Email inbox anxiety is a real thing, and no wonder: Billions of emails are sent every day.

Today, the last day of National Clean Out Your Inbox Week (Jan. 22-28), is a good opportunity for marketers to think about how we contribute to our subscribers' email stress.

Here are four email best-practices that will help your subscribers get a handle on their inboxes—and also improve the return on your email marketing investment.

1. Acquire email addresses ethically—and smartly

Before you launch your next email campaign, ensure your email lists contain true opt-ins only and every address on the list is valid.

Validating addresses is important because even opt-in lists can contain email addresses that have syntax issues, and using lists with errors like that can get your company blacklisted. Also, it's best-practice to not buy email lists. Marketers who deal with list rentals or buy lists from less-than-reputable companies are often unaware of the negative legal and ethical ramifications and sometimes end up being the ones sending to high-risk addresses.

Another common email acquisition issue that creates problems for subscribers occurs because marketers don't include a mechanism that allows subscribers to update their email address without unsubscribing from their original account.

Often, when a consumer unsubscribes from one email account and resubscribes with another, their record of engagement with your brand is removed, skewing your data and mistakenly "resetting" your relationship. Preserve your history by including an "update your email" prompt within the email itself or an account settings page.

2. Master deliverability basics

Develop a solid understanding of email deliverability best-practices, and stay on top of them because the best path to the inbox is constantly evolving.

For example, if you haven't already, avoid using multiple special characters in your subject lines. More than one exclamation mark can be flagged as spam. Even though filters and email software have advanced to better recognize what is and isn't actually spam, recipients are still likely to "recognize" such practices as spam—and mark emails accordingly. So, instead of otherwise valid phrases such as "We released a new feature! Come check it out!" a better subject line might be "We released a new feature. Come check it out!" And people won't think you're soooo excited all the time!!

When in doubt, seek out deliverability experts who can help to ensure compliance with federal and global laws and alignment with customer expectations and reputation management best-practices. For instance, the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation bans the use of pre-ticked boxes; and the California Consumer Privacy Act requires covered businesses to allow consumers to opt out of data collection and sale. Violations of those regulations can result in substantial fines and legal costs.

3. Engage and build trust with subscribers...

Have a mechanism in place to promptly welcome new subscribers—ideally, within an hour. Confirm the validity of their email address, tell them what content they can expect, and offer them incentives to fill out customer profile for targeting purposes.

If you wait too long to engage, you risk new subscribers' either forgetting that they've opted in or losing interest in engaging with your brand.

When acquiring new subscribers, it's important to ask them for some sort of engagement to help you build a customer profile or preference information. You need to know who they are (demographics), what they're interested in seeing (content preferences), and anything else that would help you reach out to them intelligently. For instance, customer "events," like changing their address, celebrating their birthday, or leaving items in their cart, are opportunities for marketers to reach out.

Keep in mind, though, that whenever you ask your customers to give you personal information, you must inform them how you intend to use it. The best way to do that is to share your privacy policy up front and every time updates are made.

After you've made a strong first impression, shift your focus to maintaining a personal relationship with your subscribers. Every email you send them should be tailored to their individual interests and preferred frequency. Regularly review their browsing, purchase, and engagement data, and customize your outreach accordingly.

4. ...but give them some space

One massive error marketers make is to keep sending emails to customers who don't engage. Doing so creates four problems:

  1. It annoys customers. Adobe confirmed in its 2019 Email Usage Study that "emailed too often" is the top reason people unsubscribe.
  2. It draws the attention of internet service providers, which patrol networks for excessive activity.
  3. It upsets email service providers, which may come to view your behavior as abusing their systems.
  4. It's illegal in some circumstances. The CAN-SPAM Act requires commercial email senders to honor opt-out requests, for example, to protect consumers from unwanted electronic messages.

Stay out of trouble by practicing good list hygiene. That means excluding inactive email addresses from your mailings and purging dead accounts. As a best-practice, stop sending email if there's no engagement for 60-90 days. If you continue past that 90-day window, you increase your risk of being blacklisted.

* * *

National Clean Out Your Inbox Week is a great reminder for digital marketers that email quality is better for your ROI than email quantity.

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image of John Landsman

John Landsman is manager of research analytics at SparkPost, an email analytics and delivery platform.

LinkedIn: John Landsman