Email Basics 202: The Top 15 Email Marketing Mistakes

March 22nd, 2011 | By Anthony Schneider | 4 Comments

Recently we featured a post on Email Marketing 101.  Now we’re continuing the syllabus with a review of email mistakes. Hopefully, knowing mistakes that others make can help you avoid making them yourself. To err is human. Not to err is also good.

Mistake #1. Sloppy Work
We’ve seen emails with broken images, or all “lorem ipsum” text, or links to the wrong website. We’ve received emails sent in error, to the wrong list, or with the wrong subject line. Test, think, test again, repeat.

Mistake #2: Lack of Permission
Either you have permission to send someone an email or you don’t. Don’t harvest lists. Don’t cheat. And honor those unsubscribes. Remember, it’s the law. Remember, an angry consumer is louder than ten content ones.

Mistake #3. Poor Segmentation
Segment your lists. You should divide your database by action, geography, behavior, so you are sending emails that are more relevant, timely and engaging. Those are the type of emails that get results. (See our post on segmentation.)

Mistake #4: Bad Creative
We see too many images that are too big or incorrectly formatted or just plain boring. Ditto copywriting. We see way too much copy that’s crappy, long-winded, generic sounding. Yawn.

Mistake #5: Too Long
An email is not a newspaper. It’s not everything you know on a subject. It’s an email. Average open time for an email newsletter: thirty seconds or so. So, go on a word diet, use your links, tease your audience, summarize, just don’t blather on and on.

Mistake #6. Not Saying Anything
Too many welcome messages or email newsletters in “off” months don’t say anything. Go with the Talking Heads on this one: “When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.” You should send a welcome message, but it should be relevant, which probably means updating it from time to time. Same thing with that newsletter in the off-season. Come up with something that will interest your audience, or skip it.

Mistake #7. Too Frequent
We’ve all had the same experience. A brand or store we like. We’ve bought something from them in the past. We like them. But our inboxes are full of their emails. Every day. What do they think we’re suddenly going to go from shopping once a year to every day? It’s the email marketer who cried wolf. You can’t tell me everything about every store and product and change in the weather, because you’ll risk losing me altogether, and then when you have that big sale, I won’t know about it. Most people who unsubscribe from B2C emails cite frequency as their primary reason.

Mistake #8. Wrong Voice
Too many emails come from an institution when they should be targeting an individual (see #4 above). Other emails are long and comprehensive and boring, when they should be short and sweet. Still other emails are about products or services the recipient doesn’t give two hoots about (see #3 above). You won’t sell a lot of air-conditioners to people who live in igloos.

Mistake #9. Closed System
Email is not the most interactive medium, so it’s important that yours email have some call-to-action, interactivity or purpose. For consumer emails that usually means a link to a shopping site or app. For B2B emails the call to action might be a survey, download or link. The open system applies to feedback as well. Make sure recipients can reply to your email, and make sure someone reads, replies and acts on worthy customer feedback. Remember systems theory 101: closed systems die.

Mistake #10. Ignoring “Images Off” Recipients
Like it or not, as many as two-thirds of your email recipients won’t view the email with images on. Others will scan it on their Blackberry or other mobile device that doesn’t support images. So you have to design images that work without images, and work even better with them. (See our post on images in emails.)

Mistake #11. Ignoring Mobile Users
The number of users accessing email via mobile devices grew 36% over the past year. Small screen, small type, big thumbs. Be afraid. Be careful. Designing emails for mobile users means shorter, better layout, bigger buttons. See our post on designing emails for mobile devices. (See our post on mobile-friendly emails.)

Mistake #12: Repetition
Repetition breeds insanity. With emails perhaps repetition breeds boredom. Either way, repetition doesn’t breed engagement, clicks or conversions. Don’t repeat your offer, subject lines, creative, anything. If you’ve been using that same old email header for two years, it’s probably time to refresh.

Mistake #13.  Ignoring Programming Best Practices
Programmers should have a checklist of email coding that works across most email clients. Ignore these rules at your own peril. Javascript, CSS in email headers, font tags, huge graphics, all add up to problem emails. We have a checklist and examples of correctly coded emails, and we’re constantly updating them as new standards and usage trends emerge.

Mistake #14. Measuring Nothing or the Wrong Thing
The beauty of the email channel is that it’s a communication tool that is totally measurable. So measure. Not just open rates. Measure clicks, conversions, what interests your users, what turns them off. Measure consistently, so that you can benchmark and improve.

Mistake #15. Relying on Email Only
No medium is an island. If you’re only sending email, then you’re not fully engaging some users. Thank about the social media folks, or the snail mail folks (yes, they’re still out there). Don’t risk losing an audience segment because you’re trying to reach them where they don’t like to be reached.

What’s the email mistake you’ve made or fixed recently? What email mistakes do you see the most? Let us know.

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  • Guest

    Great list… what happened to #10? :)

  • Anonymous

    Good catch. We put it back in. Thanks.

  • Indiemark

    Love this list Anthony, #3 is my favorite. If I were add a #16 it would be mailing to infrequently.

  • tricky

    well done antonio… always insightful…. love that sloppy work is number 1!

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