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Omnichannel commerce | Email

Email Marketing Glossary

image: graphic of a word cloud
Don't know your preview pane from your preheader? This glossary of email marketing terminology will change that

The terminology around email marketing can sound like a foreign language to the uninitiated. This glossary will help you translate the jargon into understandable, actionable information.


Abandoned cart email:

A type of trigger email sent to someone who visited a company's website but left before completing his purchase. This sort of email has been proven to help close sales.


Above the fold:

The part of the email that is immediately visible on the screen when it's first opened. Anything that cannot be seen until the recipient scrolls down is considered below the fold. Because the size of users' preview panes and screens vary, along with variables in monitor resolution and font settings, there's no one dimension that defines what will appear above the fold for all recipients. Generally speaking, though, you want the most important aspects of the email to be near the top.


Acceptable spam report rate:

The percentage of spam reports that an email service provider will allow before it refuses to transmit the sender's message or blacklist the sender. More than 1 spam complaint per 1,000 sent emails, or 0.01%, is unacceptable.


Active consent:

When an individual takes an action—even something as seemingly insignificant as checking a black box on a form—to subscribe to an email list. (Compare with passive consent.)



The automated process that enables an internet service provider (ISP) to verify the identity of an email's sender. Authentication tools include DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail) and Sender Policy Framework (SPF).



A program that automatically sends a preprogrammed email in response to a defined action. Your out-of-office email responses, for instance, rely on an autoresponder. Other uses are to automatically send a thank-you email to each person who opts in to receive future emails or a confirmation message sent to a person who has just placed an online order.



A list developed by email service providers, email servers, or internet service providers consisting of domains, IP addresses, or even individual addresses that have been reported or suspected of sending spam or viruses or of violating email policies.



The refusal of an ISP or a mail server to forward an email message, usually because the sender is on a blacklist.



An email message that was not delivered to the address. A hard bounce is an email sent to an invalid or nonexistent address; a soft bounce is an email sent to a valid address but rejected due to a temporary roadblock—the server is down, for instance, or the recipient's mailbox is full. A high bounce rate, or percentage of bounced emails, suggests a less-than-valid list and can hurt a mailer's sender reputation among ISPs.


Call to action (CTA):

Copy (generally with a link when it appears it an email) that tells the recipient to take an action. "Click here," "Open now," and "Visit our site" are all basic calls to action.



The number or percentage of email subscribers who have opted out of an email list over a set period of time.



When an email recipient clicks on a link embedded in an email.



In email, when a recipient performs the desired action, such as clicking through to a website to make a purchase, requesting follow-up information, or opting in to an email list.



Click-through rate, or the number of unique users who click on email links divided by the number of emails sent. If one user clicked through three links on one email, that would count as one click-through.


Dedicated IP server:

An IP server from which only one business sends emails, as opposed to a shared IP address from which multiple companies send emails. Email service providers generally use shared IP servers; the drawback is that if one of the companies using that address suffers from a poor sender reputation or is blacklisted, all the companies using that address would find their sender reputation tarnished. Of course, it's in the best interests of the email service providers to monitor the reputations of all their clients to prevent that. Businesses that regularly send a significant amount of email could benefit from a dedicated IP, however, to ensure greater deliverability.



Removal of identical addresses when merging or collating multiple email lists.


Double opt-in:

A two-part process that requires a new subscriber to a company's email list to confirm their subscription by responding to a confirmation email sent by the company. It is the preferred way to build an email list, as the second step prevents people from subscribing others without their knowledge and serves as a sign of the subscriber's interest and potential engagement.


Email client:

A computer program recipients use to read their email, such as Microsoft Outlook. Some people also consider web applications such as Gmail to be email clients, while others categorize them separately as webmail.


Email service provider (ESP):

A company that sends emails on behalf of companies and other clients.



Software used by an internet service provider, an email client, and/or an individual recipient to block or sort incoming emails. Filters can take into consideration the sender, the email subject line, and/or the content of the email when determining whether messages are spam.



