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11 common email marketing mistakes (and how to avoid making them)

Email marketing mistakes
Email marketing don’t #1: Get off on the wrong foot
Email marketing don’t #2: Rely on generic email blasts
Email marketing don’t #3: Underestimate the importance of a great email subject line
Email marketing don’t #4: Send large blocks of text
Email marketing don’t #5: Forget to format your email messages for mobile
Email marketing don’t #6: Underuse or overuse email marketing automation
Email marketing don’t #7: Be overly promotional
Email marketing don’t #8: Forget to test before sending
Email marketing don’t #9: Use words on spam trigger lists
Email marketing don’t #10: Ignoring email marketing compliance legislation
Email marketing don’t #11: Signing off without a CTA
Final thoughts

Email marketing used to be a nice-to-have for businesses. Now, more than 90% of survey respondents say it’s at least somewhat critical to their company’s overall success, with 41% saying it’s very critical.

Rich communication can build your brand’s reputation, positively impact email health and even boost sales. However, there are many email marketing do’s and don’ts to be aware of.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common email marketing mistakes to avoid. You’ll also learn how to fix them to increase open rates, grow your subscriber list and boost customer retention.

Email marketing don’t #1: Get off on the wrong foot

First impressions count as much in email as they do in person. Building trust with new subscribers takes time and starting off on the wrong foot can lead to inactivity or immediate unsubscribes.

Your opening contact will most likely be an automated welcome email or confirmation of an order or other action. Whatever the purpose, this is a make-or-break moment where your audience needs to feel welcomed and important.

Email marketing do: Personalize emails and start to build trust

A highly personalized, value-packed email will show subscribers that this new relationship with your brand is worthwhile, reducing unsubscribe rates.

However, the value you provide will depend on the type of email you’re sending.

In welcome messages, consider telling the reader exactly why they made the right decision to sign up. For example, you can share the kind of content they’ll receive in the future and tell them how they’ll benefit from it.

For order confirmation emails, add value to the purchase by providing helpful information relating to the product.

In this order confirmation email, browser plug-in GoFullPage provides important payment details and follows up immediately with some helpful links relating to the product.

GoFullPage Order Confirmation Email

You can use this initial customer interaction to send content that reflects your wider brand messaging so it feels familiar to your audience.

It’s good practice to match your opening email to the tone or design of your website. Doing so means you keep the reader engaged and begin to build familiarity, which leads to loyalty.

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Email marketing don’t #2: Rely on generic email blasts

When executed correctly, email blasts allow you to reach large audiences with minimal investment. However, you should focus on the quality of your emails over quantity.

Relevance separates successful bulk email content from unwanted messages. To create relevant email content, you’ll need to segment your audience so you can deliver messages they want to open and engage with.

Email marketing do: Use segmentation to categorize your email list

Segmenting your email list involves splitting your contacts into separate targeted mailing lists that speak more directly to your recipient’s needs, such as by demographic or pain point.

It’s an important activity in email marketing. In fact, more than 90% of respondents in 2024 Litmus research agreed that email segmentation “boosted performance”.

Let’s say you sell marketing software. You may have a group of subscribers that own small businesses with under 20 employees. Another may be marketing managers at enterprise-sized companies that operate on international scales.

While small business owners are interested in time-saving features and cost-effective solutions, enterprise managers are after customization options for large-scale campaigns. Sending emails that speak to each group more specifically will help your message resonate better than an email trying to speak to everyone.

Fortunately, you can use marketing automation tools to segment audience email addresses based on factors, such as:

  • Their need (the solution they’re looking for)

  • Purchase history

  • Demographics

  • Sales pipeline stage

  • Geolocation

  • Website browsing activity

  • Previous content engagement

Segmenting your audience also personalizes the recipient’s experience and optimizes your campaigns for conversions.

By categorizing and filtering your audience for important email blasts, like promotions on specific products they’ve already viewed, prospects are more likely to engage.

Below is part of a bulk email that sportswear brand On uses to announce a new product.

ON screenshot Marketing Do's and Don'ts

On sells shoes, apparel and accessories. However, the company will have sent this email to subscribers who have shown interest in or purchased running shoes in the past.

Only sending email content relevant to each group’s preferences like this gives it a higher chance of being opened, read and the desired action taken.

Email marketing don’t #3: Underestimate the importance of a great email subject line

When measuring the success of email marketing campaigns, the first metric to consider is your open rate (the percentage of recipients who opened your message in their inbox).

