Email marketing mistakes. We’ve all made them. From doing too much promotion in our emails, to not using an email autoresponder, to going a little overboard with our subject lines, there are lots of ways email marketing can go wrong.
But thankfully, for every potential email marketing mistake you might make, there’s a solution or a better way to do things—and that’s what I want to talk about here.
Maybe you’ve made some of these email marketing mistakes before and learned from them. Maybe some of these mistakes will be news to you—and that’s great, because you can use the knowledge you gain here to avoid them in the future!
In either case, here are the twenty-five most common email marketing mistakes I’ve encountered in my time helping entrepreneurs learn to build relationships with their audience through the awesome power of email marketing. (And yep, you can bet that I’ve even made some of these mistakes myself!)
The 25 Most Common Email Marketing Mistakes
- You’re not writing each email with a goal in mind.
- You’re not optimizing your emails for mobile.
- You’re not previewing your emails (send an email to yourself to test, too!).
- You’re ignoring your subject lines.
- You’re overdoing your subject lines.
- You’re not using any CTAs in your emails.
- You’re using too many CTAs in your emails.
- You’re not putting CTAs on their own line.
- You’re not setting the right expectations.
- You’re using your emails to sell too much.
- You’re sending too many emails.
- You’re not sending enough (or any!) emails.
- You’re playing it safe.
- You’re not using an email service provider.
- You’re using too many images.
- You’re not adding alt-text to your images.
- You’re not segmenting your list.
- You’re not using an autoresponder.
- You make it too difficult to unsubscribe.
- You’re not tracking your stats.
- You’re sending from a “noreply” address.
- You’re not following GDPR regulations.
- You’re emailing a list you purchased.
- You’re waiting until your list is “big enough” to start.
- You’re not doing any email marketing (what?!).
Email marketing mistake 1: You’re not writing each email with a goal in mind
Setting a goal before you start writing your email can be the difference between sitting at your computer for hours and ending up with something lackluster and sitting down for ten minutes to come up with something great. Why? Because you know what you’re doing.
Each email needs to have a goal.
Some emails will have the goal of adding value and building trust with your audience. Some emails share stories of your expertise and experience, in order to build authority. Some emails will be about relationship building, where you’ll share something more personal, even vulnerable. Some emails will be more perfunctory, such as the “thank you” email after someone joins your email list or purchases something from you.
And yes, some of your emails are going to be pitches aimed at making a sale.
Some emails might even have bits of more than one of the above elements. But each one should still have a single, overarching goal. A goal gives you a rudder so you don’t get off track as you’re crafting your email, and so your audience will have a clear sense of what you expect from them as they’re reading it.
Maybe the best part? The writing process will go much more quickly (and it may even be more fun), because you know why you’re writing.
Email marketing mistake 2: You’re not optimizing your emails for mobile
Reading email on mobile devices is incredibly popular—in fact, more people open their email on their mobile devices than any other platform.
Thankfully, most email service providers (my preferred one is ConvertKit) automatically create responsive versions of the emails you send. Responsive means the email will automatically display in a way that looks best on the reader’s chosen platform, whether it’s a desktop computer or a smartphone.
Even if your email service provider automatically creates a responsive version of your email, it’s always a good idea to preview it on a mobile screen—which your email service provider should also allow you to do.
Which brings us to . . .
Email marketing mistake 3: You’re not previewing your emails
This one’s really straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it, and that’s previewing your emails before you send them to your list.
Since human eyes can make mistakes or miss things (and our brains aren’t dictionaries), if your email service provider has a spell-check tool, make sure to use that too. A typo here or there is no big deal, but if your readers encounter a lot of them every time they get an email from you, they may not be too impressed.
You should also send an email to yourself to make sure everything looks good—there’s a small chance the preview in your email service provider won’t look exactly the same as the email you get in your inbox, so it pays to check twice!
Email marketing mistake 4: You’re ignoring your subject lines
Your email subject lines play a major role in how many people open the emails you carefully craft.
I typically spend an extra five to ten minutes on the subject line while writing emails. Even though they’re only a few words long, it’s the first thing people see before they read or click on anything else in your email.
There are tons of formulas online for writing winning subject lines, but my favorite strategy for writing a great subject line involves using the fear of missing out (FOMO). In simple terms, when you create an information gap—you give people enough information to make them curious to learn more—you can make it more likely they’ll open the email to find out what they’re missing.
