Mailing List Etiquette

Make mailing lists work as a business tool.

I am on a bunch of mailing lists from various businesses. Many of them fail as sales tools, and as communication tools.

A mailing list can provide timely and relevant information that can lead to purchases. Most do not. Partly as a result, most e-commerce businesses will fail to sell to end users.

Keep Email Short

I'm under time pressure when reading email. An essay will probably get deleted straight away. At best it will get filed, and probably never seen again.

Your mailing should occupy no more than one screen, say 20 lines. If I have to scroll, I will probably delete the rest of it unread.

What Do I Get?

What does your mailing provide for me? If it doesn't provide me with an executive summary of what your product will do for me, what sort of price I can expect to pay, and an easy way to buy, then you have lost me.

Easy Web Access

If I want more information, then I want clickable links in your email that take me straight to the relevant description, or specifications, or purchase engine, and not to a general page. I am not interesting in fighting my way through multiple pages on your web site, wonderful and award winning though it may be.

I also (apparently unreasonably) want your web pages to work with any browser, without a redirection, whether I have the latest browser or not, without having to alter my default browser settings, and without having to enable Java or Flash or whatever is flavour of the month with web page designers.

Contrary to what your web designers appear to believe, I do know about the features in the latest browsers, and I do have reasons for selecting my browser, and setting it up the way I want. You probably wouldn't tell a customer to change the house they live in to suit your product; don't tell me to change my browser to view your site.

How Frequently Will Email Appear?

If a mailing appears frequently, tell me how frequently. Hardly anyone objects seriously to a one time mailing, but most of us hate daily mailings. Or at least we want to know how often we can expect email.


Methods of subscribing and of unsubscribing should be included with each mailing. Give a clickable email address for each command, not just a web address. Users can get email addresses wrong when typing them into web forms. A mailto link is more certain. If you do use a web form, the first message sent should be a confirmation, in case of a typo. Unsubscribe messages should receive an acknowledgement, which should include how to re-subscribe. Many users unsubscribe when they will be absent for a few weeks, or have changed email address.

Avoiding HTML (Rich) Email

Many spam filters give a higher spam score to HTML based email. Some users refuse to view HTML email, due to spyware images. HTML email produces larger file sizes which are undesirable for users downloading over a slow line. If you need to use HTML, consider putting it on a web site and including a link in your email. Below are a number of links relating to HTML email problems.

7 Reasons why HTML Email is a Bad Thing
Why HTML Email is Evil
ASCII Ribbon Campaign
Why Developers Don't Want HTML Email
Dan's Web Tips: Why You Should Use Plaintext Email

Further References

Jakob Nielsen does a wonderful site with many essays and hints at I highly recommend reading his essays on how to do web stuff right.

I hope you have enjoyed