20 email marketing mistakes

In Email Marketing by Xu CuiLeave a Comment

Over the years we have made a number of mistakes in email marketing. We list them here so you can avoid them.

Mistake 1. Use company’s main domain for email marketing

Compared to work emails, the one-to-many marketing emails have a much lower engagement rate and higher bounce/complaint rate. As a result, they will lower your main domain’s reputation over time, and you might start to find your work emails are put to your customers’ spam folders. To avoid this, use either a completely different domain or a subdomain for your email marketing. For example, if your main domain is abcbio.com, you may create a new domain abcbio-mail.com, or use a subdomain such as mail.abcbio.com.

We have an article showing how to create a separate domain →.

Mistake 2. Use company’s own server for email marketing

It’s tempting to use your own web servers to send email to lower the cost. We tried this and it failed. Most emails sent this way arrived in recipients’ spam folders. It’s a lot more complicated to maintain good reputation for a sending IP address. In short, do not do this. Instead, you should always use a reputable third-party email sending service provider, such as Mailchimp, constant contact, vertical response etc.

If you want to lower the cost, you may use our front end and integrate a backend email sending service provide. Here is a list of reputable backend email sending service providers →.

Mistake 3. Did not check spam folder

After sending a campaign, you may find nobody replies to you. There is a chance that the replies are in your spam folder. So you should always check your spam folder, or even better, set up a filter in your email client to put all emails to your inbox.

Here is an instruction on how to do that in GMail.

Mistake 4. Did not follow up

Many people think that their job is done after they send out a campaign. Actually, it’s just a start. After you send a campaign, you want to analyze the recipients’ behaviors and send a follow-up email to the active ones. According to our experience, you may get 5 times more replies from the follow-ups than from the first campaign.

Check out our study here.

Mistake 5. Use toxic words

Your emails will have an excellent chance to be classified as spam if you include some toxic words. Among these words, “cheap” is the most common one. So do not use them.

What happened to an email with the word “cheap”? Here is a case study (and a link to a list of toxic words).

Mistake 6. Did not remove emails who are likely to complain

“Spam complaints” from your users can damage your reputation badly. If your spam complaint rate is higher than 0.1%, it’s very likely your account will be suspended by your email provider. Even if not, the complaints will increase the probability of your emails being put to the spam folders.

One way to effectively drop complaint rate by 80% is to remove emails from the following domains: aol, yahoo, mail.ru, comcast, hotmail and terra.com.br. This works only if you are sending cold emails.

Details can be found at How to drop the complaint rate by 80%?

Mistake 7. Single step unsubscribe

If you notice a sudden surge of unsubscribes, it is likely that it is the email servers who “clicked” the unsubscription link. In the past we have noticed that email servers such as GMail sometimes scan the links in your email. If clicking your unsubscription link immediately unsubscribes a user, then the email servers can unsubscribe your users without the users knowing it. To prevent it, it’s better to use two-step unsubscription where a user needs to confirm before unsubscribing.

Email servers read our emails

Mistake 8. Send to a huge list

If you send to a huge list, say 100K subscribers, in one day, the engagement rate (open/click rate) will be lower than if you send to 10K each day. When the recipients’ email server (say Stanford email server) receives a surge of identical emails from the same sender, it knows the emails are not important and may put them to the spam folders.

Unless you are in a rush, it is always better to send slowly.

See our study on this topic.

Mistake 9. Did not personalize subject line

Compare the following two subject lines, which is better?

[Your Product] for Smith Lab
[Your Product]

Our studies have found that the first subject line attracts more opens and clicks. If possible, you want to mention the receiver’s name in your email (subject line and greeting) so the receiver feels the email is more relevant. Most email sending service providers (including ours) offer this feature. What you need to have is the name of your subscribers.

Mistake 10. Did not use native language

In an experiment we have done, when sending to Japanese subscribers, the click rate triples (from 1.3% to 4%) if our email were written in Japanese compared to an English email.

So if your list contains a significant number of international subscribers, it is better to use a separate list for each country so you can send separate emails in their own language.

Mistake 11. Did not include an unsubscribe link

According to US’s CAN-SPAM law, all commercial emails need to have a visible and operable unsubscribe mechanism in the end of the email message. The most popular choice is an unsubscribe link. You may also ask recipients to unsubscribe by replying your email, but it is not convenient for both of you, and will increase your spam complaint rate.

Mistake 12. Did not unsubscribe a recipient in time

While in theory you have 10 days to acknowledge an unsubscribe request according to the CAN-SPAM law, it’s always better to do it immediately. A recipient is more likely to complain if he receives another email after he unsubscribes.

Mistake 13. Did not unsubscribe all emails from the same recipient

When you receive an explicit email or complaint from a recipient that he wants to unsubscribe, you need to not only unsubscribe him immediately, but also identify all his other emails and unsubscribe them.

Some researchers have multiple email addresses from one institute, for example john@harvard.edu and john@med.harvard.edu. It’s possible both of the emails are in your list. He would be surprised and even angry if he still receives your email after unsubscribing. You may also ask him politely for all his email addresses to unsubscribe.

Mistake 14. Did not include a physical address

Your company’s address needs to be in the email message, typically at the end. PO Box addresses are acceptable.

Mistake 15. Ignore commercial email laws in other countries

Some regions and countries have different laws regulating cold commercial emails. For example, Europe Union and Canada requires the emails to be opt-in in the first place.

Mistake 16. Not including a plain text version

All emails have both a html version and a plain text version. While most users see the html version, some prefer to read the plain text version and configure their email clients to do so. When I created a campaign, sometimes I was lazy and neglected the plain text version, leaving it blank. A blank plain text version is a red flag for email servers and it will increase the chance of your emails being marked as spam.

Mistake 17. No call-to-action

You want to be explicit about what you want the receivers to do – to click a link, to reply to you, to answer a survey, or to download a whitepaper? If the call-to-action is a button, make it big and centered; if it is text (or link), make it a standalone sentence.

Mistake 18. Did not do A/B testing

Many marketers send out one email to their entire list and then they see how many clicks it generates. That’s a big mistake because you don’t know if your subject line or your call-to-action worked until you’ve tested it against another version of the same message. Things you want to test include: subject line, sending day and time, call-to-action message, etc. Check out our article on how do you know A is better than B.

Mistake 19. Not tracking email engagement with Google Analytics

Most people track the number of opens/clicks in their email marketing platform; and these numbers are separated from their main Google Analytics. If you want to find out in Google Analytics how your email marketing performs, it’s actually easy. We have articles on how to track clicks and opens using Google Analytics.

Mistake 20. Email not mobile friendly

An analysis of 1.6 million emails sent to researchers, 47% of the opens are from mobile devices. It’s essential your email contents look good on a phone. If you only test your email on desktop, then the image might be too large; the text might be too small to read; it might not be responsive, meaning it doesn’t change size depending on the screen size of the device.

To make your email mobile friendly, try: (1) if your email is graphic, then use a responsive email editor such as bee editor, (2) or simply send plain text emails (maybe with light formatting).

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