Just remember, subject lines are important, but they only work for getting people to open your email. If the content inside doesn’t match the headline, or if you seem to be bait-and-switching along the way, you’re not going to get any clicks in your emails, and you’re going to have some angry subscribers, too. They won’t be subscribers for long.
Be creative with your headlines, but make sure you’re delivering value and giving people what they want at the same time.
Email marketing mistake 5: You’re overdoing your subject lines
At the same time, it’s possible to take your subject lines too far. You also don’t want to be too edgy—for instance, by making someone feel like they’re in trouble. You don’t want people to feel like you’re harassing them into opening your email.
There are also specific terms that have been tested and judged to make your email more likely to end up in a spam folder.
Don’t use ALL CAPS. Don’t abuse exclamation marks!!!!!
Also remember to be accurate in your subject lines. According to the CAN-SPAM Act, a federal law passed in 2003 to attempt to stem the flow of unwanted email into people’s inboxes, an email’s subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
An effective subject line is one that grabs people’s attention without misleading or harassing them to read further.
Email marketing mistake 6: You’re not using any CTAs in your emails
This goes back to having a goal for each email. What do you want your reader to do, or think, as a result of reading your email?
Perhaps you want them to click on a link to a sales page to purchase your new course. If that’s the intended outcome, then you need to ask people to do that! Or maybe the goal or outcome of the email is less concrete—let’s say you want your readers to spend some time brainstorming new business ideas. Turn that into a call to action for them to take fifteen minutes and write down as many ideas as possible.
Give your readers a specific action to take in each email you send.
Email marketing mistake 7: You’re using too many CTAs in your emails
The flipside of not using any CTAs is using too many. This typically comes from not having a precise goal in mind for each email. When you ask people to do too many things in one email, you muddy the message and create confusion.
The exception is emails that are intended to be informative, like an email newsletter. You might have multiple links to different articles and landing pages on your site, as well as external sites. The goal of the email is to inform people about a wide range of things, so you’re giving them options in terms of what to click.
Email marketing mistake 8: You’re not putting CTAs on their own line
This is a simple mistake—and a simple one to fix, thankfully. Your CTAs should always appear on their own line in your emails. Why? Because then they’ll stand out. People will be more likely to see them and click on them. And that’s the idea, right?
Plus, putting each CTA on its own line helps avoid issues with “fat fingers” on mobile, to help make sure people click on the right thing. (But you only have one specific CTA in each email already, right? See mistake numbers 6 and 7 above.)
Email marketing mistake 9: You’re not setting the right expectations
When people join your email list, they should know what they’re getting into. Will they be hearing from you once a month? Or are you planning on emailing them every day. (Neither one is ideal, to be honest.)
However often you’re planning on dropping your thoughts and updates into people’s inboxes, they’ll be more likely to welcome those emails if they know what they’re going to be getting from you and when.
My best recommendation is to decide how often you’re going to email people, then let them know. If you don’t feel sure at this point, then be honest about that, and try to be as specific as you can. Giving people some idea of what they’ll be getting from you is better than no idea.
Email marketing mistake 10: You’re using your emails to sell too much
Email is an incredible channel to connect with your audience, and to promote your products and services. But like anything, it’s possible to overdo it here. If you over-promote and oversell without delivering enough value, wisdom, entertainment, and connection, then people are going to be turned off. They’ll unsubscribe, ignore your emails, maybe even report them as spam. None of which are outcomes you want to aspire to.
As I talked about in chapter 3, some businesses can do well using a “ground and pound” approach with their email autoresponders. This approach involves sending more sales-oriented emails than I would typically recommend for most businesses. But it can work in some circumstances. The key to being successful with this kind of approach is twofold: setting the right expectations, and having a business model that lends itself to doing more selling and promotion in your emails.
Read chapter 3 to see if this kind of approach might be right for you and your business.
Email marketing mistake 11: You’re sending too many emails
How many emails is too many?
Even if you’re not doing too much promotion in your emails, you can still overload your email subscribers through sheer volume.
The key is setting the right expectations, as we talked about in mistake number 10. If you told all your new subscribers off the bat to expect three emails a week from you, then sending them three emails a week is probably going to go over better than if you’d said nothing then just started barraging them with electronic updates.
