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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

10 Email Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

image for ESB Professional/Shutterstock
ESB Professional/Shutterstock

When it comes to developing quality marketing campaigns, email marketing remains an ideal choice, especially for small business owners. It can engage an audience, develop a readership and lead to sales without breaking the bank.

While the marketing channel works for many businesses, many email campaigns flop. Reasons ranging from boring content to bad strategy all cause small businesses to put out subpar email marketing campaigns. We spoke with marketers and performed detailed web research to find 10 of the most common email marketing mistakes you should avoid. Limiting these errors can help you turn emails into sales.

When emailing your customers, it's important to first understand why you're emailing them. You want to get something out of the relationship, whether it's increased sales or website traffic, but you still need to foster a relationship with your customers. If every email tries to sell your products, your customers are going to become disengaged. Try to find a balance between helpful content and product offers.

"For example, if you run a hardware shop, perhaps you could send out a weekly newsletter with tips on better completing projects around the house or worksite," said Nicolas Straut, senior SEO associate at Fundera. "Interspersed with this regular content, you could showcase relevant, new items or sales."

Sharing tips and ideas allows you to engage customers through content marketing. By doing this, you can bolster your position as an industry expert while also gaining trust and building a relationship with customers. This will lead to higher open rates, as well as improved conversion rates.

As consumers continue to use smartphones to open emails, it's vital that your business considers mobile optimization when emailing customers. 

"You can usually see in reports if most people are reading your email on a desktop or mobile device, but it's always good to send yourself a test copy of your email and check across devices to see if the font is big enough, the graphics or video looks good, the flow of the email translates well, and if the email is too long to scroll through if reading from a phone," said Shannon Howard, content editor and producer at The Predictive Index

The best emails give customers a great experience both on mobile and desktop. It might take a few extra minutes to perfect your email's format, but it's worth the effort to ensure your emails are optimized for mobile. Information from Adestra suggests that if your email doesn't display properly on mobile, nearly 3 out of 4 people will delete the email in seconds. [Interested in using email marketing software? Check out our best picks.]

Don't use customer communication platforms like Mailchimp or Constant Contact for lead-based email campaigns. These services don't allow businesses to use purchased or other third-party mailing lists they didn't compile themselves, but marketers often buy lists and load them on these platforms. If you violate their terms of service, these companies may shut down your account or, worse, blacklist your domain.

Be sure to take the time necessary to review your email marketing platform's terms of service before sending out email marketing campaigns. Many email marketing services require sign-up forms for you to generate your list, as they want to prevent spammy email sends. The best way to avoid violating terms of service is simple: Read them. At the very least, give them a solid skim.

"Marketing is much more effective when the message is targeted," said Michael Cohen, a marketer with over 20 years of experience, including more than 10 as a vice president of marketing for three companies. "And the deeper you go, the better. Demographic information such as gender and age is a good start, but deeper behavioral segmentation based on data like purchasing habits delivers even more value to customers and greater marketing effectiveness."

Catering to the needs of each customer is crucial. Think of the process almost as individual email marketing. Customers want to feel like they matter and aren't just another subscriber on your list. Including personalized greetings in each email is a good starting point.

Your emails should serve a purpose. Whether you want your customers to consider buying a product or following you on Instagram, there should be a call to action for it. It's important to be clear about what you're looking for from customers; otherwise, you're just crowding their inbox.

"Decide what you want the recipient to do, draw their attention to it – in the form of a big bold button or [something] similar – and enable the action to be taken in as few clicks as possible," said Sean Luechtefeld, communications director at ANCOR.

He warns against overdoing it with CTAs, however. You don't want to overwhelm or confuse email recipients.

"If you're asking your subscribers to buy multiple products, sign up for another email list, post a photo on Instagram, support a cause and seven other things, you are likely to fracture your audience into different conversion funnels," Luechtefeld said. "The result? You have 100 people taking 10 different actions, rather than having 100 people taking one action."