A high open rate means you’re reaching your audience. A low one means you could optimize your time, money and effort more effectively.

Until they open your email, recipients only have two ways to judge its value: the sender name and subject line.

With trust in your name (built through several factors, such as opt-in consent, consistent branding and brand equity), your next step in standing out is to craft meaningful, attention-grabbing subject lines.

Without doing so, customers may ignore, lose or delete your email.

Email marketing do: Personalize your subject lines

Your email subject line acts like the heading of your content marketing efforts. If you want people to keep reading, they need to believe they’re going to gain something valuable from it.

Litmus’s research also suggests subject lines are the number one email marketing element that benefits from personalization.

Opening with someone’s name suggests from the get-go that you’ve tailored the email’s contents to them so they’re more likely to open it.

Look through your own inbox and you’ll find that all the best subject lines have some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Short

  • Personal

  • Direct

  • Casual

  • Relevant

  • Include numbers

  • Emotion-driven

The subject line on this Trustpilot email below is only six words long but it still manages to address the reader directly (“your”), come across as casual (“!”) and offer relevant information about a specific activity (the user’s review).

Email marketing dos and don'ts Trustpilot

What’s more, Trustpilot has likely achieved this specificity through automation (we’ll get to that soon).

Email marketing don’t #4: Send large blocks of text

Email is better suited to round-ups, newsletters and other easy-to-digest updates than long essays.

Often, senders try to put too much information in their email content but it’s better to keep the email body concise to get engagement from busy readers.

You can always link to further reading so you don’t lose people’s attention before they take the desired action.

Email marketing do: Structure emails for skimmability

Only a small number of recipients will read every word of your emails. In fact, around 70% of email recipients will devote fewer than eight seconds to it.

Average amount of time spent subscribers spend engaging with messages

You can structure your emails to account for this type of reading using short paragraphs, plenty of white space and bullet points.

Doing so ensures you get your most important information across in less time and you may entice people to take the right action.

Drinks company Oobli uses minimal text above the fold (the content you can see before you scroll down) and plenty of white space in this colorful email:

Email marketing dos and don'ts Oobli

The heading “Shaking up Sweets” is in big, bold lettering then the one-line offer of “25% off” and “free shipping”.

Underneath is a huge call-to-action (CTA) button with the words “Get your tea” and a high-quality product image.

Oobli proves you can optimize other elements of your email design because it’s not just text that impacts an email’s readability.

Consider using high-quality images and eye-catching graphics (avoiding generic stock images) to break up paragraphs or signpost sections so readers can quickly breeze over them.

Note: Compress large image files to keep loading times fast.

Email marketing don’t #5: Forget to format your email messages for mobile

People are using mobile devices more and more to open emails.

Before Apple’s 2021 Mail Privacy Protection (that hid open rates and other email marketing metrics), the iPhone was the most commonly used platform for reading emails.

If your emails are formatted for desktop screens only, they may load incorrectly, resulting in subscribers losing attention and, perhaps, trust in your brand.

Email marketing do: Use mobile-optimized templates to make content accessible on all devices

Once you’ve hooked readers with a great subject line, mobile email users are likelier to read content that’s easier to navigate on a smaller screen.

Several factors contribute to mobile-friendliness in emails, including:

  • Formatting. Even on desktop screens, large chunks of text can be hard to read. Shorter paragraphs and sentences fit your mobile reader’s narrow displays more comfortably.

  • Design. Most smartphones are set to automatically flip content from portrait to landscape and back again, depending on how the user is holding their device. Make sure your content looks good in both orientations.

  • Length. Be concise. Mobile readers on the move want key takeaways in the form of short, easy-to-read snippets. If you need your reader to know more, provide a link they can use later.

  • Attachments and links. If you’re sending more than just text and basic imagery, think about what your recipient might be happy (or even able) to access on a mobile device. Consider the impact of large files on mobile data limits.

As you can see in the example below, Orangewood Guitars clearly formats its email content for mobile devices.

Email marketing dos and don'ts Orangewood guitars

Instead of a wall of text, there are short sections broken up by plenty of white space and images. There’s also a CTA near the top to make the next steps clear for busy users reading on the go.

Everything is condensed into a thin, portrait format to make scrolling and digesting easier.

Note: You can use mobile-optimized email templates within an automated tool like Pipedrive to adjust important elements for you.