And just as important as setting the right expectations is delivering value with each email. You should never be sending an email just for the sake of sending an email. Your readers will sense that you’re acting out of laziness or desperation, and they’ll reach for the unsubscribe link.
Email marketing mistake 12: You’re not sending enough (or any!) emails
Is it chilly in here, or is it just me? That’s right, your email list has gone cold.
A cold (or stale) email list is one you haven’t emailed in a while. You’ve been doing the opposite of what we discussed in mistake number 10. You haven’t been adequately nurturing your relationship with your audience and delivering value through email—because you haven’t been sending enough of them.
The big problem with a cold list is that if and when you do try to revive your email marketing efforts, you may find that your emails get a chilly reception.
When you start sending to a cold list again, chances are good that some of the email addresses are no longer in operation. This means a lot of your emails are going to bounce back as undeliverable. Chances are also good that people have gotten used to not hearing from you, so if they see suddenly see a new email from you in their inbox, their reaction could be, “What the heck is this?”
As a result, you’re likely to see a higher than usual number of unsubscribes, and even some people marking your email as spam. All of this is going to hurt your open rates and can cause future emails to be marked as spam by your subscribers’ email providers.
If you’re going to “revive” a cold email list, it’s important to clean the list first.
And when you do send that first email to your stale list, it’s crucial to set expectations about the kind of commitment you’re making to your subscribers from that point on. Remind people who you are, tell them where you’ve been, and explain how often they’ll be hearing from you going forward.
Email marketing mistake 13: You’re playing it safe
Maybe you’re scared of putting off any of your readers and talking directly to your target audience. The result? Your emails are bland and dumbed-down, aimed at the lowest common denominator. They’re boring, and worse, they’re not targeted at the people you’re best equipped to serve.
This is an issue that can affect all of your marketing, but it definitely comes into play with email marketing.
Here’s a wakeup call: people are going to unsubscribe from your list, no matter what you do. The bigger your list gets, the more people will leave when they realize that what you offer isn’t for them. And that’s okay.
There’s another side to playing it too safe, and it has to do with not putting your personality—not putting yourself—into your emails.
Maybe you’re scared of putting people off, so you end up trying to sound like someone else. Or you’re trying to sound like . . . no one in particular. A generic email marketer. One who sounds like the 80 percent of other email marketers out there.
Many email marketers—many people—have a fear of being seen and heard for who they really are. But it’s a big pond out there, and you’re the proverbial small fish, so if you want to be noticed and remembered, you need to be yourself.
The key is to be willing to be vulnerable and share a bit of who you are. In life and in business, people connect with other people. When you’re vulnerable and authentic, the person on the other end will feel safe being vulnerable and authentic as well.
Being authentic is a necessity in email marketing, as it is in all aspects of business, because building a successful business—online or offline—is about relationship building.
So stick your neck out.
Email marketing mistake 14: You’re not using an email service provider
This one is especially for those of you who are just getting started building an online business. Money is tight, so you try to cut costs wherever you can . . . including email marketing. Plus you want more control over your email list. So you decide to send your emails manually.
Let me tell you why this is a terrible idea. Here are just a few of the things an email service provider lets you do—things that would require a ton of work and maintenance to try and do yourself:
- Help people easily subscribe (and unsubscribe). An email service provider comes with built-in forms you can add to web pages and blog posts for people to subscribe to your list, as well as the option to quickly and easily unsubscribe (which you have to provide legally!).
- Track and analyze the performance of your emails. Trust me, tracking open rates, clickthroughs, unsubscribes and the like is not something you want to do manually, especially as your list grows.
- Segment your list. If you want your emails to perform as well as possible, you need to segment your list so you can start talking to the different subsets of your audience in targeted ways. And that’s really hard to do without the back-end capabilities of an email service provider.
And the list goes on and on (and on, and on . . .). Using an email service provider is truly a no-brainer.
Also, these days, there are seemingly dozens of different email service providers, all competing with each other to grab a portion of the email market. That’s good news for you, the email marketer, because this competition inspires companies to improve their services and keep prices affordable.
And while there’s no single email service provider that works best for every person out there, if you’re an entrepreneur trying to build an online business that can help you grow a devoted audience and create passive income for yourself, ConvertKit is the tool I use and recommend.