The content at the very bottom of an email message. It typically includes, at a minimum, contact information, including the sender's physical address (a commercial-email requirement in the EU, the U.S., and Canada) and an opt-out link.



Using an automated program to search the web for email address to compile into a database. This is illegal in the UK, the rest of the EU, Canada, and many U.S. states.



The top portion of an email message, akin to the headline of an article or an advertisement, which typically includes the sending company's logo.


IP address:

The unique string of numbers assigned to each server, computer, printer, and other device connected to the internet.


IP address warming:

Slowly increasing the number of emails sent from a new IP address in order to build the address's sender reputation, which in turn should aid deliverability.



Internet service provider


List fatigue:

When the effectiveness of an email list decreases over time due to sending too many or too frequent emails to the same names during that same time period.


List hygiene:

The process of ensuring that your email list consists of accurate, deliverable, opt-in names. Deduplication and authentication are among the way to ensure good list hygiene. Poor list hygiene can lead to a poor sender reputation.


Open rate:

The percentage of emails sent by a company that recipients actually opened. If a business sends 1,000 marketing emails and 10 of them are opened by the recipients, that is a 1% open rate.



Agreement given by a recipient to receive emails from a commercial sender. In the EU, business-to-consumer marketing email can be sent to individuals only after they have opted in to receive it. In many EU countries, though, business-to-business marketing email can be sent to business recipients even if they have not opted in. In the U.S., b-to-b and b-to-c marketing email can be sent until the recipient opts out, though some states have adopted stricter laws akin to those of the EU. In Canada, commercial emails can be sent only to those who have opted in, unless there is an existing relationship between sender and recipient—for instance, if the recipient previously made a purchase from the sender.



Request by an individual to be removed from an email list. Also refers to the mandatory link on all commercial emails that a recipient can click to unsubscribe. In the EU, the U.S., and Canada, all commercial emails must include opt-out instructions. Once a recipient has opted out, the sender must honor that request within a set time frame (10 days in the U.S. and Canada).


Passive consent:

In which an individual does not actively opt in to an email list. For instance, if at the bottom of a sweepstakes email, the box next to the line "Sign me up to receive emails from Joe's Company" is prechecked, and the individual does not uncheck the box, he is said to have passively consented to subscribe. Conversely, if the box beside the same sentence were unchecked, so that the individual would have to actively check it in order to opt in, that would be active consent.



A targeting method in which an email is tailored specifically for the recipient. Including a subject line or copy that includes the recipient's name ("Hello, Joe!") is a basic type of personalization. More-sophisticated tactics include tailoring offers based on the recipient's demographics or past interactions with the sender.



The text that appears at the very top of a commercial email—as its name suggests, before the header. In preview panes, the preheader generally appears after the subject line, and especially on mobile devices, more space is allotted to the preheader than to the subject line. As a result, marketers should spend as much time and attention crafting effective preheaders as subject lines.


Preview pane:

The window in an email client that displays the first words of the email. In commercial emails, the preheader is usually what appears in the preview pane.


Relationship email:

An email, such as an order confirmation or a customer service request, that refers to a commercial interaction between the sender and the recipient. Even if a person unsubscribes from a company's email list, the company is still legally permitted to send relationship emails to that person. Also known as a transactional email.


Sender reputation:

How worthy an ISP views an email sender and/or its IP address. Senders with poor reputations are more likely to find their emails filtered into spam folders or blocked. Bounce rates and acceptable spam report rates are among the key factors an ISP considers when determining sender reputation.


Single opt-in:

A process in which an individual can subscribe to a company's email list simply by submitting his address without the company confirming the request (see double opt-in). While single opt-in can enable a company to grow a list more quickly than double opt-in, the quality of list is likely to be lower than that of a double opt-in list.



Commercial email sent to people who did not opt in to receive it.


Subject line:

A headline that appears in the recipient's inbox that, as its name suggests, indicates the subject matter of the email.


Trigger email:

A specific type of message in response to a certain action by the recipient. Welcome messages and abandoned-cart emails are two types of trigger emails.



The opposite of a blacklist, a whitelist consists of IP addresses that an internet service provider has approved for delivery.

author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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