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Updated Oct 24, 2023

11 Email Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

These email marketing mistakes plague small businesses.

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Bennett Conlin, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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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 email as a channel works well for many businesses, many email campaigns flop for various reasons, including boring content and bad strategy. To help you avoid making these mistakes, we spoke with marketing experts to uncover 11 of the most common email marketing mistakes small businesses make.

1. Selling too hard

When you’re 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 the trust of and building a relationship with customers. This will lead to higher open rates and improved conversion rates.

2. Failing to optimize for mobile

As consumers continue to use smartphones to view email, it’s vital to optimize your emails for mobile devices.

“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. Data 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

3. Neglecting your sender reputation

One of the most common email marketing mistakes – an oversight that can affect your spam rates – is not looking at your sender reputation. This score, which internet service providers set, weighs your daily email volume alongside your bounce and unsubscribe rates. The more frequently your emails bounce or result in recipients unsubscribing, the lower your sender reputation. Fewer emails sent may correlate with a higher sender reputation.

To improve your sender reputation, you must first track it. The easiest way to do so is with a website or tool that needs just your URL to pull up your score. A great example is Sender Score: Just add your URL, your monthly email send volume and some other key information to see your score. You’ll also gain access to sender reputation reports and tips on how to improve your score. Following the tips should lead to fewer of your emails going to spam. [To learn more, check out our picks for the best email marketing software for small businesses.]

4. Avoiding customer segmentation

“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.” [Related: How to Find Your Target Audience]

Catering to the needs of each customer is crucial. You can do so through a technique called customer segmentation. This technique involves sorting your customers into smaller groups with similar buying habits. When you send marketing emails directly targeted to these groups, customers are more likely to engage with your content. Avoiding this more direct approach is a common email marketing mistake.

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.

5. Failing to include clear calls to action

Your emails should serve a purpose. Whether you want your customers to buy a product or follow you on Instagram, there should be a call to action (CTA) 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.”

Include a clear CTA in your email, but try to focus on just one action.

6. Ignoring GDPR considerations

When the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect in late May of 2018, the world of email marketing changed. To comply with the GDPR, businesses must show proof that customers have opted to receive emails from them. 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.

7. Neglecting analytics

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. Try to figure out what your emails with the highest open and click-through rates have in common so you can use that information when crafting future campaigns. Learn about the most important email marketing metrics you should track.

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 mistake that can hurt your business. If you put time and money into email marketing, make sure to use analytics to verify that your efforts lead to something.

8. Writing poor subject lines

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 analyzed was 21.33%. 

Did You Know?Did you know
It's hard enough to get consumers to open your emails without bad subject lines wrecking your open rates. In fact, 47% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone.

Try to follow subject line best practices. These vary a bit by company, but it’s a good idea to keep your subject lines short. AWeber found that email subject lines tend to be under 60 characters and that the average subject line is just over 40 characters. Marketo found that 41 characters across seven words might be the best approach.

For optimal engagement, write short subject lines that are clear and engaging. Better yet, write catchy email subject lines. This is 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 the audience, some businesses may find that using emojis or colorful language in your subject line increases open rates. Other businesses may have better success with stoic and professional wording. The tone of your subject line depends largely on your email recipients. 

9. Including too many images

Yes, images can make a marketing email look crisper and cleaner. However, some recipients  might block email images. As such, when you use too many photos, you’re pretty much sending a blank email. Sure, you can add alt text to appear where images are absent, but it won’t quite do the trick like paragraphs and sentences. 

To avoid this email marketing mistake, use at most a few images in your emails and space them out evenly. 

Keep your total data image weight between 600KB and 800KB, and resave PNGs and JPEGs to reduce your file size.

10. Sending emails at the wrong time

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 and audience, but it’s worth experimenting with different send times to see which time best engages your audience. Data from Campaign Monitor suggests that Wednesdays and Fridays are the best days to send emails.

It’s a good practice to send emails during a time frame that makes sense for your core audience. For example, Morning Brew sends a daily email at approximately 5 or 6 a.m. that details the latest happenings in the business world. This newsletter arrives early in the morning because its audience normally reads the newsletter before work. Sending early also ensures that the newsletter won’t be behind breaking news each day. If the newsletter is sent at noon and a major business story breaks at 11:30 a.m., it wouldn’t give the 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 ascertain when your audience likes to see your emails. Avoid sending emails at odd hours, as they may get lost in a crowded inbox. Timing is an important aspect of email campaigns. 

11. Forgetting to personalize email campaigns

The best emails engage the audience. To best engage your audience, it’s important to create personalized messages, which can mean anything from launching segmented email campaigns to including a recipient’s name in the subject line. 

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 promotional emails every day, tailoring your message more specifically to the individual groups or people subscribing to your campaigns may yield great results. [Read related article: How to Build an Email Marketing Contact List]

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.

Sara Angeles and Max Freedman contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Bennett Conlin, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer
Bennett Conlin's passion for business and entrepreneurship is evident everywhere, from his bachelor's degree in business administration and management from James Madison University to his work with small business development centers to the founding of his own small multimedia company. Conlin has provided consultative services for small businesses looking for social media and website assistance, studied the cybersecurity landscape and expertly guided entrepreneurs toward the wide range of products and services needed for everyday operations. In recent years, Conlin has focused on the intersection of business, finance and sports with insights on the casino industry and coverage of sports betting news and legislation.
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