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Feb 10, 2003

Top 7 Mistakes Marketers Constantly Make in Email

SUMMARY: Although Mistake #6 (Mailing a Campaign Without Tests) is probably the worst thing you can do, Mistake #2 (Not Selling the Benefits of Joining an Email List) is so pervasively made almost everywhere on the Internet that it is our top choice for the you-should-know-better Award.

Find out what the other five mistakes are and if you make any of them yourself.
"More than $2 billion was spent on email marketing last year," says Andy Sernovitz CEO Gaspedal Ventures, "but a lot of great marketers are still doing average-to-bad campaigns."

Why? "Because it's never been a priority before. It was always an ancillary part of your Web program. Now that email is a proven primary DM technique, DM skills and best practices need to be translated to the world of email."

Sernovitz, who has been advising companies such as ABC, Kimberly-Clark and TiVo on email since 1999, named the most common seven mistakes he sees being made constantly:

Mistake #1. Clunky Subscribe Process

Do not make it too complicated.

How many times have you wanted to subscribe to something only to hit the link and see a page, or more, of questions you need to answer?

You are trying to entice them to subscribe, not screening them for a loan. Do not ask for anything more than the person’s email address. With every additional question, 10 percent of the people who want to sign-up will bail out.

Once you get that email address, you can go back and try for more information. “You can do it right away,” Sernovitz says. “Send an auto reply that thanks them for signing up and offers to customize messages if they’d only answer a few questions. Even if they ignore the second message you still get to send them the emails.”

The key is that the number of people who want to sign up should not say, no thanks, because of the process.

Also, although most marketers are scrupulous about putting "how to get off this list" instructions on their creative, many forget to add instructions on how to join the list as well. Why not take advantage of the viral factor and sign up some pass-along readers?

Mistake #2. Not Selling the Benefits of Joining an Email List

“The worst offers are the ones that say, ‘We’ll send you news and announcements,’” Sernovitz says. “Nobody wants to receive PR material.”

Your offer must include true benefit copy. Recipients should receive some benefit that those who do not subscribe will not receive. One idea, try: “We’ll give you advanced notices of sales.”

Mistake #3. Using Words Repeatedly That Filters Stop

Sernovitz recently sent out a newsletter that used the word "spammer" too many times and was blocked by some filters.

Many filters decide to block your message not only based on the exact wording you use in your subject line, from line, and message, but also on the total number of forbidden words used.

The longer your copy, the more likely you will rack up negative points and end up being filtered on some systems.

That does not mean you should use shorter copy (length depends on your test results) but you should be extra-aware of the words in your copy that can trip a filter.

Mistake #4. One Size Fits All Campaigns

It does not take much. Even the slightest bit of personalization can bump your response rate up. There is definitely a point of overkill where all that personalization turns recipients off: They wonder, how do they know all of this about me?

You often do not need any kind of fancy tech, you just need to customize the content with information that you know is interesting to select recipients.

“We recently worked with a book publisher who segmented their list in four pieces, booksellers and book reviewers, teachers, parents, and kids,” Sernovitz says. “They only changed two or three paragraphs for each, but it was enough to make it more relevant.”

Mistake #5. Landing Pages That Get Lousy Conversions

Although your landing page (the page clicks end up at) is the key to your campaigns' sucess, it is often the most overlooked aspect of a campaign.

Biggest mistake: Sending clicks to your company home page instead of a page designed specifically for that campaign, reflecting the offer and creative of what they responded to.

Do not go too far. “I worked with one client who sold electronics,” Sernovitz says. “Their offer consisted of $50 and $100 savings on products. It had a huge click through rate, but their landing page was the site’s check out area and the recipient’s shopping cart was already filled.” People turned away.

A good landing page will reinforce the offer you are making and walk the consumer to the sale.

Second biggest mistake: Not tracking the landing page traffic and conversions to sales or registrations.

Mistake #6. Mailing a Campaign Without Tests

Do not simply accept that what works best for other companies will work for you. There are just too many variables involved. (Never assume blithely that another company's campaigns are successful enough to be worthy of copying, unless you have data on them.)

Test time of day, test what you put in the subject line, test different colors, test, test, and test.

A good starting point is to never send an email without first sending out a test that has three different subject lines. In a half-hour you will know which email is being opened and you can send the rest of your emails with that message.

One of the latest hot ideas is testing on the fly as a campaign goes out. Say you have a graphic in the middle of an email. Every time the email is opened, the image is pulled off a central server. During the first hour you use one image. During the second you use another. “After the first couple of thousand you’ll see what image is working best,” Sernovitz says.

Mistake #7. Relying in Single Campaign Results vs. Trends

A single campaign's results can be thrown off by a wide variety of factors (including deliverability that day on the Net). Instead of making all-or-nothing judgment calls based on one test, watch your numbers over time.

Are your opens going up or down over a couple of months? Do you see a trend with your clicks?

Sernovitz also advises marketers to stop being obsessed with matching average numbers for an industry. What matters is: Are your campaigns profitable, and are you gaining ground over time as you learn from tests and build your list?
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