Email marketing is a fluid environment and what may have been best practice yesterday could be very taboo today. As a result, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing and working based off information that turns out to be either misleading or just plain wrong.

We’ve summarised here some of the most common email marketing misconceptions that, for one reason or another, are still around today.

1. The bigger the list, the better

This is the most common misconception that we see when talking to email marketers, which is why we’ve put it at number one. The idea is simple: people think that the larger your list is, the better the chances you’ll have of people engaging with your content.

Fewer people realise the downsides of having a super-long email list: if you have a large list of people who have mostly forgotten how they got onto your list in the first place, sending email to the whole list will greatly increase your chances of being flagged for spam.

ISPs track senders of bulk email in a much more rigorous way today than they did a few years ago, so having a large list with the inevitably high unsubscribes may actually hurt your deliverability. It is for this reason that we insist that unsubscribes are healthy. We call it “pruning and tuning” – by paying attention to who is unsubscribing and when, you will be able to adjust the nature and cadence of your email campaigns to achieve better results.

In fact you’d be far better of standing by the adage: The more engaged the list, the better. Engagement with your email matters. Your focus should not be on growing the absolute size of your list, but rather improving the relative percentage of your list members who are engaging with your email. If you are sending mail to a smaller, but highly engaged list of recipients, it’s naturally going to lead to higher success rates than if you sent it out to a million subscribers, most of whom want nothing to do with your mail.

2. Subject lines can affect deliverability

Though this is partly true, it’s not an exact science. At one point, using special characters or the word “free” would trigger spam filters and automatically land you in the spam folder. The number and type of characters used in your subject lines can have a slight effect on your deliverability prospects, but this effect is not as strong as it used to be. These days, Internet Service Providers (ISPs, also known as ‘mailbox providers’) have adopted more complex algorithms (that weigh many attributes of your email) to determine whether mail is spam, so it’s not as simple as accidentally using one too many exclamation marks.

A rule of thumb we like to suggest to our customers is that subject lines should be 15 words or less. Headers, preheaders and the fact that many, if not most, of your users will be reading on mobile all create a limit on the space available for your subject line. And it’s the subject line, as we’re sure you know, which is one of the most important factors within your control directly affecting open rates. It’s less of a science around avoiding red flags and more of a skill of maximising the limited space to focus on a more direct call to action or to appeal to a targeted interest.

3. Getting to the inbox is the end game

Yes, you definitely want to make it to the inbox, but what if your email just sits there and doesn’t get opened or clicked? Not great.

No one metric is worth focusing on exclusively: they all work hand in hand with each other. As an email marketer you’ve got to adopt a holistic approach when assessing the health of your email programme. Getting into the inbox, getting opens, getting clicks; each one of those works together in getting your marketing message where it needs to be – you can’t focus on just one of these steps.

You shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket – between delivery, opens, clicks, unsubscribes, spam reports, etc., many factors weigh in to determine the health and success of your email program.

Always remember what you’re ultimately doing your email marketing for: you’re giving users a useful touchpoint for your brand and adding value to the relationship between the company and the customer. You can optimise your email for the ISP mailbox algorithms all you want, but it will mean nothing if the email doesn’t create a useful brand interaction. One click is not enough, one open is not enough, one successful delivery is not enough for you to determine campaign health.

4. More images mean the email is more enticing

We understand that some email campaigns out there will require lots of image content in order to communicate important information.  But we want to give you a couple of ideas of guidelines to follow regarding the proper text-to-image ratio.

In general, covering your email in imagery is a big no-no. As we like to say at SendGrid, get the message across first, look cool second. There are several reasons for this.

Many email service providers can look upon messages with large images with suspicion, thinking the image is designed to cover up text, links or in some other way trick the recipient into an action. On top of that, many email service providers disable images by default, so always test your email to make sure the content is understandable even without that painstakingly designed imagery. As a safeguard against this, always ensure you include alt text for every image.

Your first priority should always be to get the email to your users, and ensure that the text of your subject line and your email body content clearly conveys your message. Once you’re confident this is all in order you can then look at how images can support your content.

In general there’s an image to text ratio of approximately 60-70% text, 30-40% images. In our experience this is the sweet spot where marketeers enjoy the best performance.

5. Legal requirements are best practices

To clarify: best practices do sometimes encompass legal requirements, but legal requirements are not the be all and end all of a good email campaign.

Legal requirements are the bare minimum. If you’re compliant, that’s awesome, but your work isn’t finished. Think of it like driving: you can drive on the road legally, observing the speed limit and wearing your seatbelt, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing the best job possible driving, you’re just meeting the minimum standard.

There’s always more you can be doing to increase your recipients’ engagement and overall happiness with your brand. Because at the end of the day a happy, engaged subscriber is what we’re all working towards.