10 (Too) Common Email Marketing Mistakes

10 (Too) Common Email Marketing Mistakes
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Do you know what the best thing is about reading a list of marketing mistakes?

It’s getting to check them off in your brain as you go as “things I would totally never do, and phew, isn’t that a relief!” It’s awesome to feel like you’re doing something right.

Do you know what the next best thing is about reading a list of marketing mistakes?

It’s realizing that you’re making one – or a few – and that you can improve to get better results.

As for this list, well, one of the best things about it is that you don’t even have to work too hard to fix these mistakes. Most of them are of the “whoops” variety and not the type that require you to rethink your entire marketing plan.

So read up, because these happen enough to really put a crimp in some business’ success.

1. Sending Email From Outlook/Gmail/[Insert Email Program Here]

One of the worst business faux pas is cc’ing a long list of contacts with news/an offer/anything but a one-to-one (or one-to-very-few) message.

It’s unprofessional – your signature at the bottom does not make it a marketing email and all it says is that you couldn’t spring for the twenty bucks and five minutes it would have taken to send an email from a real provider.

It’s a privacy issue – most people cc and don’t bcc, which means that everyone on your contact list gets to see everyone else’s email address. And not everyone is honest enough not to pilfer those. They might not be your competition but imagine everyone on your contact list suddenly getting marketing spam from other people on your contact list.

It can backfire – someone I know once triggered a war of words with a recipient who didn’t appreciate being on the list and very publicly hit “reply all” to voice every insult and complaint.

What to do instead: sign up for a service like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. You’ll avoid this whole darn mess and be able to send legitimate marketing emails.

2. Sending To People Who Haven’t Opted In

Pulling down a list of emails from your Facebook friend list… grabbing email addresses off websites… adding prospects you’ve just met because you assume they’ll think you’re awesome and want your corporate newsletters…

All of those things smack of unprofessionalism and can just plain piss people off.

We all get enough emails without unsolicited ones showing up. Besides being ethically questionable, it won’t do your business any favors if you annoy people and they either opt out of doing business with you or log complaints against you with your email provider.

What to do instead: let people join your list through a signup box on your website, by writing their email address on the list by your cash register or by politely asking your next prospect if she’d like to receive your newsletters.

3. Failing To Provide An Opt-Out

The CAN-SPAM Act requires that you make it clear to people how to opt out of receiving your emails and simple for them to do so.

Plenty of companies get away with borderline practices (have you ever tried to unsubscribe from a company’s emails only to realize that you’re on about 12 different “sub lists”, you know, based on your “interests”, and you have to unsubscribe from each one?)

But those companies aren’t making any friends.

Some companies put the unsubscribe link in the farthest possible corner of an email in the tiniest possible font of the most illegible shade of color because presumably they think that if they make it really, really annoying to find the unsubscribe link you’ll suddenly change our mind and decide you want to stay on the list.

What to do instead: include an opt-out link at the bottom of every marketing email. Make sure it’s easy to find and make the process of unsubscribing as simple as clicking that link… once. No strings, no questions!

4. Writing Spammy Subject Lines

Do you know what spammers do to (attempt to) get around spam filters? Instead of using trigger words like “Viagra” they’ll write something like “V1agra”. Which, besides not working anymore is kind of desperately dumb.

But you don’t have to do something as obvious to be flirting with the spam filter.

All caps, too many oddball symbols or lots of !!!!!!!!! can look just as spammy. Even if you get through the filter, your recipient isn’t likely to be amused.

And don’t try to be cute or clever by writing “FR33 offer!” because you’re afraid the word “free” will get filtered. If you have to think about tricking a spam filter to get your message read, it’s probably the wrong message.

What to do instead: write a subject line in plain English that tells your readers what’s in the email or makes them curious to find out. Spend some time thinking about how you can interest and entice your readers instead of tricking or coercing them.

5. Omitting A Call To Action

Telling your email list what your business is up to is nice. Showcasing your products and services is nice, too. But wouldn’t it be better if there was a point to all that?

Presumably you want someone to hire you/buy from you/contact you/do something other than scan a few lines and delete.

