Common Email Marketing Mistakes

Today’s inboxes are hammered with digital marketing messages, spam, forwards, newsletters, and notifications. People check email at red lights and while watching TV. (Don’t get us started on the ones checking mail at the movies.) While email marketing remains the best way to reach leads and existing customers, it’s harder than ever to cut through the clutter. Avoid these common email marketing mistakes and you’ll come out on top.

Common Email Marketing Mistakes

11 Common Email Marketing Mistakes & How to Fix Them

1. You’re not segmenting your email list.

Who are you talking to? Picture your Netflix account. You probably have profiles set up. You, your wife, your kids. Maybe you share an account with your parents. Each audience has unique tastes. The viewer who loves car chase movies doesn’t want to watch British period romances. The viewer who watches Pokemon doesn’t want to catch up on Game of Thrones.

Show people what they want to see. Your email marketing list consists of just as many audiences. College-aged kids looking for a fun night out. Sales professionals trying to make a big win. Retirees who have put off their next doctor’s appointment and want to feel better. The days of spray and pray marketing are over and today’s consumers expect highly-targeted messages that give them what they want, when they want it.

Want another reason to segment? According to MailChimp, segmented campaigns see over 100% higher open rates than non-segmented campaigns. They also have higher open rates, lower spam reports, and lower instances of unsubscribing.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Segment your email marketing contacts into lists and sublists based on customer data.
  • Don’t forget to create suppression lists. These are people you’re not marketing to at the moment.
  • Add checkboxes to forms to gather additional information—zip code, birthday, interest groups—from your visitors.
  • Don’t forget to be GDPR compliant.

2. You’re not A/B testing.

This isn’t time for instincts. When it comes to email, the only thing you should trust your gut for is digesting your food. Clever marketers don’t try to predict whether or not an audience will love a call to action, subject line, or image. They use A/B testing.

Go to war. Think about it as a battle to the death. Using the email automation software of your choice and a robust recipient list, test your content to see what performs best. Solid programs will send your test emails to sample audiences, and automatically send the winner to the bulk of your contact list. No more guesswork.

This is a rare opportunity to know exactly what’s working and build on that. A/B testing helps you determine what your audience is connecting with (and what they’re not connecting with.) Your emails will consistently perform better when you optimize them regularly.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • A/B test the subject line of your next big email promotion.
  • Test the next email’s image, offer, or CTA. Only test one thing at a time. This is a science experiment.
  • Keep your variables to an absolute minimum to know which changes mattered.

3. You’re not automating your email marketing.

You have a lot to say to your prospects and current clients. But, you probably don’t have time to manually send all the emails you know you should. Reminders, newsletters, thank-yous, promotional offers, and so on. Email marketing could take you all day …. That’s where email automation comes in.

Get your finger on the trigger. The key to a successful automated nurture campaign is to first know what actions or behavior should trigger the email workflow. Triggers are actions or behaviors on your website or at your location, such as filling out a form, downloading a coupon, or abandoning a cart.

Remember: email marketing is about nurturing, not selling. Dig deep into what your recipients want and need. How can you help them solve a pain point? Remind them how good it feels to actually enjoy their destination wedding rather than agonize over all the planning. Offer tips that help them apply for a law degree with less stress. Close with a helpful promo code, or the opportunity to book another experience.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Map your customer journey to find the “triggers” for your email marketing.
  • Set up automated workflows that move guests through the funnel by delivering the right message (and the right deal!) at the right time.
  • Make sure workflows move customers out of one list and into a new one as they evolve from a lead to a new customer to a loyal one.
  • Add helpful reminder workflows. Shopping holiday coming up? Remind them to grab that gift.

4. Your newsletter is selling something.

Don’t send a crappy newsletter. People sign up for newsletters because they anticipate value in their inbox. While that value may come in the form of exclusive discounts and opportunities, it should also make them smile. It shouldn’t waste even 30 seconds of their time with content that’s all about how great your business is.

