Delete Your Email Jargon: Tips for Subscriber-Friendly Messages

“Whitelist us for better deliverability.” “Choose a delivery format.” “Update

Delete Your Email Jargon: Tips for Subscriber-Friendly Messages

“Whitelist us for better deliverability.” “Choose a delivery format.” “Update your subscriber preferences to opt out of future mailings.”

You understand what all these phrases mean, but are they clear to your subscribers? Chances are your subscribers aren’t in the email marketing biz. Editing out the jargon and replacing it with wording they can understand will help them relate to you and your emails better.

Here are some ways to translate your campaign out of Marketerese and into subscriber-friendly language.

“Delivery Format”

Take a look at this form.

You and I know what “delivery format” means and the difference between HTML and plain text (although I’ll admit to not knowing the significant difference between text and AOL-specific text).

Now look at this form through the eyes of your 80-year-old grandmother or your parents who still don’t know that Facebook isn’t a hardback you can check out from the library.

Would they understand what the drop-down menu is asking? Would they know which option to select?

The New York Post has a better solution: explain what the choices mean.

Although if your web form has to include its own FAQ, you might just want to leave the option out altogether.

Besides, you should be sending both HTML and plain text emails for better delivery anyway. Your subscribers’ email clients will choose which format to display for them once your email hits the inbox, so it really isn’t necessary to present the option at all.


We’ve covered the importance of whitelisting several times before. If you want to show up in your subscribers’ inboxes, you need to get in their address books too. Companies commonly include whitelist requests in preheaders and footers:

Mailbox filters? Safe sender list? Those are complicated ways to say, “Put us in your address book to make sure we show up in your inbox.”

Why not make your text as clear as possible when asking subscribers to add you?

Like Eversave:

or ModCloth:

or Dick’s Sporting Goods, who even links subscribers to a how-to page:

The clearer your language, the easier it is for your subscribers to take action.

“Opt Out”

I’m obsessed with interior decorating, so I love Apartment Therapy‘s daily emails. I’m not in love with the unsubscribe language in their footer though:

It’s inconsistent with their sign up language (which prompts readers to “join,” not “opt in”). It’s jargon that needs a design overhaul.

Even worse is this example from the Alzheimer’s Association:

Where do I unsubscribe? Is unsubscribing the same as changing my “e-mail preferences?” Forget it, I’ll just click the Spam button. That’s easy to figure out.

You don’t want to frustrate subscribers to the point where they mark you as spam. Clear up your phrasing so the subscribers who want off your list can do so easily:

Mmmmmmm Wawa

Take it a step further and include an unsubscribe link in your preheader, like Mitchell & Dent do here:

A clear, easy to access link shows subscribers you care. It saves them from hunting through your footer and shows you care about their preferences.

“Email Preference Center”

The preference center is where user control magic happens. You know what it’s for: subscribing to and unsubscribing from newsletters and changing how often mailings hit your inbox. But do your subscribers know that?

Why not just show them what their options are, like the footer of Yoga Journal‘s email?

Or American Eagle’s Aerie brand, who gives subscribers an easy link to change their address:

Maybe your preference center has too many options to condense like these examples. In that case, a simple “Click here to change how often you hear from us, subscribe to more emails, update your address and more,” should suffice.

Editing Yourself

Is your language clear enough for subscribers to understand? How would you translate some common jargon to make things easy on your readers?

How does your vocabulary stack up?


  1. Stefan Drew

    9/29/2011 9:43 am

    This is all so obvious … yet most of us get a lot of it wrong!

  2. Ryan G

    9/29/2011 9:46 am

    These are some very helpful tips. It’s the little details like this that make a lot of difference. Thanks for taking the time to educate us on these things.

  3. Etienne Juneau

    9/29/2011 10:40 am

    Hi Rebekah,

    Loved the post!

    I’m a huge fan of Rudolph Flesch, who insists on clear writing too.

    His book The Art of Plain Talk is a masterpiece.



  4. Jarom Adair

    9/29/2011 12:25 pm

    Several suggestions here are going into my autoresponders today. Thanks Rebekah.

  5. Jarom Adair

    9/29/2011 12:49 pm

    Rebekah–I don’t think there is a way to change the unsubscribe wording in the footer of our outgoing emails. At least I can’t find it. Maybe others can’t either?

  6. Rebekah Henson

    9/29/2011 1:25 pm

    Jarom (and anyone else who was wondering, too) – AWeber does automatically add an unsubscribe link to the bottom of all outgoing emails. But you can add your own custom link with whatever wording you choose in the template you’re using, too. We do this in our own blog broadcasts that we send out twice a week.

    Here’s the instructions for how to include your own unsubscribe link within your message:

    Sorry for not making that clearer!

  7. Leon Noone

    9/30/2011 12:31 am

    This is the sort of simple but valuable information that I find particularly helpful. I’ll be incorporating many of these ides into my blog and website. Both are in review at the moment.
    Thank again

  8. Shay Mustafa

    9/30/2011 11:46 am

    It’s amazing how keeping it simple can be such a challenge. Rebekah, thanks for this very practical post.

  9. Marcus

    10/2/2011 6:09 pm

    The whitelisting step is important. In the example e-mail from Eversave, they provide an “add us to your address book” link. That 1-click process would be so much more convenient than writing out the whitelisting steps for users!

    Can Aweber add that link to e-mails? How do you do it?

  10. Sean Carty

    10/4/2011 12:03 pm

    This is the most comprehensive post on subscriber-friendly emails I think I have ever seen. Rebekah, would it be possible for us at to base a post on our site off of this? We would of course include a link back to the original and mention that you wrote it. I just know our readers would benefit greatly from a post like this.

  11. Rebekah Henson

    10/4/2011 12:12 pm

    Sean – I’m glad you found the post so useful! You are more than welcome to use it for your site with links back to this post. Thanks, and I hope your readers enjoy!