3 False Best Practices Email Marketers Should Avoid

Following a common email practice can be like buying a pair of Ugg boots: You do it because all the cool kids are doing it even though you don’t fully understand why you’re doing it and it might not be the best fit.

In his ExactTarget Connections ’13 presentation “The Good, the Bad, and the Best: Practices for a Post Wild West Email Marketing World,” Chad White, ExactTarget marketing research principal and author of the book and blog Email Marketing Rules, stressed the importance of being able to distinguish a best practice from a common practice.

“Sometimes things start as a best practice, and then they become adopted and they become common,” White said. “But they really become common practices when they get separated from the underlying principal that made it a best practice.”

Even though email is an established email channel, it’s also a channel that’s constantly changing, White points out. Consumer behaviors change, inbox capabilities change, and devices on which consumers read their emails change. Hence, it’s important for marketers to be flexible when it comes to their email practices and not be rigid or idle in their email marketing.

Here are three common practices White says marketers often mistake for best practices.

Myth: Test everything

Reality: It seems marketers have been chanting this phrase since the dawn of time. But White says testing everything is more aspirational than practical.

“Marketers don’t test very much. They’re really busy, [or] they’re trying to get the next email out the door.”

While White acknowledges that some marketers are strong testers and have testing calendars and archives, he says the rest fall off at a “tragic rate.” So instead of focusing on testing everything, White advises marketers to find a starting place and to expand their testing once they’ve grasped that one key area.

Myth: Open rates are a primary indicator of success

Reality: Many marketers treat open rates as a primary measure of success; however, White says they’re more of a secondary metric.

“Open rates are a big bugaboo of mine,” White says. “Unless you’re a publisher and you’re selling ads in your email (and that’s your primary goal to get opens so that your ads are rendering)…it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything useful.”

Because open rates don’t provide marketers with great visibility over time, White advises marketers to focus on business metrics, including revenue and conversion rates.

“That’s what CEOs care about, [so] that’s what email marketers should care about.”

Myth: Have a campaign-centric mentality

Reality: It’s easy for customers to get wrapped up in email campaigns. However, White says it’s better for marketers to focus on the lifetime value of subscribers and how different email causes and effects connect.

“If I see a great email that’s amazing and wonderful, you’re probably going to open the next email I send you.”

And while it’s nice to note what marketers do right, it’s also important to track negative effects, as well, White says.

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