Email marketing don’t #6: Underuse or overuse email marketing automation

Email’s most significant selling point is efficiency. It allows you to reach thousands of people in the time it would take to communicate with one by phone or in person.

However, many marketers can spend too much or too little time trying to connect with their subscribers.

Writing out every email yourself can be extremely time-intensive and take your focus away from other tasks. On the other hand, using automation constantly could feel spammy and impersonal.

Email marketing do: Use email marketing automation tools to get the balance right

Even if you’re already sending messages in bulk to your email list, you could save more time by using the automation features of email marketing software.

These tools are cost-effective as they can dramatically improve productivity for sales and marketing teams.

For example, features like Pipedrive’s Automations let you automatically send emails to contacts whose associated deals reach certain stages in the pipeline.

For larger target audiences, the group emailing feature simplifies the distribution and personalization of mass emails by allowing you to edit individual elements quickly.

Pipedrive Send Group Emails

Workflow automation is incredibly effective in digital marketing but knowing when not to use it is as important as knowing when to use it.

Suppose a prospect or customer needs personal attention (e.g., when they’ve had a negative experience).

In that case, it’s good practice to remove them from your automated processes and communicate personally until they’re happy again.

Workflow automation is incredibly effective in digital marketing but knowing when not to use it is as important as knowing when to use it.

Suppose a prospect or customer needs personal attention (e.g., when they’ve had a negative experience).

In that case, it’s good practice to remove them from your automated processes and communicate personally until they’re happy again.

Email marketing don’t #7: Be overly promotional

For an email campaign to be effective, it must provide value. Sometimes, that means promoting a product but not always.

Sending too many promotional emails could result in failing to get through an email provider’s spam filters.

To avoid damaging your sender reputation, limit your number of sales messages.

Email marketing do: Send a balanced mix of sales emails

Successful email marketing campaigns aim instead for an even mix of relevant sales messages, brand and industry updates, content promotions, helpful information and personalized offers.

Send these at appropriate times based on factors like lifecycle stage and website activity.

Balancing your communication like this will help create a meaningful relationship where old and new customers and subscribers feel valued as more than just buyers.

The feeling of being valued is powerful, as author and customer service expert Shep Hyken explains in this blog post:

“​​A transaction is a one-time occurrence. An interaction is a relationship that is ongoing. Customers love to feel like they’re part of something. The way to make that happen is to think of them not as a customer, but as a partner.”

Business loan specialists Prospa sent the email below to its mailing list subscribers.

Email marketing mistakes Prospa example

It provides helpful cyber security information to its followers who own small businesses, without overtly pushing its services.

Email marketing don’t #8: Forget to test before sending

You will make typos, emails may look better on some platforms than others and some links may break before you send. You might even unwittingly use trigger words on spam lists (more on this below).

Mistakes like these will happen but it’s crucial that you notice them before your audience does. Sending broken or grammatically incorrect emails could make your brand appear unprofessional or even disrupt a sale.

This is where testing comes in.

Email marketing do: Proofread and send out test emails

Before sending an email to a mass audience, make it a habit to proofread and then send it to a test pool of yourself and a few other people in the business.

Having people open it on different devices and checking every link should only take 10 minutes but can save you from making any glaring mistakes.

If you do still make an error with one of your emails, use it as an opportunity to reconnect and provide more value to your audience.

After sending the wrong message to its subscribers, e-commerce company Gobe (now Urth) owned the mistake and sent the below as a follow-up email:

Email marketing dos and don'ts Gobe

The email highlights the launch of its new website and offers a discount code to say sorry and encourage potential customers to purchase.

Email marketing don’t #9: Use words on spam trigger lists

Spam trigger lists are words and phrases that email service providers (or at least their algorithms) look for when choosing whether to put a message in the recipient’s inbox or divert it to the junk folder.

Using email spam words regularly in email body copy or subject lines can negatively impact your email marketing deliverability in three ways:

  1. Recipients may assume your message is value-less and put it in their junk folder or unsubscribe.

  2. Your spam complaint rate (a measurement of how often recipients manually mark a sender’s messages as spam) can increase.

  3. Email service providers (ESPs) may start treating you as a spammer and automatically divert future messages so your content goes unseen.

Here’s how to avoid these consequences.

Email marketing do: Carefully consider the language you include in emails

The words and phrases in spam trigger lists typically overpromise benefits, prizes or rewards.

