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Avoid These 10 Common Email Marketing Mistakes

Email is one of the most powerful marketing channels your expertise-based firm can employ. Not only does email marketing often offer the highest ROI, but it also allows you to scale your presence in a personal way by creating a one to one connection with large email lists. It’s a direct line of communication with prospects that can compel them into becoming clients over time.

But if you don’t dot your i’s and cross your t’s, your success with the email channel will vary wildly. The following is a list of top ten mistakes marketers make when it comes to email. The good news is once you know what mistakes to avoid, you can engage more prospects faster via email.

Top Ten Email Mistakes to Avoid


1. Not showing empathy to your recipients. Some businesses have given email marketing a bad name by sending salesy emails that clutter up their recipients’ inboxes. Don’t be this type of email marketer. This will not only get poor results but will also make the email channel ineffective over the long term.

A better approach is sending relevant emails customized by list segments that provide value. This type of empathy for your recipients will not only make your email channel a longterm success, but it will also make people getting your emails more open to receiving the messages you send them. If you want your recipients to look forward to receiving your emails, then send emails that are relevant and valuable to them.

2. Not setting a goal or objective for your email (with metric expectations). Not all emails serve the same purpose, and that’s as it should be. The people on your list come from a variety of sources and have different perspectives.

The goal of emails sent to new or unengaged segments of your list should be to get the prospect to open your message. Getting them to open your emails at this stage is paramount.

It’s important to focus on building trust and establishing your expertise early on with prospects. The best way to accomplish this is to share valuable thought leadership on topics that they care about.

Emails sent to more engagement segments are better suited to have action-oriented goals like click or reply. It is less challenging to get engaged subscribers to open your email so the next level is getting them to take action.

As you continue nurturing your prospects, your goal should be to get them back to your site to view specific content and potentially share more about themselves and their stage in the buying cycle. This activity helps you understand what is important to them so you can engage them in ways that move them to the next stage of your buying cycle.

The goal of your email should dictate the structure of the email. This includes the from address, subject line, content, format, and call-to-action.

3. Not using behavior triggers to send more targeted emails. A prospect’s engagement with your email or website should be used to send more targeted emails. These behaviors provide context about what’s important to a prospect so you can build trust.

For example, if a prospect visits three articles on a specific content topic, you can follow up with a few emails that dive deeper into this area of expertise. By sending relevant emails to specific prospects, you build trust and establish yourself as an expert.

Start by identifying the behaviors that offer opportunities for you to send more targeted emails. For example, create a segment of prospects who’ve accessed 2-3 articles on a specific topic but not downloaded your ebook on the topic. Targeted emails create more relevant and valuable experiences for your subscribers.

4. Not A/B testing. Simply testing a subject line can do wonders for your engagement. Case in point: Let’s say you have a list of 10,000 contacts. You’re already off to a good start. Great job! It’s time for your next email campaign, which is being sent out to your entire list. The email you send gets a 15% open rate and a 2% clickthrough rate. So, 1,500 folks open your email and 200 click through. Not too bad…

But what if you instead tested your email’s subject line on 1,000 contacts from your list before finalizing a subject line and sending the email to the remaining contacts?

For the sake of argument, let’s say Email Test A gets a 15% open rate again and Email Test B, which is sent with a different subject line, gets an 18% open rate. Email Test A has 75 opens and Email Test B has 90 opens. Assuming your final send also has an 18% open rate (the same as the winning segment in our test), you’d get 1,620 opens from the remaining 9,000 sends by sending Email B to the rest of your list.

That’s 1,785 total opens from the same list, as opposed to the 1,500 opens you got without testing. By testing this email, you’ve engaged 285 more people. You put a lot of effort into your content, it’s worth spending an extra 15 minutes to set up a test that helps drive more engagement.

Want more on our A/B testing insights? Check out our article and resources for A/B testing email campaigns.

5. Not using pre-header text. As demonstrated in the previous section, a great subject line can really help your email open rate. However, even if you use a great subject line, if you neglect to use a complementary pre-header, you’re missing an opportunity to improve your open rate further.