When GDPR changes took effect in late May of 2018, the world of email marketing changed. To comply with GDPR, businesses are required to show proof that customers have opted to receive emails. These regulations don't directly apply to emails sent to those in the U.S., but adding an opt-in feature to your email list is a good idea regardless of where your recipients reside. 

"Perhaps more to the point, even where not illegal under actual law in the U.S., such email is seen as spam by most people, and all email inbox providers, meaning that you will be subject to the 'law of the spam filter,' which will penalize all email that you send, not just marketing email," said Anne P. Mitchell, an internet law and policy attorney and CEO of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy.

By avoiding common mistakes and following legal guidelines, you put your business in a position to reap the benefits of email marketing.

To generate consistently engaging email marketing campaigns, you need to use analytics. Check the click-through rates of your campaigns. Monitor the open rate of your email campaigns. Keep an eye on how many new subscribers you're gaining and how many people unsubscribe.

Without monitoring analytics, it's exceedingly difficult to develop and improve your email marketing strategy. Some email marketing services integrate with Google Analytics, which helps you monitor the readers who go from your email campaigns to your website.

When evaluating an email marketing tool, you may place an emphasis on finding a platform with a wide array of analytic tools. If your marketing campaigns rely heavily on email marketing, it helps to use a detailed email marketing tool.

Running email campaigns without monitoring analytics is a flaw that can hurt your business's email marketing success. If you put time and money into email marketing, make sure to use analytics to verify that your efforts lead to something.

Getting an email recipient to open your email is the first step to successful email campaigns. According to Mailchimp, the average open rate for emails across all the industries the analyzed was 20.81%. It's hard to get consumers to open your emails, and bad subject lines can wreck your chances of boosting your open rate. According to research, 35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone.

Try your best to follow subject line best practices. These vary a bit from company to company, but it's a good idea to keep subject lines short. Convince & Convert found that subject lines tend to be under 60 characters, and the average subject line from data they collected was just over 40 characters.

For optimal engagement, write short subject lines that are clear and engaging. This can be easier said than done, but following the general rule of keeping subject lines under 60 characters can help you stand out in someone's inbox. Depending on your audience, you may find that using emojis or colorful language in your subject line increases open rates. Other businesses may find better luck using stoic and professional wording. The tone of your subject line depends largely on your email recipients. 

Data from HubSpot suggests that emails sent at 11 a.m. had the highest open rates. This doesn't mean 11 a.m. is the best time to send an email for your business, but it's worth experimenting with different send times to see which time best engages your audience.

It's a good practice to send emails during a timeframe that makes sense for your core audience. For example, Morning Brew sends a daily email at approximately 5-6 a.m. that overviews the latest happenings in the business world. This newsletter sends early in the morning because its audience normally reads the newsletter on their commutes or when arriving to work. Sending early also ensures that the newsletter won't be behind breaking news each day. If the newsletter is sent at noon and there was a major business story breaking at 11:30 a.m., it wouldn't give their team much time to put together an intelligent and well-researched product.

Even if your business doesn't send time-sensitive information via email, it's a good idea to find a time when your audience likes to see your emails. Avoid sending emails at odd hours of the day, as they may get lost in a crowded inbox. Timing is an important aspect of email campaigns. 

The best emails engage the audience. To best engage the audience, it's important to create personalized messages. Personalized can mean anything from segmented email campaigns to including a recipient's name in the subject line. According to data from DMA, email list segmentation and personalized emailing were the most effective email strategies of 2017.

If you're a small business with a tiny email list, you can take personalization to a deeper level than larger businesses. With people receiving dozens of different promotional emails at any time, try catering your message more specifically to the individual groups or people subscribing to your campaigns.

By sending segmented messages with personalized written content, you have a better chance of getting someone to engage with your email. This gives you a better chance of converting them into a paying customer. Standing out in a crowded inbox requires personalization.

Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.

Bennett Conlin

Bennett is a B2B editorial assistant based in New York City. He graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a degree in business management. During his time in Harrisonburg, he worked extensively with The Breeze, JMU's student-run newspaper. Bennett also worked at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC, where he helped small businesses with a variety of needs ranging from social media marketing to business plan writing.