Short. Sweet. Helpful. Your newsletter should be genuinely fun to read. (Not just fun for your mom to read.) That means limit “news” unless it’s truly interesting, don’t toot your own horn, and keep it nice and short. Think brief tips, at-a-glance event schedules, and exclusive coupons. The end.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Revise your current newsletter. (You do have a newsletter, right?) Would you read it?
  • Review delivered, open and click-through rates.
  • Establish benchmarks and share more meaningful content to increase those numbers.
  • If it isn’t working, A/B test different subject line styles, delivery days and times, images, and content.

5. Your emails don’t work on mobile devices.

Be responsive or go home. Around 80% of your contacts will open your emails on their phones. To get the full picture of what that means, imagine what most people are doing when they open their email on their phone. (Hint: They’re often at a red light.) Your email marketing needs to speak to those people, even if you think they should put their phones down while driving.

No more squinting. Responsive emails adjust instantly and elegantly depending on the screen size of the viewer. Every single email you send should be coded to be easy to read and scroll on a cell phone screen or on a tablet. Emails that aren’t mobile friendly get deleted because no one has time to try to read microscopic fonts or click on tiny calls-to-action. (What is this, an email for ants??).

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Start using a responsive email template.
  • Email code is notoriously finicky across platform, software and screen combinations. Use your email software testing tool on every email you send.
  • Remember the red-light reader. Put the most important information up front and make it large enough to understand in a 5-second scan.
  • CTAs should be big enough to tap with a finger. And not too close together.

6. There’s no call to action in your emails.

Make something happen. Every email you send should have a purpose. (A strategic purpose, not an existential purpose.) Even helpful, non-salesy emails should have a call to action. Book a consultation. Attend an event. Read a blog post. Download a coupon.

Emphasize the action part. There’s nothing wrong with falling back on the old stalwart Learn More as long as you’re asking your reader to do something. Stick to action words. Be as concrete as possible. Book a Massage is better than Start Relaxing. Email marketing calls to action are not an exact science, and you should anticipate tweaking and optimizing them on an ongoing basis to get the results you want.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Review all of your marketing and nurturing emails. Make sure they have a call to action that aligns with the appropriate stage in your customer’s journey.
  • Set up tracking links using or a platform like HubSpot so you can test the CTAs across a variety of campaigns.
  • Test and test and test again. Colors, copy, sizes, and placements can all affect CTA performance.

New Call-to-action

7. Your emails have too many calls to action.

Whoa, slow down. People don’t like too many choices unless we’re talking about those amazing soda machines that let you make peach ginger ale and grape sparkling water. Many marketing emails have failed by containing too many links, effectively paralyzing the reader.

Focus. It’s normal to have an impulse to offer your readers lots of options. For family entertainment center marketing, it might make sense to pull out all the stops. Pizza. Rides. Escape rooms. Drink deals. Cool events. But to get the best click through rates on your emails, you must narrow it down to one, or maybe two, calls to action. You can always send more emails, and each one will perform better if you focus your call to action energy on one invitation to click.

And while you’re focusing, make sure that you send your reader where they think they’re going. Don’t bait and switch. That makes people angry, and angry people don’t schedule fun into their agendas. (Even though they probably should.)

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Audit your emails and double check for too many links. Narrow it down to one impactful, compelling call to action.
  • Newsletters get a bit of a pass here, if done right.
  • Use text-based links and a few choice buttons, and keep it as easy to read as possible.
  • Check the language of your call-to-action against the link destination. Are you delivering on the CTA’s promise?

8. Your emails are too long.

The clock is ticking. Remember that person reading the email at a red light? Well, that red light just turned green. And your email is marked as read, and they’re never going to open it again. Your email was too long.

Streamline every email marketing communication. When you compose your emails and your newsletter, imagine your reader in line at the grocery store or about to be called back from the waiting room at the dentist. You have mere seconds to get your message across. Use quick, snappy headlines. Don’t oversell or overthink or over describe anything.

Emails should be visually appealing and simple. Small chunks of text with easy to read buttons and plenty of color contrast. Think mobile first at all times and you’ll produce marketing emails that your guests can digest and act on no matter where they’re reading. (Because yes, they could very well be on the toilet.)

