You can have the best products and services on the market, but if you don’t craft and execute a strong email strategy, your customers will likely look elsewhere. Email is still one of the most-used communication channels in the world, according to Statista, which says that 269 billion emails were sent and received daily by 3.7 billion people in 2017.

Here are 5 all-too-common mistakes that many companies make but which you should be able to easily avoid.

1. Not creating an onboarding series

It’s important to create a welcome email that brings new customers into the fold. However, making that a one-and-done experience leaves you susceptible to high customer churn rates. You’ll want to craft a series of triggered emails that guide new customers through everything they need to know about your product or service.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Get the viewpoints of designers and/or usability experts: Colors, font sizes, icons, button placement, the amount of text, and overall design are all key elements to consider when developing an onboarding experience. Ideally, you should also have an onboarding process in an app and/or on a website, and your emails should complement that flow.
  • Consider simple incentives: Gamification is a great way to reward new users as they move through onboarding. For example, a progress bar or percentage complete can help them understand how much more they need to do and minimize frustration.
  • Create triggers tied to inactivity and other behaviors: In addition to creating triggered emails that are sent out at specific intervals, consider crafting triggered messages that are tied to specific behaviors. For example, if someone fails to complete a step in the onboarding process, create a follow-up email that’s sent after X number of days of inactivity. You can also send follow-up messages when people fail to open onboarding emails.

Make sure you kick off your onboarding series with an opt-in email, which confirms that the customer supplied the correct email address (sending messages to the wrong addresses harms your deliverability). It also serves as a “You wanted to create this account” reminder and lets you opt them in for future emails.

2. Not prioritizing security

Everyone wants to keep bad actors from accessing their company’s data, and we all know about the eye-popping costs of phishing, spear fishing, and spoofing attacks on employees’ email accounts. However, it’s also important to consider the damage done to brand trust when consumers receive malicious emails purportedly from companies they’ve done business with, or might do business with.

That’s why you should spend the resources to set up three free email security standards that can help stop spammers from impersonating your company, as well as alert you to such efforts.

Step 1: Implement SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

SPF is an email authentication standard that defines a way to validate that an email was sent from an authorized mail server. It was designed to supplement the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) protocol that’s used to send email because SMTP doesn’t include any authentication mechanisms.

SPF also piggybacks on the well-established Domain Name System (DNS) that maps web server names to IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. It’s a standard TXT file that resides in your domain’s overall DNS records and defines your authorized mail servers. Inbound mail servers use that file to compare the IP addresses of email senders with those authorized mail servers. The SPF record tells those servers how to handle messages that fail the comparison.

Step 2: Create a DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) Signature

DKIM adds a digital signature to the headers of an email message, allowing an incoming mail server to validate it against a public cryptographic key in the sending organization’s DNS records. While SPF defines the mail servers that can send messages on behalf of your domain, it doesn’t offer a mechanism to verify whether the message headers or body have been altered or forged while in transit. That’s why you want to use DKIM too.

Step 3: Add DMARC to the Foundation Created by SPF and DKIM

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) allows you to define your email authentication practices and provide instructions to inbound mail servers for enforcing them. It wraps around the SPF and DKIM authentication standards to enable a complete email sending solution.

Since neither SPF nor DKIM alert you to malicious messages that managed to bypass both safeguards, DMARC gives you that information so you can act on it.

3. Not developing good email habits

In addition to watching for bad actors who are trying to impersonate your company, you want to ensure that your emails reach people’s inboxes. You do that by maintaining a strong sender reputation, which tells mail providers like Gmail whether they should put your emails straight into users’ inboxes, mark them as promotional or spam, or even outright reject them.

You can keep develop a good sender reputation by:

  • Keeping people engaged: The more people open your emails and click through from them, the higher your engagement rate will be. Use subject lines that are short and to the point, and ensure your emails are mobile responsive, which means they automatically adapt to the device screens they’re viewed on.
  • Creating, authenticating, and warming up sending domains: Use different sub-domains for different types of email and warm up new ones by methodically adding email volume week by week. Inbound mail servers want to see consistent volume and frequency.
  • Exercising good list maintenance: Immediately remove email addresses that hard bounce, but keep an eye on soft bounces too and suppress the addresses that keep returning that result. Pay attention to engagement rates too: consider removing people who never engage with your emails, or send them a “Would you like to stay on our list?” message every so often.

In addition, peruse the details of the CAN-SPAM law in the United States, GDPR in the European Union, and other important pieces of legislation. Note that GDPR can affect your company even if it’s not based in the EU.

4. Not considering the little details

There are several elements of email sending that are easy to overlook, such as:

  • Preheader text: This is the text that email clients, including all mobile ones, display below the subject line. If you don’t specify it, recipients typically see the first several words of the email, which isn’t optimal. Use the preheader to complement the subject line and give people another incentive to open your message.
  • The footer: That’s where you want to include any legally required language, as well as an unsubscribe link. Don’t make people hunt for the unsubscribe link – you’ll risk them marking your email as spam so they can get off your list, and that will hurt your sender reputation.
  • Opt down preferences: When people click the unsubscribe link, take them to an email preference center that lets them choose less frequent emails, or different types of mailings. That way they can remain on your list.

5. Not choosing a reliable email service provider

Selecting the right email service provider (ESP) can pay dividends for years to come. Choose wisely, though, because it can be costly and time-consuming to switch to another provider. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are they cloud-based? On-premise solutions are quickly becoming outdated for all but the largest organizations. A solid cloud-based ESP can quickly scale to meet sudden extra capacity needs.
  • What kind of support do they offer? Some ESPs assume that knowledge base articles and an online forum are enough, but that doesn’t work when a critical problem brings your business to a standstill and you need to get someone on the phone.
  • Do they incorporate security by design? In addition to supporting SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, they should provide security at the email content, protocol, and network layers. And you can’t go wrong if they run on a rock-solid cloud platform like Amazon Web Services.
  • Can they ensure your emails will hit inboxes? An email shouldn’t be considered delivered if it hits a spam trap, but some ESPs look at it that way. They should be able to optimize your deliverability rates by adjusting your email sending based on real-time feedback from email providers.
  • Do they offer a strong API (application programming interface)? They should support message injection and sending protocols including SMTP, REST, SMPP and MM7, as well as data integration protocols including ODBC, LDAP and PostgresSQL.
  • Do they supply real-time data and analytics? A good ESP will not only supply send, open, click, bounces, and other metrics in real-time but also give you access to a detailed event history for each message.

You can’t go wrong if you decide to go with SparkPost, which is a cloud-based ESP that runs on Amazon Web Services, offers 98% deliverability rates, features a RESTful API and other key protocols, and gives you all the real-time analytics you need.

~ Casey