June 24, 2004
How To

Top 10 Stupid Email Mistakes for 2004

SUMMARY: You should know better. But, apparently you don't because we see these Top 10 Mistakes being made daily (even by some big famous mailers).

Most of this stuff is extraordinarily easy to correct, too. Check them out, see if you make any, and fix things before the end of the week. Thanks.
Disappearing graphics. Sending email to people who have already said they don't want to hear from you. Giving readers only one way to order.

These are some of the biggest mistakes we've seen in email-marketing campaigns lately, and they aren't little, forgivable boo-boos. These are the mistakes that will cost you sales (and even trigger lawsuits).

Our Top 10 List of Biggest 2004 Email Mistakes:

Mistake #1. Saying "CAN-SPAM doesn't apply to me."

Several big emailers have told us this in the last few weeks, and we can't believe they're serious.

If you send any kind of commercial email, even if everything you send is one-to-one, CAN-SPAM (the new U.S. regulations governing email) really does apply to you.

How to fix it: If you're not sure, assume it does and follow the rules to the letter:

-- Put a physical mailing address in each email, even if it's clearly a customer-service note, order follow-up or other email.

-- Make it clear who's sending the email. Put your company name in the "from" and feature it prominently in your body copy.

-- Put an opt-out link in each email and test it to make sure it works. Honor even a longtime customer's request and make sure you have other ways to contact, such as postal address and telephone number. Change your sign-up procedure to capture this information if it doesn't already.

Mistake #2. Not telling subscribers what you're going to do with their addresses when they sign up.

Okay, subscribers might not scrutinize all 15,000 words in your privacy policy, but the smart ones are skittish enough these days about losing control of their addresses that they need to have you tell them, explicitly, what you're going to do with them.

How to fix it: Put the following statement (assuming it's true) right on your registration form or anywhere you ask people to hand over an email address:

"We will use your address only to send you the newsletter/special offers you have selected. We will not rent, sell or trade your address without your permission. Ever."

Mistake #3. Your server dumps all art, landing page, links etc. for a campaign when it's over.

Email has a half-life, whether it's in a solo blast or a regular newsletter. People hang onto good email for several weeks or months after they get it. Your campaign might end in 30 days, but some potential customer is going to click on it in six weeks.

If all she gets is dead links, there goes your customer.

We know this happens, because a recent MarketingSherpa interviewee told us the items he sells in his monthly newsletters collect clicks two and three months after publication.

How to fix it: Make sure you don't clear out any live information for at least six months on your server. The offer might expire, but you should redirect whoever goes to the ex-landing page to your current homepage or to the most current relevant offer.

Mistake #4: Letting your broadcast vendor create your text-newsletter version for you.

It's very tempting, we know. Your vendor's email program spits out a text newsletter automatically so you don't have to create two versions by yourself.

The only problem is, those text versions can end up looking really horrible. Worse, the vendor doesn't usually take the time to create a workable URL that's long enough to capture some tracking but short enough not to break in the text version.

Those long tracking URLs that hide behind a simple product name in your HTML version turn into long worms of code that, more often than not, can break in text.

How to fix it: Do your own text newsletter. People want them, so it's worth the time to do it right. The beauty of a text version is that once you create a format that works, you can turn it into a template and plug in the copy time after time.

Mistake #5: Not monitoring the bounced-email file after each delivery.

You could be losing up to 10 percent of your email list if you're not checking bounceback messages for challenge-response requests.

These are the automated messages that come from subscribers who have signed up for spam-protection services that require you to prove you have the right to email that person and are not a spammer.

Somebody has to click a link or type in letters or numbers. If you don't, your message will vanish.

How to fix it: Appoint someone in your department or ask your IT people to start patrolling every email message that comes in after you send. You can make the job easier by setting up filters to look for typical wording or for specific challenge-response companies (examples: SpamArrest, MailBlocks, Mailfrontier).

You'll find lots of other live mail there, too, especially unsubscribes from people who don't know or care about the right way to leave your list. People also send comments by replying to email even though you probably already have a feedback system.

Mistake #6: Giving customers only one way to respond to you.

We see this all the time: You send out a great newsletter with a nice offer, and we have to click to take advantage of it.