Look through your junk folder now and you’ll see plenty of examples in the subject lines: words and phrases like “Free”, “Discount”, “Act now”, “You have been selected” and “You have won”.

Email marketing dos and don'ts subject lines

You can still use words like “Free” but make sure you use them sparingly and intentionally and the rest of your email doesn’t include any spam markers.

To make your emails attractive to readers and their ESPs, take the following steps:

  • Use the active voice in your writing where possible, creating sentences that have power (e.g., “You can claim back two hours of your working day”)

  • Avoid excessively using punctuation and symbols that spam senders are known for, including too many exclamation points (!!!), question marks (???), ampersands (&) and asterisks (***)

  • Personalize emails with names and account information where possible (e.g., “Hey [First name]”)

  • Segment your audience to ensure everything you send is relevant to its recipients

Even legitimate emails can still end up in spam folders. If you find you’ve got a lower open rate than normal, explore your recent emails to see if you’ve included any trigger content.

You can use tools like Pipedrive to track your email marketing metrics (including opens and click-through rates) and optimize future campaigns.

Email Marketing do's and don'ts email marketing metrics

Email marketing don’t #10: Ignoring email marketing compliance legislation

You risk being fined if you fail to comply with relevant legislation when sending marketing emails.

Two of the most well-known examples are CAN-SPAM (US) and GDPR (EU and UK).

These acts are in place to protect people’s privacy and place responsibilities on anyone collecting, using, storing or processing personal data.

If recipients haven’t opted into your emails, you may be in conflict with this legislation.

Email marketing do: Get familiar with CAN-SPAM and GDPR

CAN-SPAM is a US act passed in 2003 that gives email users the right to have businesses stop contacting them and outlines the penalties companies could incur if they don’t comply (up to $46,517 per email).

It applies to all commercial emails, including those between businesses (B2B).

You’ll find the rules in full on the FTC’s website, but the key points are:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information

  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines

  3. Identify the message as an ad

  4. Tell recipients where you’re located

  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you

  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly

  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf

GDPR stands for “General Data Protection Regulation”.

Introduced in 2018, it enhances the protection of EU citizens’ personal data by increasing the obligations of organizations that collect or process it.

GDPR is complex, as you’ll see here in the full legal text. For salespeople and marketers with EU audiences, the three main actions to take are:

  1. Only gather customer data you need and make sure you have the legal grounds to process it

  2. Be transparent with your actions and be ready for requests from data subjects

  3. Keep personal data safe and delete it when you’re finished with it

Email marketing don’t #11: Signing off without a CTA

Great email content won’t drive conversions if the reader doesn’t know how to act on it.

Make it easy for the reader to do what you want them to do. In the case of emails, it’s usually to click on a link that will take them to another page or use a code somewhere on the website.

Your CTA tells the recipient what to do and how to do it, usually through text, a link or a button in the email.

Missing one in your email can cause friction and prevent readers from taking the desired route.

Email marketing do: Use A/B testing to find the highest-converting CTA

Effective email marketing includes a clear CTA to clarify the recipient’s next steps and show how they can gain even more value from your business.

Yours should aim to ease prospects towards the next stage of their customer journey.

For example, that could be visiting a relevant landing page, signing up for a webinar, downloading more detailed content or getting in touch to chat about requirements.

CTAs work well at the end of marketing emails but you can also use them throughout if the content they complement is relevant enough.

Wherever you place yours, make sure they’re:

  • Easy to see

  • Clear about the action required

  • Friendly and inviting

  • Evident about the value on offer

  • Consistent with your brand’s tone

Hylo Athletics sent the email below to new subscribers.

Email marketing dos and don'ts Hylo Athletics

The CTA does the following very well:

  • It explains the action required (“Share it with your friends, family, colleagues”)

  • It reveals the value on offer (“earn yourself awesome rewards”)

  • It’s friendly and humorous (“even the ones you don’t like”)

  • It’s easy to see (large text, highlighted sharing code and direct social media links)

Any readers who act on this CTA will contribute to Hylo’s brand awareness by introducing more people to its community.

Final thoughts

It doesn’t take much for a business to cause itself more harm than good when using a poor email marketing strategy.

Instead, ensure you consistently provide value, comply with legislation and meet the criteria of spam filtering algorithms.

Get it right with these email marketing do’s and don’ts and you’ll soon be getting higher sign-up, click-through and conversion rates.

Facilitate your efforts with an email marketing tool built into your customer relationship manager software and track all your outreach from one dashboard.

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