11 email etiquette tips for every business professional
Following standard email etiquette tips can improve the chances of engagement with your message
Published April 15, 2020
Last modified May 27, 2020
Though social media channels are hailed as great marketing vehicles, email communication is still the main way people communicate online. While 72% of adults in the U.S. have a social media account, more than 90% of all internet users have an email address.
Email is also one of the main ways customers reach out to businesses; according to Zendesk research, 49 percent said email was their preferred customer service channel, second only to phone.
With all of those emails going back and forth, every single day, following standard email etiquette tips can improve the chances that business partners and customers alike respond to and engage with a message, whether it's a marketing email debuting a product launch, a well-timed support email that hit the right tone, or a person-to-person email broaching a sensitive topic.
More importantly for marketers: 60% of consumers say they’ll subscribe to email promotions from brands, as compared to only 20% that say they’ll check social media for them, making email marketing undoubtedly powerful.
But in order for an email to have the intended effect, it has to land properly. While these etiquette tips are important for all types of professional email correspondence, the stakes are even higher for marketing or support emails to customers or prospects. When sending email messages in the name of your company, any slip ups can reflect badly on your brand. Here are some basic email etiquette examples to help you get it right:
- Use proper spelling and grammar
- Write a clear subject line
- Only send emails to recipients who have opted in
- Follow brand guidelines for fonts and colors
- Be mindful of email size
- Include a clear call to action, or CTA
- Use exclamation points sparingly
- Sign the email from a real human being
- Get a second set of eyes on it
- Include an obvious unsubscribe option
Use proper spelling and grammar
Proper spelling and grammar make the sender look more professional, make your message easier to understand, and show respect for the recipient. An email meant to promote a “public” program that leaves out the “i,” for example, could lead to plenty of confusion and embarrassment; the error is not unheard of, as confirmed by employees in public service, it remains a common concern. Furthermore, common errors in grammar—like mixing up their, there, and they’re—just present sloppily.
Even the greatest writers (and editors, for that matter) let a typo or grammatical error slip into their work from time to time. So always use spell check to spot common errors. Consider going one step further with a more advanced tool for checking spelling and grammar, like Grammarly.
Write a clear subject line
The subject line is the first thing recipients see, and it’s the main factor that will influence whether they open your email at all. Write a subject line that gives people a reason to open it—what’s the main thing they should know about what will be in the contents of your email? What’s in it for them?
For example, an email promoting your company’s biggest sale of the year could emphasize how much products are discounted and how long recipients have to participate, such as: 60% off all summer clothing this weekend only. Whereas an email sharing your latest content piece might highlight the main problem it solves, like: Your home-improvement questions answered.
In addition to writing honest, attention-grabbing subject lines, it’s essential that it matches the email contents. Getting someone to open your email is not a win if the email doesn’t deliver on the promise in the subject line, and you risk losing your recipients’ trust by hoodwinking them.
Only send emails to recipients who have opted in
This isn’t just good email etiquette for marketers—it’s the law. To avoid ending up on a blacklist and having your emails get caught up in spam filters, only send emails to people who have actively signed up for your list. If someone gets an email from you they didn’t ask for, they’re likely to view it more as junk mail than something worth opening and reading. Staying compliant with email opt-in standards will mean not only protecting yourself from spam lists, but also increases the success of the emails you do send.
Follow brand guidelines for fonts and colors
When designing your email templates, be sure to first consult your company’s style guide. The fonts and colors you use in your emails should match those your brand uses on your website and in other marketing channels, and there is often a standard for even internal emails between business partners and teammates. If the company website is all teal and purple with Arial font, an email that’s orange and black in Comic Sans will come off like it’s from a different brand altogether. Maintaining a consistent visual brand helps consumers, as well as fellow employees at the same company, connect all of the experiences and touchpoints they have with you: marketing emails, individual emails, ecommerce, the blog, and more.
Be mindful of email size
Many common content formats, such as infographics, videos, and ebook PDFs, have large file sizes. Large attachments may be rejected by a person’s email client or flagged as spam. And even if they make it to the inbox, they’ll be slow to load and may take up inbox bandwidth your recipient can’t afford.
Instead of email attachments, embed content when possible, but only when it doesn’t make the email size too large. If your content pushes the email size beyond 100KB, then switch to including a link to the file hosted on your website.
Downloadable marketing assets are often placed behind a lead-generation gate, but it’s still important to remain mindful of email size when sending messages to customers, prospects, or internal business partners. Sales, customer success, or customer support teams may sometimes find it helpful to include an attachment when communicating with customers who need help, and the last thing you want to do is to clog someone’s inbox with massive PDFs or JPEGs when they’re in the middle of a stressful situation.
Include a clear call to action, or CTA
Every marketing email you send has a goal. It’s important to be clear on the action you want the recipient to take after digesting the information in the email. Sometimes, it will be making a purchase, but often, email marketing will guide toward softer actions like clicking to read a blog post, following your brand’s account on social media, or completing a survey. Before you hit send, determine the main action you want the recipient to take, and use it to craft a CTA that encourages them to do it.
Use exclamation points sparingly
Exclamation marks may seem like an easy way to add some cheeriness to an email, but they can make you look like you’re trying too hard. Imagine receiving a marketing email with this subject line: Welcome to our email list!!!!
For most, it doesn’t feel very professional. Now and then, an exclamation point can help you express excitement, such as signing off an email in late January with “Happy New Year!” or telling a new customer “We look forward to working with you!” But only ever use one at a time, and use them sparingly, ensuring they have the proper emphasis the times you do trot them out.
Sign the email from a real human being.
People connect more with other people than they do brands. Your company is made up of human beings, so make it clear your email is coming from a person representing it. Instead of signing your email Acme Corp, sign it Jane Doe, from Acme Corp. You might even include a full email signature with contact information for Jane, so subscribers know they can contact her directly.
Get a second set of eyes on it
Email marketing requires sticking to strict schedules that sometimes require tight turnarounds. But getting tone right in email is tricky. The same words in written form can seem entirely different than they would spoken face to face. To make sure you get your tone right and that the email makes sense, have someone else in the company read over it before it goes out.
This can be sage advice for high-stakes emails from individuals to a leader or a group of leaders, as well. After checking off all the items above, having a teammate read an email as a gut check can provide some peace of mind for important communications.
Include an obvious unsubscribe option
Specific to marketing emails, including an obvious way to unsubscribe is another email etiquette tip that’s not just good business, but also legally required. Make sure every email you send includes an unsubscribe link—and not one that’s tiny and hard to find. If you don’t make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe, their email client makes it easy enough to mark your email spam. Getting unsubscribes is the far better option than being marked as spam. It’s just one more way to ensure that your emails only go to people who want them, which improves all your other metrics for success and increases the likelihood that the recipient does business with you in the future.
In keeping with earlier advice, that exclamation point, used sparingly throughout, is intentional here. Proofreading has saved many brands from embarrassment—and skipping this step is behind most email marketing snafus and individual email embarrassments.
This one last simple step will help you achieve many of the other steps on the list. Proofreading every email before sending will help you catch spelling and grammatical errors, force you to double-check your CTA, and confirm that your subject line looks good.
Proper email etiquette affects brand perception
Email is one of the main ways prospects and customers will interact with a brand, which is why sticking to these tried-and-true etiquette rules can provide the polish you need to stand out. When every email you send meets basic email etiquette standards, your customers are more likely to see you as a professional, trustworthy brand to which they’d be happy to give their business.