But something goes wrong: Our Internet service goes down. Your offer is so great it swamps your server and we get the dreaded 404 page. We're stuck, and you don't get a sale.

How to fix it: Offer more than one way to contact you. A toll-free number is the best. An email address works, too. You're supposed to be putting a postal address on each mailing anyway, but that would be a last-resort contact.

It doesn't even have to be an offer that we can't take advantage of. Your website should give people more options than a feedback form or an info@ number.

In fact, using just those impersonal contact approaches is one of the ways we can tell a spammer from a genuine emailer. Give us a name and a phone number!

Mistake #7: Jamming too much copy into text ads.

Text ads are great, but you can quickly overwhelm them with too many words. It starts to look like a great, gray mass and eyes that glaze over can't take advantage of your offer.

How to fix it: This is where you have to get creative and think like a headline writer for a newspaper. (Don't read newspapers anymore? Run out for a copy of USA Today and study the headlines.)

Limit yourself to, say, 60 characters per line, eight lines total. Get right to the heart of your offer and see how the call to action pops right out.

Mistake #8: Not asking people how often they want to hear from you.

We hear all the time about how marketers send too many emails; send the same offer too many times, etc. But it looks as if marketers are starting to go to the opposite extreme: not mailing often enough to stay in their customers' range of vision.

If you cut your email frequency too much, you risk losing your most engaged customers and NOT engaging your new ones fast enough. One mailing a quarter, maybe even one mailing a month, won't help you build your brand.

How to fix it: Ask people when they sign up how often they want to hear from you. Weekly newsletter/promotion? Monthly? Whenever you have a good offer to send out? Let them tell you (and also make it easy for them to change their minds).

Even if people say they want everything you care to send out, you have to be careful not to burn them out. But, at least you'll know you can be more liberal with that group.

Mistake #9: Launching new newsletters to one list without asking if subscribers want it.

This just happened to us last week: A good B-to-B publisher, with a good newsletter on a topic that interested us, just launched another newsletter covering an area that's out of our interest. It started sending us that newsletter, even though we didn't ask for it. The only way to stop getting that newsletter was to opt out of it.

Okay, that's legal by CAN-SPAM rules, but it's not a smart publishing move. You might collect some subscribers who would be interested in getting that newsletter anyway, but you're forcing larger numbers to say "no" to you.

How to fix it: Certainly, promote the new newsletter to your existing customers. This is how companies grow, by launching new publications to built-in audiences that are likely to be interested in what you offer.

But, instead of sending it to one distribution list, just make it easy for people to sign up by linking to the registration page. Or, make it clear that the newsletter you just sent out is a demonstration only, and you won't send it again unless the subscriber requests it.

Mistake #10: Not staying on top of your affiliates and their email habits.

Let's face it: If you have an active affiliate program, you have to stand on them all the time to make sure they're not violating your standards (and now, the law) when they email prospects and customers about your products. If anything's going to run afoul of the law, it's probably going to come from an affiliate.

How to fix it: If you allow affiliates to send email on your behalf, require them to put one of your email addresses on their lists so you can monitor what's going out where, when, and to whom and so you can also monitor the content. (Or do it yourself without letting them know.)

When you see a problem, act on it right away. You're the one who will get stuck holding the bag if something goes awry.

Also: Recipients who get unwanted email from your affiliates will probably come to you for help. Make it easy by posting prominently on your website that you don't tolerate unsolicited commercial email and give people an address or phone number to complain to.

... Plus a Bonus Mistake:

Mistake #11: Emailing to people who don't want to hear from you.

You don't do this, you say? There are lots of ways email can sneak through without your knowing it. The one you're probably overlooking is any kind of forward-to-a-friend email.

If one subscriber or site visitor uses your form to send some of your content to a person who has formally opted out from communication with you, you could be opening yourself to a complaint.

How to fix it: Create an internal Do-Not-Email list and set up your mailing system to run every outbound email through it. Insist that every outside office, such as sales or remote customer-service bureaus, use the list and scrub any affiliate or rental list with it.

The Federal Trade Commission just said it doesn't intend to push ahead with a Do-Not-Email registry similar to its Do-Not-Call list, but that doesn't let you off the hook.

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