An artist I know began email marketing with a beautiful email full of great information and lovely photos. But there wasn’t a single call to action.

No “buy a print”. No “see my artwork”. No “find me on Facebook”. Without those action words people didn’t have a directive and so they didn’t take any action.

Leaving out a call to action will lose you opportunities every time. You may even train people to ignore you and end up with a bunch of zombie subscribers.

What to do instead: include at least one specific call to action in every single marketing email. Whether it’s getting people back to your site for more information, bringing them to your Facebook page or just getting them to reply with a question or comment, get people in the habit of acting.

6. Sending From A Do-Not-Reply Address

Big brands can afford to do this.  Assuming you’re not Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s or some equally large and impersonal brand, why would you not want your subscribers to reply?

The whole idea of building an email list – at least for a small business – is, in part, to build a community around your brand. You can’t do that if you make communication a one-way street.

You could also be missing out on opportunities to generate business, learn more about what your prospects want and need, mitigate complaints or answer questions.

Remember, people do business with people – not with email addresses.

What to do instead: use a real email address where you can receive replies and respond to them. Let people know they can communicate directly with you. Be human.

7. Skipping The Test Send

Never (really, never) send a marketing email without first sending a test to yourself.

You may catch typos you didn’t see as you were composing the email.

You may catch formatting issues that won’t be apparent until you see the email in your inbox.

You may give yourself the five minutes you needed to perfect the subject line after you’ve seen it in context and it doesn’t seem quite as brilliant or compelling anymore.

I don’t think I’ve ever sent a single email that I haven’t edited at least once after sending and viewing the test.

What to do instead: send yourself a test email. If you’re using both HTML and plain text, send a test for each one. If you make any edits, run through another test.  Send a test to your Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, Outlook mail… as many accounts as you can, and make sure the email looks correct in every one. Never hit send until you’re 100% happy with the test.

8. Messing Up Merge Tags

It’s occasionally irritating, often laughable and can make you look foolish, uncaring and unprofessional. I’m talking about sending out an email that says, “Hello <<first name>>!”

Just… don’t.

What to do instead: insert your merge tags carefully when you use them. Test them before you send and never assume that just because they worked in one email, that you can copy/paste and expect them to work in another.

9. Sending After A Long Hiatus

Sometimes it can’t be helped. If you haven’t sent a marketing email in a long time and you’re ready to pick it up again, you’re going to have to send that first one.

But you can probably expect a lot of unsubscribes. If you’ve been gone for a while, there’s a good chance people have forgotten about you, forgotten they signed up for your list in the first place, and maybe even think your email is spam.

You may have to brace for some spam complaints, too. People don’t appreciate unsolicited emails and after a long absence, sadly, yours may appear to be one of them.

What to do instead: stick to a regular email schedule, even if it’s just once a quarter. Even that may be pushing it, but it’s better than sending sporadically every 3, 4, 5 or 6 months. Aim for once a month minimum for better consistency.

10. Giving Away The Farm

Do you know why we don’t put our full blog posts in an email, and include only a teaser with a “read more” link? It’s not to save space or make the emails more readable… it’s not to annoy our subscribers and force them to work for the information… it’s to draw people back to our site. Our site is where we can entice people to read more, sign up for a service, buy a product.

Some people want eyeballs on their site for the sake of ad revenue.

Either way, an email is not the place to say everything about everything.

It’s the place to tease something and call people to an action that will move them along your funnel, get them invested and encourage them to do more.

This ties into your call to action because the “do more” can be whatever you decide it is. The point is to use your email as part of a bigger experience that you create for your subscribers.

It’s only when you get your readers acting that you can begin to measure results via clicks and start to set and achieve marketing goals beyond “opened email. Hopefully read.”

What to do instead: get clear on your call to action then include only what you need to entice people to take take action. A single paragraph… even a single provocative statement or question… can be a lot more powerful and productive than laying it all out in the email. Always give people a reason to click through to your website, social network, sales page or something else of your choosing.

How did you do? Did you breeze through and check off each one as done and done? Or did you find a few things that you can improve when it comes to your email marketing? Can you think of any other mistakes I haven’t mentioned here? Tell me in the comments!

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera