Avoid Email Marketing Mistakes in 5 Simple Steps

You hate to see it: Another email that begins with “Hi Test First Name” rather than your actual name. Or an email stuffed to the brim with blocks of lorem ipsum text, just begging for a real word to be added.

To be honest, I feel for email marketers. In today’s digital age, most of us have the luxury of working on channels where mistakes can be quickly withdrawn. Typo in the tweet? Delete it. Typo on the website? Delete it. Typo in an email? You’re about to get lit up!

So, today, we’ll take a look at how to avoid email marketing mistakes.

Find out how to avoid email marketing mistakes

Here are five simple ways to prevent common email marketing mistakes from happening. As always, the devil is in the details!

1. Use an email checklist

Create a standard checklist to walk through before any email is sent. Aim for no more than five items on your list, as people might ignore it otherwise. A few safeguards to include are:

  • Click every link to ensure it’s not broken and goes to the right place
  • Make sure a CTA is above the fold (even on mobile!) – a helpful tool for this is Litmus, which shows you previews on 90+ devices
  • Ensure the subject line doesn’t have anything likely to get caught in spam folders
  • Make sure there are no spelling mistakes and that dynamic text is coded properly
  • Check the list logic to be sure the segmentation will be effective

Print it out and place it on your desk. Literally check the boxes before each send.

2. Do proofing 1,000 ways

Make proofing your second full-time job. Basically, always get a second set of fresh eyes – or third, or fourth – on the email (i.e. not the original writer!) before you hit send. There are a few easy ways to do proofing by sending test emails:

  • Do a proof pass yourself first, by waiting a day and then looking at the email again with fresh eyes.
  • Create a proofing email distro and have other marketing colleagues take turns being responsible for reviewing. Make each person responsible for a specific day of the week.
  • Swap proofing with another teammate – for example you review social copy while they review emails.
  • Also ensure customer care gets a copy of the email before it goes out, and gets to proof it too.

3. Batch send to a small segment first

Send your email to a small portion of the list first (say 10%). Look out for mistakes and await feedback. If you don’t hear anything negative from customers or customer care, release your send to the larger list an hour later.

4. Create a companywide calendar

Provide complete visibility across the organization into your email send calendar. This can help prevent customers from receiving multiple emails on the same day, which is a whole other issue.

You can use Google Calendar, a spreadsheet, or whatever your project management system is to alert your team of upcoming sends. Ensure the customer care team knows what to expect in terms of the contents of each email, so they’re aware what they’re responding to when customers write in (and staffed to handle it).

The other positive impact of a calendar is that you can get emails created and scheduled out in advance. By allowing your team proper time to make something, it’s more likely you’ll reduce mistakes and end up with a better overall result.

5. Crush the quarterly audit

Do at least a quarterly audit of your email marketing automation drips – monthly is even better if you can. Yes, that means open up every single email. Check to make sure the offer in it is still strong and relevant, ensure the copy feels timely and compelling, and that imagery and voice are up to brand standards. This will ensure the content is relevant and engaging, helping to keep your opens and click-throughs strong.

Bonus: Demand more from your tools!

Look, as email marketers we often put up with not having the exact tools we need, because we’re just glad to have a tool at all. But the truth is, there’s no reason our email software should fail us as badly as it does today. We should be able to expect more from our email tools:

  • The tool should call out misspellings
  • The software should refuse to send if lorem ipsum text is in the body or an image is missing
  • The email program should automatically flag broken links
  • The solution should be able to send a proof where dynamic text is inserted with the actual correct text rather than the code
  • The tool should be able to unsend for the first 5 minutes

Talk to your email marketing software company to advocate for the product enhancements we all know we need.

Discover the 3 biggest pitfalls of email campaigns

Now that you have a few solutions under your belt when it comes to common mistakes, what are a few specific big email pitfalls to look out for?

1. Bad email list segmentation

If you don’t send to the right people, it doesn’t matter that they open the email. Particularly sending to unengaged audiences (for example folks who haven’t been to your website in the last 60 days) can hurt your whole email program. If that sounds scary, it should!

The solution: Ensure the audience is right by prioritizing attributes such as their specific actions, their personas, where in their purchase cycle they are, and their engagement with email as a channel. Learn more about improving email deliverability here.

2. Bad subject lines

If someone doesn’t open your email, it doesn’t matter what the email body is. So the biggest point of leverage you have is your open rate.

The solution: Proofing to avoid these subject line issues:

  • Typos or misspellings
  • Bad characters from emojis that don’t render
  • Extra long (no more than 41 characters is ideal) – mobile devices show just 25-30 characters, according to Return Path
  • Spam trigger words and symbols such as $, No purchase necessary, and more

3. Bad mobile design

More than 70% of people now read their emails on their phone – often in the morning. So if your CTA button doesn’t render properly on mobile, you’re in trouble.

The solution: Use responsive design to ensure no matter the device the email looks great.

What happens when these mistakes get made? Bad emails.

Here are a few bad email marketing examples

Unfortunately bad email marketing examples are fairly easy to come by. Here are a few recent emails I’ve seen that were particularly egregious and could have been better.

1. JOANN email example

I ordered some elastic from JOANN for some shorts’ waistbands I was creating. Weeks after the order was placed, I received this email letting me know I would not be getting the elastic. Clearly that’s a logistics problem and not an email problem.

However, while they did confirm I would not be charged, they didn’t even apologize for making me wait forever and they offered no product alternatives within the body of the email.

This is a big swing and a miss! Ensure your emails provide value and leave the customer feeling as positive as possible.

2. Uber email example

In this email, Uber didn’t quite finish prepping the email before sending. As a result, it appears they weren’t thoughtful in their communication because half the email is still gibberish text.

This was probably a last-minute send, in response to the current climate – or it was someone new to the software who hit the wrong button (again, why do our tools fail us so!?).

Either way, this was a poorly handled email. Use the five steps from above to combat these types of issues.

Uber bad email example
Uber bad example email where text has not been completed

So what should you do if you make an email marketing mistake?

Say even after all that, you make a whoopsies. It happens to the best of us! What should you do?

The most important thing is to catch the mistake. Always have your ears open by monitoring replies, and keeping open communication channels with your customer care and social media teams.

Once it’s caught, admit you made the mistake. Communicate internally to let stakeholders know what happened. Try to state the facts and keep the emotion to a minimum.

Then, jump into solution mode. If another communication is necessary, aim to get the next communication out as quickly as possible – certainly within the next 24 hours.

And, personally, I think it’s best if you have a sense of humor about it, if that’s on-brand for you. I’ve seen customers end up delighting in the results, rather than fretting, when you put a fun spin on it. Here’s an awesome example from Drizly.

In fact, I’ve actually seen this example shared so many places now that I almost wonder if it was a crazy smart PR move.

Take the steps to avoid email marketing mistakes

Now you know how to avoid email marketing mistakes, what email pitfalls to look out for (including some examples), and how to address issues that still crop up. Your email marketing program is on the way to 100% deliverability, open, and click-through rates – look out Guinness World Record Book!

Up next, keep building out a bomb email program. Check out the best email newsletter examples.

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What is email marketing?

Email marketing is sending emails to leads and customers from your company. Emails can keep them engaged with your brand and drive purchases.

What are the different digital marketing techniques to use when creating an integrated campaign?

When creating an integrated campaign, different digital marketing techniques include email marketing, social media marketing, website design, and paid SEM and display advertising.

By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.