Email marketing mistake 15: You’re using too many images
You can run into trouble when you lean toward using lots of graphics in your emails. For starters, your emails may be more likely to end up caught by spam filters, since a lot of spam artists use a big graphic in the entire body of the email in place of actual text, in order to dodge filters that look for keywords that suggest spam. Once the makers of the spam filters got wise to this tactic, they started flagging emails that contain only images as likely spam.
Now, this is where things get a bit murky, because I don’t use images for most of my emails. In my opinion, it’s best to play it safe and go light—or go zero—when it comes to images in your emails.
That’s what I’ve found to work best for me, but other email marketers have found success using images in their emails.
I do suggest, however, that you use them sparingly. Maybe a single header image to catch people’s attention, and one or two smaller images in the body of the email—max. Sometimes, images fail to load—say, if there’s a temporary issue with the server where your image is hosted. If your emails are really graphics-heavy, and one or two of them fail to load, the end result is going to look pretty unimpressive.
Email marketing mistake 16: You’re not adding alt text to your images
If you do decide to use images in your emails, then you’re going to want to pay attention to this one.
Every image you use in an email should also be assigned something called alt text. Alt text is text that appears inside the image “container” if an image can’t be loaded for some reason. Let’s assume, like in the previous mistake, that one of the images in your email didn’t load. Well, thanks to alt text, your readers won’t be staring dumbfounded at a big block of emptiness. The alt text will give them a description of what was supposed to be there.
For most readers, this won’t replace the experience of the image. But for some of your readers, using alt text appropriately is a must-do that will add a lot of value to your emails.
It comes down to accessibility and making sure you’re accommodating the people in your audience regardless of their ability to see, with their eyes, what’s in your emails.
You see, just as importantly as helping people with normal sight understand what an image was meant to show, alt text makes the information in your emails more accessible to a wider set of users, such as those who are blind or seeing-impaired. Even though some users will not be able to see the image you’ve embedded in your email (even if it does load properly), they may be using special software that reads the alt text aloud to them.
So using alt text is simply the right thing to do.
Email marketing mistake 17: You’re not segmenting your list
You’ve been sending emails to your list for a while. Your open and clickthrough rates are . . . okay. They’re not great, but not terrible either. Your email marketing efforts are plateauing—and a big reason is the fact you haven’t segmented your list.
What is segmenting? Essentially, it’s breaking your list into smaller pieces based on certain criteria—such as whether or not someone’s bought something from you before, or if they’re highly engaged (i.e., they open most of your emails) or unengaged members of your list.
In my case, I segment my list primarily into three categories: people who are just getting started (or thinking about starting a business), people who have a business that makes $0–500/month, and people who have a business that makes more than $500/month.
Each of these segments has different needs, desires, fears, and concerns, so it makes sense that I would talk to them differently. And that includes via email.
To learn more about the value of segmenting your list, check out chapter 3.
Email marketing mistake 18: You’re not using an autoresponder
What’s that? You’re only sending broadcast emails? New users are only getting a single welcome email and nothing automated after that?
You’re missing out. And your readers are missing out too.
An autoresponder is one of the best ways to amplify your email marketing efforts. In fact, it’s easily one of the most important and valuable aspects of email marketing.
The SPI Email Marketing Cheat Sheet
Learn to Write Great Emails.
The Epic Guide to Email Marketing walks you through how to set up your email marketing program, but once it's set up, what should you write?
The Epic Guide to Email Marketing walks you through how to set up your email marketing program, but once it's set up, what should you write?
- Universal Rules
Email marketing mistake 19: You’re making it too difficult to unsubscribe
This is one of those seemingly small mistakes that can become a really big mistake.
Growing your email list can be challenging, so some marketers intentionally make it hard for people to unsubscribe. But this a bad practice for several reasons. First, if someone wants to unsubscribe, then making it difficult for them is just going to make them dislike you. They may even decide to mark or report your emails as spam, which you definitely don’t want.
Also, did you know that legally you have to make it easy to opt out of your email marketing? According to the CAN-SPAM Act, the federal law we talked about earlier, you have to provide an easy way for readers to unsubscribe, or risk some hefty penalties.
If someone doesn’t want to be on your email list, let them leave! Each party is going to be better off, and your email list will have more people who actually want to hear from you.
