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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17 Email Marketing Terms Every Business Should Know

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image of DJ Waldow

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