Thinking about the concept of best practices


In 2010 Chad White declared best practices dead.

Frankly, the term has always been too “big tent” to be truly useful. When “don’t buy email lists” and “use buttons for primary calls-to-action” are both best practices, it’s no wonder there’s confusion. What we need is new language that differentiates those practices that are a litmus test for legitimate email marketers vs. spammers, from practices that are simply wise.

He went on to define a set of Ethical Imperatives that all legitimate marketers should follow in order to separate themselves from spammers. These imperatives entered around permission and gaining informed consent from recipients. At the time this article was published, I wrote a blog post agreeing with him about how the term best practices is meaningless. This is reflected in my blogging, over the years I’ve written fewer and fewer posts tagged with Best Practices.

Many of the posts I have written about best practices mention permission and then focus on the technical things every mailer should do as a responsible mailer. But even then, much of the time I write about them as minimum practices, not best practices. They are the bare minimum practices that bulk mail should conform to.

But are those really best practices? As I think about it more and more the answer is really no. Best practices are not the minimum practices. They’re actually being thoughtful and doing things right. To me, best practices should take some effort to get right. They need to be more than simply the minimum standard. What do I mean by that? Let’s look at some specific examples.

I state that every email should be authenticated. At a minimum that means either having SPF or DKIM and it doesn’t mention what domains are authenticated. Many small companies using Mailchimp or other mail providers send authenticated mail, but all the mail is authenticated with Mailchimp’s domain(s). A better practice is authenticating with both SPF and DKIM and having the d= point directly to you. A best practice is to have both SPF and DKIM authenticated with your own domains and aligning with the 5322.from.

We can go through the same thought process when discussing permission. Email addresses should be collected with permission. At a minimum that means having an opt-in notice on a website where the address is collected. Better practices are to require the user to actually take an action to opt-in, like checking a box. Best practices are to do a round trip confirmation to link the person giving the email address on the website with the person receiving the email.

Another feature (?) of best practices is that doing them doesn’t necessarily improve deliverability. They’re good things to do, they’re the right thing to do, they’re even the best thing to do. But they’re not always going to get your mail to the inbox. Many of the minimum practices will get >95% of mail to the inbox. Improving practices isn’t necessarily going to get you that last 5%.

Best practices are about going the extra mile to do things correctly, whether or not they actually benefit you.


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