To make it easier for people to opt out, be sure to include an unsubscribe link in every email you send, and make it easy to see. From there, they should be able to unsubscribe with a single click—don’t make them log in to an account. Also, if you’ve segmented your list and have multiple autoresponders, newsletters, and the like, you should provide the option to unsubscribe from the entire list—not just the particular newsletter or email type the person was reading when they decided to unsubscribe.
Email marketing mistake 20: You’re not tracking your stats
Lots of email marketers put tons of time and attention into crafting their emails—and not enough into seeing if those emails are actually working. If you’re not tracking and analyzing the performance of your emails, you’re basically flying blind.
If you want to succeed with email marketing, you need to track the performance of your emails. You need to know if people are opening your emails. You need to know if they’re taking the actions you want them to take, like clicking on links to your sales pages and purchasing your products and services. Your email service provider should provide the ability to track things like open rates and click-through rates, and you should definitely take advantage of these capabilities.
Email marketing mistake 21: You’re sending from a “noreply” address
People want to feel like there’s another person at the end of the email they just received. But when you send emails from an unpersonalized address—like one with “noreply” or “donotreply” before the “@” sign, it comes across as cold and unwelcoming. (I mean, you’re specifically asking people not to reply to you!)
I know some people get anxious about the idea of encouraging people to reply to their emails. What if my inbox gets flooded with messages? Well, a) that’s not likely to happen and b) what if it did? Would that be such a bad thing. Hearing from the people on your email list is an incredible way to learn from and about your audience and improve your message and your products and services. But when you send emails from a “noreply” address, you shut down the potential for that valuable two-way communication.
Even though my email list has grown to over 200,000 subscribers, I still love and welcome hearing back from people via email. I’ve had to hire someone to help me manage the volume of email I get, but that’s a good problem to have as far as I’m concerned, because it keeps me attuned to exactly what my audience wants and needs from me.
Email marketing mistake 22: You’re not following GDPR regulations
GDPR. What’s that? It stands for General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and it’s a sweeping set of regulations passed in the European Union (EU) and implemented in 2018 that tightened some of the laws related to data protection and privacy of EU citizens.
What does this have to do with being an email marketer, especially if you don’t live in the EU? Well, there’s a good chance you have people on your list who do reside in the EU. (In fact, I pretty much guarantee it.) GDPR has tightened some of the rules around how you ask for and manage people’s personal data. And since email marketing involves collecting an email address (and potentially more) from someone, that means you’re on the hook to make sure you’re following the law.
What does this mean for you?
At a minimum, you may have to ask your existing subscribers to re-opt-in to your list, and to revise some of your email list signup forms. There’s more to it than that, and you’ll need to do your homework, but your email service provider should have guidelines on what you need to do to. This is a big reason I love working with ConvertKit, because they were one of the first to come out with clear guidelines for customers to make sure their email marketing is GDPR compliant.
Email marketing mistake 23: You’re emailing a list you purchased
This is one of those things that’s a big and easy “no.” Just don’t do it. When you buy an email list from someone else, you’re setting yourself up for failure because the people on that list haven’t agreed to receive emails from you.
And believe me when I say this is a big deal. Emailing someone who hasn’t agreed to hear from you is rightly considered spam, and it’s against the law. It’s also just really, really bad practice for business and relationship building in general.
The only scenario in which I’d consider using a bought or inherited email list is the following: Once you take possession of the list, send one email (just one!) introducing yourself, how you got that person’s email address, and why you’d like to keep in touch with them. In the email, ask them to opt in if they’d like to continue hearing from you by subscribing to your email list. If they don’t respond (or they reply saying no), then that’s it. You don’t contact them anymore.
Email marketing mistake 24: You’re waiting until your list is “big enough” to start
How big is big enough? People joined your list because they want to hear from you. So why would you leave them hanging?
Remember, it’s not the size of the list that counts—it’s how you use it. Quality over quantity.
Once you’ve got a few folks, don’t leave them cold. Start developing that email marketing muscle. As time goes on, your list (hopefully!) grows, and your business evolves, you’re not going to run out of things to talk about—I promise.
Email marketing mistake 25: You’re not doing any email marketing (what?!)
You’ve made it all the way to the end of a long article about email marketing mistakes, so I’m guessing you’re the kind of person who likes to be sure you’re ready and prepared before jumping into something new . . . right?
Whatever the case, if you have a business and you’re not using email marketing to grow your target audience, build your authority, develop relationships with people, and yes, make money, then you’re missing out big time.