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Fall out of love with your words! Keep it simple and to the point.
  • Read your emails out loud and make sure they’re conversational and quick.
  • See if you can shorten your message by at least 30%. Now do it again.
  • Does the design of the email help a reader scan for information? Colors, icons, and buttons help guide readers quickly.

9. Your emails have the same old subject lines.

Subject lines are the gatekeepers. If you can’t get a reader to open, you’ve lost the battle. Your thoughtful call to action, beautiful images, and elegant words will go to waste. So how do you cut through the clutter of an inbox? Very carefully.

Surprise them into opening. Plumbers around the country send very similar emails.  Your industry is no different. You’re working against a flood of information that people are becoming increasingly numb to. Subject lines are your chance to stand out.

Consider personalization, emoji, and surprising language. This is where the A/B testing you’ve decided to embrace comes heavily into play. Try testing literal subject lines against very short, baffling subject lines. Test giving away the contents of an email versus offering no insight into the content of an email. Your recipients will show you what works and what doesn’t, and you can build on that — without growing complacent. This is ongoing work.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Pay attention to what gets you to click. Pay attention to what gets your leads to click.
  • Test a wide variety of subject lines.
  • Avoid the Promotions tab and the SPAM folder by keeping salesy exclamation marks and percentage symbols out of subject lines. Also, emojis are fun, but too many can trigger the SPAM police.
  • Try A/B testing with short, long, personalized and generic subject lines.

10. You’re not tracking email marketing analytics.

Do the (fun) math. Email analytics are useful. They’re also addictive once you start looking. Don’t shy away from these numbers. They’re there to guide you and steer you away from judging the success of emails based on your instincts or feelings. Data doesn’t lie.

Optimize emails based on past performance. Any email automation software worth its price will give you a ton of insight into email performance. Never send it and forget it. Schedule time to regularly dig in and monitor the performance of your emails. Pay attention to open rates and click through rates. Track how often you lose subscribers.

Data is only valuable with context, so compare against average industry performance and keep in mind that segmented, targeted emails will always perform better than emails you throw at your entire audience. Both have value in their own right. There’s no magic number that indicates success, but you should strive to improve the numbers you see and ensure that they don’t consistently drop.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Get familiar with your email software to see what you can measure.
  • Set benchmarks based on your average open rates and click through rates.
  • Experiment with various elements to try to improve those numbers every time you send an email.

11. Your emails are all about you.

Don’t be the annoying guy at the cocktail party. Ultimately, people don’t want to hear about how great you are. They want to know what’s in it for them — or better yet, they just want their lives to be improved in some way by the media they engage with. Sometimes that’s a major perspective shift when you’re the person in charge of crafting marketing emails. But you can do it.

Provide value at every touchpoint. Value is a big, vague notion. In order to know what your guests find valuable, talk to them. Pay attention to how they interact with your emails. Survey them. Treat readers like humans, not pieces of data. Give them something useful in your emails, and the ROI will follow.

This can feel counterintuitive when you’re trying to move the needle and grow your business, but it comes down to this: If your emails read like advertisements, they will be ignored. Consistently. It takes more effort to send great emails, but the return is tangible if you nail it. You’ll convert contacts to leads, and you’ll delight existing guests who will mention you in car line, and in the break room, and via text — in all the places you can’t track. (Yet. The future will most certainly be increasingly creepy.)

Here’s how to fix it:

  • Figure out what your guests truly care about. (Open and click-through rates are a good place to get that information, or you can ask them!)
  • Make sure that every email you send focuses on the needs of the recipient, not the needs of your business. What value are you bringing? How are you making their day brighter?
  • With every email, ask yourself: Is this for me, or is this for my customers?

You can fix your email marketing.

Testing frequently, nailing your frequency, providing value in the content you send and personalizing your messages are important, but it all comes back to respect. Respect your contacts and much of this will fall into place naturally.

We’re huge nerds about email marketing, and we’re happy to help. Drop us a line and tell us a little about your current marketing.