The pre-header text is the text that displays in an email client’s inbox view after the subject line. If you aren’t optimizing this, the inbox recipient’s email client may display with the first readable snippets of text available. This could be “Banner Image Click here to read in browser Hi Sarah….” Not only is this confusing, but it makes your email look sloppy and unprofessional.

By not using the pre-header text, you’re missing out on valuable real estate in the inbox that might compel someone to engage with your email. Think of the pre-header as an opportunity to highlight the benefit of engaging with your email.

6. Not segmenting your list for maximum engagement. Engagement begets engagement, so if you aren’t sending emails to a largely engaged list, your overall engagement won’t be as strong as it could be. Send to your engaged contacts first. The initial engagement will signal to email service providers that this email should be placed in primary inboxes and lift your overall engagement rate.

To increase inbox placement and engagement among unengaged contacts, slowly integrate unengaged segments with larger engaged segments of your marketing list. To learn more about how this integrated approach works read our article on improving inbox placement when sending to cold lists.

You should also consider setting up a re-engagement program for leads that have not engaged after receiving a number of emails over a long period of time. This will allow you to automatically remove contacts that don’t re-engage, which will help keep your list clean.

7. Not cleaning your list. Regularly sending emails to large lists of unengaged contacts will tank your sender reputation, and subsequently your ability to get in inboxes. For similar reasons, it is important to clean your list. Regularly sending to invalid email addresses will negatively impact your sender reputation.

Additionally, if you’re not cleaning your list and you happen to acquire a fraudulent, spam-offending, or honeypot email address you could get blacklisted which will have a lasting impact on your ability to get in inboxes.

8. Ignoring the technical setups that improve inbox placement. Possessing a good sender reputation is an important element to succeeding with email marketing. It’s critical to set up DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and SPF (Sender Policy Framework) to authenticate yourself as a sender from your email service provider.

The technical setup items around email authentication, deliverability, and inbox placement are often overlooked, but they’re important for getting through baseline email filtering tools. Implement them or be relegated outside many of your recipient’s primary inboxes.

View our Email Marketing Deliverability Best Practices article for more on this topic.

9. Sending high image-to-text ratio emails. Using an image in an email isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes images help paint a clear picture in ways that go beyond what you can do with text. However, don’t go overboard with images at the expense of the text. Including large images with little text is problematic for three primary reasons:

  1. First and foremost, email-filtering tools may automatically filter out your email from the inbox if the image to text ratio is too high.
  2. Second, images (even when compressed) have to be downloaded. Both the size and quantity of images used in an email may cause it to load slowly or not at all.
  3. Third, if your recipient has images turned off they’ll likely miss the message you’re attempting to convey in your email.

10. Not sending emails OR enough emails. Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest mistake most expert firms make is not using email enough. Not only does email consistently deliver the highest return on your promotional efforts, but it’s also one of the few channels you can own. If you aren’t using email regularly, your marketing effectiveness will be handcuffed. Consistent, personalized interaction is hard to replicate in other channels at the scale that email affords.

Without consistently sending emails to your list, your bounce rates will increase. This will impact your deliverability and inbox placement negatively because your overall engagement will be depressed. To keep your brand at the top of your contact’s mind, consistently sending emails will remind them that you are around and you know your stuff.

We suggest sending about an email a week if you have the content to sustain it. We go over how and why we came to this number in our article on Email Marketing Frequency Best Practices. If you don’t have the content to support a weekly send strategy you should not fill the space with sales emails. Instead, adjust your schedule accordingly and send 1-3 emails a month but try to be consistent when it comes to the day and time you send the email so your email subscribers become accustomed as to when to expect your content.

Putting it All Together

Avoiding these common email mistakes should help you connect and stay connected with your marketing list.  Email succeeds when it builds trust, which builds engagement and places you in your recipients mind as the go-to expert for the services you provide. Email marketing can help position you to be the first one someone reaches out to once a need for your services arises. It’s a long game approach but one worth doing.

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