An introduction to Email Best Practices
Email Best Practices 101:
- Email Best Practices: Avoiding the Spam Box and Blacklists
- Email Best Practices: Mail Server Configuration
- Email Best Practices: Email Design and Feedback Loops
This article will be thoroughly detailed across the different areas of Email Best Practices; this page will focus on the different influences of email, what they do, and how they affect you.
Email marketing is an integral component of many businesses, and KnownHost is here is to help you understand what is required in order to ensure your emails are reaching the inbox and not the spam box.
First, let’s talk about spam. What is spam? I’m told that it is a delicious, meat-like substance that can be incorporated into many dishes or eaten alone. We won’t be discussing that spam, unfortunately.
The spam we will discuss is unsolicited bulk email. Emails that are sent to several different recipients that never asked to receive such emails qualifies as spam. Nobody likes spam.
There are several requirements that must be met to ensure that your emails are not labelled as spam. If these requirements are not met, and you continue to send spam emails, then your server can become blacklisted. This means that it will have a tarnished reputation and mail servers will stop accepting your mail. If you fix the error and get removed from the blacklist(s), but your server begins sending more spam that in turn results in your server becoming blacklisted again, major RBLs (Real-Time Blacklists) can choose to ignore your requests to delist the IP and/or make the delisting process more involved.
KnownHost strives to only assigns clean IPs to customers. You are given a clean IP, which you must build a good reputation for over time via responsible email practices. This situation can be thought of as analogous to building credit. You begin with no credit. You must then choose to make the right choices with your finances to build a good credit score. You build your mail server’s reputation is the same manner. You continue over time to implement best practices and not send spam, and your credibility as a legitimate mail server builds, resulting in a good IP reputation and more of your emails reaching your audience’s inbox.
So, how do we start building our mail server’s credibility/reputation? There are several ways, and each is just as important as the last.
Let’s discus these in detail so that you have a comprehensive guide to follow when building your mail server’s reputation.
Types of Email
We should first distinguish between the types of email that are sent, as each will have different requirements that must be met per law. The law I am referring to is the CAN-SPAM Act, which we will discuss in more detail soon. Here are the major types of email:
We’ve already described spam emails as those are are sent in bulk without a user’s consent/request. This is the type of email that we don’t want to receive nor send.
Transactional emails are emails that are sent because of some interaction between the sender and the recipient. A few examples would include:
- Receipts of Purchase/Payment Received
- Notifications of account activity (account creations, deletions, password reset requests, etc)
- Social media notifications like friend requests, recent comments, likes, or shares, new followers, etc.
- Billing Statements
These are emails that contain commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service, Examples of these types of emails may include:
- Notifications of Sales/Special Offers
- Notifications of New Product Availability
- Any email with the primary purpose of selling something
This should not need too much explanation, however, any email that contains sexual content falls within this category and is subject unique guidelines in order to comply with laws regarding electronic message transmission.
Spam Laws Vary By Country and Locality
Each country, state, and locality may have their own spam regulation laws3). Many were created prior to the CAN SPAM Act implementation and may now be null and void, while many others may be extensions of the federal law. It is best to check any official regulations for your target audience and country of operation.
Follow the guidelines below if you want to abide by the strictest of country requirements:
- double opt-in and keep records of this consent in a private location (must specify purpose and duration of data storage to the user in addition to how their data was obtained)
- user’s data must not be shared (some locations permit sharing of user data for marketing purposes as long as the possibility of this occurring is disclosed to the user)
- opt-in must be renewed every 2 years
- clearly identify the sender, the sender’s location, and the sender’s reason for sending the communication in subject line (if the purpose is commercial in nature then you would make sure to include the word ‘ad’ or ‘advertisement’ in the subject line, etc)
- ensure a clearly visible unsubscribe option exists in each email and is processed immediately (thanks to Vietnam)
- appoint a data security officer if you are a company (Europe)
The data security officer requirement was formally for Germany only, but then the GDPR extended this requirement across all of Europe.
The CAN-SPAM Act – United States of America
7 CAN-SPAM Act Rules
There are 7 rules listed in the CAN-SPAM Act:
- Don’t use false or misleading header information
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines
- Identify the message as an ad
- Tell recipients where you’re located
- Tell recipients how to opt-out of receiving future email from you
- Honor opt-out requests promptly
- Monitor what others are doing on your behalf
So, how does the CAN-SPAM Act apply to the different types of email?
For promotional emails, every single requirement must be met. However, transactional emails only need to comply with the provision to avoid false or misleading routing information. It is still beneficial to comply with all requirements, though, even for transactional emails, so that the emails are not erroneously marked as spam by automatic spam filters.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
It is important to note that many of the email best practices listed here are not only meant to help you maintain a good email reputation, but they are also legal regulations that you are required to follow if you choose to target those protected by the regulations in your email campaigns.
GDPR guarantees European subjects the following:
- Right to Access
- Data Portability
- Right to be Forgotten
- Data Protection Officers
- Privacy by Design
- Breach Notification
This means that the client will have the right to privacy upfront, which means that you only gather the information that is absolutely necessary for the transactions/communications (privacy by design). This could be applied to activities such as storing their emails on a mailing list and sending emails without any opt-in. They also have the right to revoke any permissions that they grant at any time (right to be forgotten) as well as request and review the information you have stored about them and how it is being used (data portability/right to access). A D.P.O (Data Protection Officer) must be appointed so that a designated contact is available to enforce the rules and handle any requests pertaining to personal data. If a breach occurs that results in the client’s personal data being leaked, they must be notified within 72 hours (breach notification).
You should review this with your lawyer to ensure compliance as the policies outlined here are not complete and should not be used in lieu of legal advice from a legal representative.
You may also want to consult the CDPR’s site for more information.
Additional Requirements to Consider
There can be additional regulations that one must follow depending on their locality, such as a state within the United States of America. It is important to note, though, that many of the state regulations that were passed prior to 2003 when the CAN-SPAM Act passed, are no longer pertinent as the regulation may be covered under the CAN-SPAM Act. It is always best to check and confirm that no additional provisions are required under state regulations, though.
Hosting Provider/Email Service Provider Acceptable Use Policies
One must also check with their hosting providers to ensure that they are not in violation of the Terms of Service or Acceptable Usage Policy by sending bulk email. Though the Federal regulations impose no quantitative restrictions on the number of emails sent, your hosting provider may, and exceeding such limits may void your contract or constitute abuse according to the terms of the hosting provider’s contracts.
You can find KnownHost’s Terms of Service here:
And the Acceptable Usage Policy here: