By Brian Sutter, director of marketing, Wasp Barcode Technologies

Email marketing has one of the highest returns of any digital marketing technique. But some small business owners avoid it because they think it will be hard. If that’s you, I’ve got good news. Email marketing is one of the simplest and most effective digital marketing tactics.

Here’s proof of that from a survey Ascend2 did just last year:

digital marketing tactics

Ascend2’s survey from September of last year ranked email #1 for effectiveness, but dead last for difficulty. That’s a nice combination.

If you’d like to get started with email, or want to tune up your current efforts, just follow these 25 best practices. Pretty soon you’ll be as good at email as many larger companies, and maybe even better.


1) Put an opt-in box in the upper right-hand corner and in the footer of every page on your site.

If people can’t see your opt-in boxes, they can’t sign up. So put an opt-in box at the top and bottom of every page on your site. Every page – from the about us page to the blog main page to your pricing page.

2) Use a pop-up.

Pop-ups have a bad reputation, but they can quadruple opt-in rates. Set them to show only once a week and only after people have been on your site for at least a minute.

3) Use double opt-in.

With double opt-in, people aren’t automatically subscribed as soon as they give you their email address. They have to first get a confirmation email and then click a link in that confirmation email before they are signed up.

Why do this? Because you’ll get almost double the click-through rates, double the open rates and half as many unsubscribes. It works.


MailChimp did a study of double opt-in versus single opt-in lists. Double opt-in was far and away the better option.

4) Customize your confirmation pages.

This makes your subscribers more likely to complete the double opt-in process.

5) Send a welcome email.

Welcome emails get more opens and clicks than any other email you’ll ever send. Why? Timing. You’re sending it right at the moment when people are most interested in your messages. They just signed up, after all.

6) Add an email opt-in form to your Facebook page.

Almost every small business has a presence on Facebook. So use it to build your list. Most email service providers offer an easy way to add an opt-in form to your Facebook page. They typically look like this:

opt in

7) Ask for email addresses at check-out or at the receptionist’s desk.

Build your list offline, too. This can be a fish bowl with business cards, a signup via a tablet application, or just a signup sheet that’s a blank printed form.

8) Offer an incentive to sign up for your list.

You have to give people a compelling reason to sign up for your list. Even a 10% discount on their first order may not be enough. Try 20% off, or something with an equivalent value.


9) Use an email template from your email service provider that is mobile friendly, aka “responsive” or “fluid”.

More than half of all email messages are now opened on mobile devices. If your emails don’t look good on mobile devices, your email marketing is doomed.

env growth

More emails are opened on mobile devices than desktops. Chart credit:

10) Test every email you create before you send it.

Click the links. Click the images. Make sure it looks good on a smartphone. Even big-time email marketers make mistakes with emails. Have someone else take a look at everything you send, just to avoid embarrassments.

11) Use a single column design, or a design that will revert to a single column on a mobile device.

This is another step to make your emails look good on mobile devices. Single column emails do force you to simplify the design a lot, which means simplifying your message. That’s not a bad thing: Most of your readers will spend less than 15 seconds looking at your email.

moveable ink

From the Movable Ink “US Consumer Device Preference Report: Q2 2014″

12) Use at least a 14-point type for body copy.

14-point type will look a bit large on a desktop, but it will be a comfortable size to read on a phone.

Bonus tip: Give your type high contrast against its background. So no gray text, no white type on a dark background. Also avoid putting type on a background that’s a pattern or a photograph.

13) Use no more than two typefaces in your emails.

It’s great to have so many ways to customize our emails, but don’t overdo. Pick a nice readable typeface/font for headlines, and another one for body type. If you must have a third typeface for special situations, that’s okay. Just don’t use more than three typefaces.

14) Do include images. Make them single column.

Images add a lot of emails. Include at least one with every email you send. Also make them clickable. People are drawn to the images and expect that if they click the images they’ll be brought to a landing page or to your site.

Try to keep image sizes small. In Photoshop, save your images for the web, but then take an extra step and use a tool like JPEGmini ( to shrink them even more. Keeping emails’ size small so they load quickly is really important, and images are typically the major offender for email size. They don’t have to be.

jpg mini

15) If you have a blog, consider setting up RSS to email.

Did you know you can automate your email marketing? Just set up “RSS to email”. This feature is offered by most email service providers. It takes every blog post you publish and feeds it into an email template, then sends your emails out at a pre-scheduled time.

16) Make all your buttons and calls to action large enough to be clickable with a thumb.

All your efforts with email marketing come down to getting people to click. So make it easy. Buttons should be at least 60 pixels wide with plenty of white space around them.



17) Use best practices for subject lines.

Subject lines are the most important part of your emails. They are the headlines. Here are some tips to make them clickworthy:

  • Keep it short –50 characters or less
  • Use personalization sometimes
  • Don’t use all caps for any word
  • Special characters (emojis or glyphs) can boost response
  • Summarize the benefit of your email

You can also “test” your subject lines with the free online tool Touchstone ( It will tell you how good your email subject line is based on its analysis of billions of emails.

18) Customize your pre-header text.

Sometimes called the “second subject line”, pre-header text is the gray text just to the right of the subject line. This line of copy actually takes up more room than the subject line sometimes. Say more with it than just the default, “Trouble seeing this email? Click here to view it online.”

Caption: Preheader text (the copy in gray) is both like a sub-header and a call to action.

19) Keep your sender name consistent and recognizable.

On mobile devices, the from name (aka “sender name”) will be more prominent than the email’s subject line.

Most companies use their company name as their sender name. Others use an employee’s name, or the name of the company owner. Whatever you do, keep the from name consistent. Changing it around a lot can do bad things to click-through rates and deliverability.

20) Keep your email copy short – about 300-500 words.

If you’ve got more to say, offer links to click through to the articles. Or send people to a mobile-friendly landing page.

Always remember that most people do not really read emails – they scan them. So use headlines and subheaders that are easy to understand. Use bullet points wherever possible. Keep your paragraphs short: No more than 5 lines each.


21) Don’t send more than one email a day.

Even around Christmas, an email a day can get to be too much. It can cause people to unsubscribe.

22) Sending one email a week is a good frequency.

Find a steady schedule you can keep up with and stick to it. Once a week is good. Go with once a month if that’s too much.

There are a bunch of studies analyzing which weekday is best to send emails on. Take them with a grain of salt. Thursdays and Saturdays tend do well, but most of the studies recommend different weeksdays. The best thing to do is to test for yourself.

Unsubscribes / Opt-out

23) Include an unsubscribe link in the bottom of every email.

Your email service provider should automatically put an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email you send. Don’t try to take it out. If people want off your list, it’s best to just let them go.

24) Make it easy to see and click the unsubscribe link.

Again, don’t edit it the unsubscribe link out. Don’t make the text of the unsubscribe link the same color as the background to hide it. And don’t change the link text to say something other than “unsubscribe”. That makes it hard to find and frustrating for your readers. Frustrated readers sometimes report an email as spam rather than just unsubscribing.

Caption: Don’t mess with the unsubscribe link. Make it easy to find.

25) On the final unsubscribe page, include a prompt and buttons to follow you on social media.

Just because your subscribers don’t want emails from you anymore doesn’t mean they don’t ever want to hear from you again. Maybe they would rather stay in touch on social media. It never hurts to ask.

If you follow those best practices carefully you’ll probably join the happy club of small business owners getting good returns from email marketing. There’s always more to know, of course, but that’s enough information to get you started.

Think I missed any good tips? Give us a shout-out in the comments. I must have forgotten at least one…