to email subscribers is the basis of permission marketing. Most often, subscribers will check a box to give you consent (permission) to send them emails.

Bonus: Though not necessarily required by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, permission-based email marketing is often a requirement of ESPs.

14. Soft bounce: A soft bounce is an email that does not reach the intended recipient because of some temporary error. In server-speak, it's defined by any error code other than 5xx. Note that sometimes the mail server will not return an error code at all. Typically, soft bounces are due to full inboxes or temporary "hiccups" by mail servers or ISPs.

Bonus: Most ESPs will retry soft bounces after a specified period of time. Often, soft bounces eventually get delivered.

15. Spam: We all know spam when we see it. Typically, spam is email that is unsolicited or email that we didn't sign up (opt in) to receive. (In real life, however, spam is any email that is unwanted.)

Bonus: Remember that the consumer ultimately determines whether your email is spam.

16. Spamtrap/honeypot: These are old/inactive/unused email addresses that are intentionally set up to catch spammers. If you have spamtrap/honeypot email addresses on your list, it may be time to review your process for growing your email list.
Bonus: Having spamtrap/honeypot email addresses is a red flag to ISPs that you are a spammer.

17. Whitelist: A whitelist is a list of "approved" IP addresses and senders. If an Internet service provider (ISP) has whitelisted an IP address, it is more likely to accept incoming email from that address.

Bonus: Having your sending IP address whitelisted does not guarantee that your email will be delivered 100% of the time.

* * *

Remember that this list is far from complete. Do you have other email marketing terms you'd add? Please do so in the comments section, below.

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DJ Waldow is an email marketing consultant, writer, blogger, speaker, founder and CEO of Waldow Social, and co-author of The Rebel's Guide to Email Marketing.

Twitter: @djwaldow

LinkedIn: DJ Waldow

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  • by Newspeak? Really? Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    You do know that newspeak was meant to remove freedom of thought and expression from the language, right? To keep the party members trapped in the same position from birth to grave?

    You might want to think about altering your opening paragraph there as I'm not sure the current trend of marketing terms really holds up as a comparison.

  • by Michael Webster Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    Useful list for some, but I agree - eliminate the use of "newspeak", you are sending the wrong message.

  • by Valentina Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    Good information, good to brush up on basics.

  • by John Caldwell Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    We don't want to confuse people on delivery/deliverability.

    The generally accepted definition of delivery are those messages accepted by the receiving server - the number of messages sent less bounced.

    The generally accepted definition of deliverability are those messages delivered to the Inbox.

    And you might want to brush up on what is and isn't "newspeak", or we just might have to send you to Room 101....

  • by DJ Waldow Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    Yikes! Wow. Sorry about the "newspeak" reference. How embarrassing! So much for my attempt to be cute. It has been quite a while since I read 1984, but that's no excuse. Again, my apologies.

    John: Regarding delivery vs. deliverability, you make some excellent clarifications. Just out of curiosity, where can one find these "generally accepted" definitions?

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

  • by John Caldwell Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    I like how descrbes it:

    "It would seem on the face of it that Email Deliverability should simply mean "Email Delivery Rate," and

    %3Ebeginners at email marketing often confuse these two distinct metrics

    You might also want to reference this white paper from the IAB (PDF) --%3E

    There's --%3E

    And there's the eec --%3E

    And of course the DMA (pdf) --%3E

    MailChimp talks about it here --%3E

    Let me know if you need a few more. I'm always happy to do others homework before they attempt to teach others.... /sarcasm :-)

  • by DJ Waldow Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    Thanks for all of the links/references, John. Sarcasm, while noted, is not really appreciated. Not sure it helps move the conversation forward. There are no definitive definitions for many of these terms. As mentioned above...

    (Note: This list is not comprehensive, nor is the discussion of the terms, each of which could be the subject of an entire article. So consider this list a starting point).

  • by John Caldwell Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    And giving wrong information to people that might not know better moves the conversation?

    I think a better response than defending it is to admit it and make the correction.

    If we don't want standards, let's just chuck them and embrace mediocrity so we don't hurt anyone's feelings....

  • by Vahe Habeshian, MarketingProfs Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    Hi, John and DJ. I think we can all agree that providing correct information, including various versions and sources of correct information, moves along the conversation. In that process, though, sarcasm surely isn't a necessary element. Thank you, both, for your contribution here.

