12 Tips for Sending Email to an International Audience

Planning to start sending email to subscribers in countries outside the US?  Here are twelve tips to make sure you are successful.

  1. Language:  Establish at the outset the language that you will be using to address your audience.  Will you be sending English-language emails to your international audience, or addressing subscribers in their local language?  This decision varies by country, region and audience.  For example, in some countries you must use the local language for all emails while in other markets local subscribers are accustomed to receiving email in English, especially for B2B communications.  And there is wide variation in the English used around the world, so be certain that your spelling and usage reflects local norms.
  2. Seamless Experience:  Be certain that all aspects of your email program (email, opt-in forms, landing pages, privacy policy, unsubscribe pages, FAQs, etc.) reflect the language decision you make above. There is no surer way to alienate subscribers than by sending an email in their language but linking to pages that are in English or a third language.
  3. Culturally Appropriate Copy and Images:  Effective copy must be more than a simple translation of your current English content. Use copy and images throughout your email ecosystem that reflect local tastes, idioms, and sensibilities.  Be especially careful to ensure that any trademarked or branded copy is appropriate in the local language.
  4. Don’t Be Scared to Ask:  The best way to ensure that you email subscribers in their preferred language is to ask them!  Use a simple survey or preference option at sign-up to allow your subscribers to tell you which language they want you to use.  (Before launch, be certain that you are ready to fulfill all the choices you offer, however.)
  5. Appropriate Encoding Standard:  Don’t forget that your emails need to communicate with mail servers around the world, and not just your subscribers.  So be certain that you use encoding that is appropriate for the local market.  In many countries Unicode UTF-8 is the standard, but some important other markets, such as China, employ different standards.  Only one encoding standard per email send is permitted.
  6. Get to Know Foreign Characters:  Creating content in foreign languages that use characters or a different script poses challenges due to the variations in rules for handling non-ASCII characters and gaps in encoding standards.  This requires the development of language-specific content development and testing processes, and extensive testing.
  7. ISPs:  The Internet Service Provider and mailbox provider landscape varies widely around the world, and some providers behave differently in different markets.  Be certain that you understand who the major ISPs and mailbox providers are in each country and region where you will be sending email, and work closely with your ESP and your Return Path account manager to ensure that your program accounts for the idiosyncrasies of different providers in all of the markets.
  8. Laws and Jurisdictions:  Understand the legal environment covering email and privacy in each of the countries and regions you are planning to serve, and recognize that it is not always the national government that regulates email marketing in a country. (For example, in member countries EU regulations are supreme.) In addition, some regulations like Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) apply to emails routed through a jurisdiction even when the subscriber is located in a third country.  Create a checklist for each market to ensure that your messages are in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
  9. Mobile Penetration:  Usage of mobile devices varies widely around in the world. In some countries mobile usage exceeds the US, and in others use of tablets is less prevalent.  Be certain that you understand how subscribers in the different markets you are targeting use their mobile devices to access email, and be certain to craft your program accordingly.
  10. Time Zones:  To avoid sending emails at times when subscribes are least likely to engage—such as the middle of the night—be certain that you understand the time zones of your subscribers and incorporate that information into your program—and your testing regimen.
  11. Local Tastes & Habits:  People are different!  Learn about the local market, tastes and habits in terms of email usage and reflect that information in your email marketing program and strategy. What works in the US may not work in other markets.
  12. Test, Test, Test:  Don’t forget to constantly optimize your email program by testing different components and tactics on an ongoing basis.  This is critically important when entering a new market and will help ensure long-term success, just as it does for your domestic US campaigns.


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