Glossary of email marketing terms

If you’re thinking about hiring an email marketing vendor or evaluating your existing email marketing company, it helps to know the lingo. You’ll find basic email marketing terms here and, because the industry is ever evolving, be sure to check back every now and then to see what we’ve added.


An autoresponder is an email that is automatically sent after an action has been taken. Autoresponders are also known as triggered emails or event driven emails and can range from very simple “if this than that”, to quite complex and sophisticated triggers based on business rules. Read more about Autoresponders.

API (application programming interface)

An application programming interface (API) ties two software programs together so they can make use of their services, resources and interact. In email marketing, an API is used to integrate with your email platform. It also can facilitate the use and synchronization of (external) data. Read more about API.

Business case

A business case explains the reasons for undertaking a project or task. It’s usually tied in to the bottom line – how the project will help an organization achieve its underlying goals. A business case justifies the expenditure of resources and capital, showing how the project meets specific business needs. Read more about business case

Cost per mille (CPM)

In email marketing, CPM is the price for sending a thousand email messages. Email service providers commonly use CPM as the variable part of their pricing. The CPM rate may cover costs made by the ESP for the mail server, bounce management, deliverability services, hosting of images and bandwidth. A CPM rate is often combined with other pricing forms like license fees or hourly rates for creative services and consultancy. Read more about CPM.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

CRM is a strategy for managing a company’s interactions with (potential) customers. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes. The following departments usually make the biggest use of CRM software: sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support. Read more about CRM.


Deliverability refers to ensuring email messages are delivered to the inbox and aren’t blocked or rerouted by spam filters. It’s an ongoing battle for email marketers to avoid being classified as spam. Successful deliverability depends on a combination of best practices, including authentication and email reputation. Read more about deliverability.

Email service provider (ESP)

To the general public, it’s extrasensory perception. To email marketers, an email service provider (ESP) is a company that offers email services. An ESP may be categorized as an email marketing platform or email marketing agency style. Read more about email service provider.

Extract transform load (ETL)

Extract, transform and load (ETL) is a process in database usage, especially in data warehousing. In email marketing this can be crucial, as (recipient) data is used and/or stored in multiple databases and must be available for sending email, performing analytics and automating triggered campaigns. Read more about extract transform load (ETL).

Mail transfer agent (MTA)

A mail transfer agent or mail relay is software that transfers email messages from one computer to another. An MTA is responsible for the core tasks involved with delivering of email. Read more about mail transfer agent (MTA).

Marketing Automation

A marketing automation platform is used to streamline sales and marketing operations. It can automate and replace high-touch, repetitive processes with automated solutions. Read more about marketing automation.

Point of Sale (POS)

Point of Sale (POS) is the location that a customer makes a purchase or completes a transaction. You can also call it point of purchase or point of service. Often this is the check-out, where you’d find a traditional cash register. Online, the Point of Sale (POS) is the online shopping cart.
Read more about POS and POS systems

Recommendation Engines for Email Marketing

A recommendation Engine automatically generates a set of recommendations for products or content, based on the reciepient’s behavior, collaborative filtering, content based filters and machine learning. This can boost email response and conversion rates. Read more about Email Recommendation Engines.

Return on investment (ROI)

The return on investment (ROI) is the ratio of money gained in relation to the investment. ROI is usually expressed as a percentage. Although some benefits or costs are considered “intangible” or “unquantifiable,” these must be quantified or clearly excluded to do a proper ROI calculation. Read more about return on investment (ROI).

Request for information (RFI)

request for information (RFI) asks specific questions about the services an email marketing vendor provides. It is usually a relatively short document and is used when no final decisions for direction have been made.  Read more about request for information (RFI).

Request for proposal (RFP)

request for proposal (RFP) in email marketing answers specific questions about how the vendor solution will meet needs and goals. It provides detailed information on requirements such as function and workflow, business goals and integration specs to the vendors. Read more about RFP.


The generic definition of a requirement is “something essential to the existence or occurrence of something else.” In business, requirements refer to documented needs of what a particular product should be or how a service should perform. A list of requirements is often used in the vendor selection process to evaluate suppliers. Read more about requirements.

Service level agreement (SLA)

service level agreement (SLA) is a part of a contract where the level of service is formally defined. The SLA records mutually agreed-upon conditions regarding services, priorities, responsibilities, guarantees and warranties. Each area should have the “level of service” defined. Read more about service level agreement (SLA).

SMS Marketing

SMS marketing or text message marketing is a strategy where businesses send SMS or MMS to potential or current customers for promotional purposes. It involves sharing information about things such as Campaigns, Promotions, Reminders, Surveys, Updates and Company news. Read more: What is sms marketing

Switching costs

Switching costs are those costs associated with switching suppliers. For example, if you switch from one email marketing tool or digital agency to another, you’ll incur extra costs simply because you are switching. Read more about switching costs.

Total cost of ownership (TCO)

Total cost of ownership (TCO) is a financial estimate to help you determine the direct and indirect costs of a product or system. By calculating TCO, you can determine which email solutions offer the best pricing/value. Read more about TCO.

Unique selling point (USP)

Unique selling point (USP) is a marketing concept that indicates differences among other similar suppliers or products. A supplier might have one or more USPs. In email marketing, a USP might include product characteristics, features, experience, services, current customer focus and pricing. Read more about USP.

Weighted scorecard / decision matrix

weighted scorecard or a decision matrix is a tool used to select or compare an email service provider. It consists of a list of requirements or criteria, their weighted value of importance, and the score of each email service provider on those requirements. Read more about weighted scorecard.

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