  • by DJ Waldow Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    Vahe! Thanks for stepping in. See you in a bit, right? I'm on the plane right now and touch down in Austin shortly.

    Agreed that various versions and sources is always helpful. There is not one single agreed upon industry definition for many of these terms. This was my version of them. Maybe I should have made that more clear. Happy to edit the article if you would like me to.

  • by John Caldwell Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    If we're moving the focus off of inaccurate information to sarcasm, then I apologize for being sarcastic. :-)

  • by Vahe Habeshian, MarketingProfs Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    DJ, I'm not in Austin, but have a safe landing and enjoy the conference. John, the focus is the information, that's why sarcasm is extraneous. (Hey, some of my best friends are sarcastic!) :-)

  • by John Caldwell Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    I was asked where the definition of deliverability could be found and I listed three industry associations that post the definition, plus a couple of others. Maybe I was a little much when I did, but that's what you get when asking me to do your homework.

    If some have a different perspective than what industry associations post as the definition of a term, then it might be a good idea to qualify that when posting something to the contrary. These are definite industry definitions; like it or not.

    This post is about email marketing terms every business should know. Shouldn't they know the correct terms?

    And when shown the correct terms as defined by the leading industry associations, is the better response defend the incorrect definition or to admit the mistake and move on?

    Don't we have a responsibility to provide accurate information, and when we make a mistake admit it?

    I like DJ. He's a good guy, but on the definition of deliverability he's provably wrong.

    It's easier to just admit it - correct it if you'd like - and then let it go.... and don't get mad at me because I pointed it out and then supported it.... ;-)

  • by Vahe Habeshian, MarketingProfs Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    John, DJ thanked you for your input, and I thanked you for your input. I'm not mad at you, and I'm pretty sure DJ isn't mad at you. No one said you're wrong, and no one said DJ's definition is right (he even said he's willing to amend the article). I merely said sarcasm is unnecessary (DJ said it's unappreciated). So... I'm not sure what the problem is. Let's move on with our lives, shall we?

  • by John Caldwell Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    I've been done and haven't said anything different since I first posted.

    The same way that some might feel sarcasm is unnecessary - which I apologized for, BTW, others might view "Just out of curiosity, where can one find these "generally accepted" definitions?" in the context of this thread as snarky and equally unnecessary.

    But now the conversation has degenerated to me being a bad guy because I used a little sarcasm (which to the noticing eye hasn't abated), which isn't the focus of the post and shouldn't be the focus of the ensuing conversation.

    If you must have the last word, say, "Thank You" or "Have a nice day"; or you can always pat me on the head again and we can take it from there....

  • by Vahe Habeshian, MarketingProfs Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    John, you're right, that was somewhat snarky and unnecessary. So you got even, and the banter's been fun... but it's gone on for too long. So, considering that you have something to say, why not write an article yourself? Contact me via vahe@marketingprofs if you'd be up for it, and we can discuss a topic. Thanks.

  • by Michael Webster Wed Feb 2, 2011 via web

    As a point of etiquette, the thread reads better when the interchange between John and DJ not longer has the references to "sarcasm". We should thank the editor.

  • by Georgia Christian Thu Feb 3, 2011 via web

    "Newspeak" comments aside, I think this is a great reference, especially for newbies to the email marketing industry - and as @valentina says, not a bad idea to brush up once in a while. Thanks for the post!

  • by Danny Naz - Naz Creative Fri Feb 4, 2011 via web

    add this . . . . . SEGMENTATION. If you are not segmenting your lists, then you are not taking advantage of the full power of email. Everything should be more personalized as apposed to a general email to everyone. Target segments of your lists more effectively and watch your bounce go down and your conversions go up.

  • by DJ Waldow Sat Feb 5, 2011 via web

    Thanks for all of the comments. As mentioned before, I'd be happy to edit the Newspeak reference. As noted in my first comment, that was 100% my fault and I'm somewhat embarrassed about it. I'd also be happy to modify the definition of deliverability to be more in line with other industry publications. My intent of this article was to share a few email terms with this audience. As mentioned in the article:

    "(Note: This list is not comprehensive, nor is the discussion of the terms, each of which could be the subject of an entire article. So consider this list a starting point)."

    Apologies for creating a mini-storm....

    (Editor's note: The reference to "Newspeak" has been removed, per DJ's request.)

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