Email marketing is often cited as the silver bullet for brands – and for good reason. According to 2019 marketing statistics, a staggering 97% of businesses use email to convert customers, with over three-fourths rolling out automated campaigns. The end result is a sky-high ROI as brands can engage customers from anywhere, around-the-clock.

But in order to yield the best results from any email campaign, you must avoid making some common missteps.  In fact, there are many common mistakes killing today’s email campaigns. Below, we’ve outlined the 11 most common mistakes.

1. Trying to Say Too Much

For starters, “less is more” when it comes to what you need to say. The ideal email length sits somewhere between 50 and 125 words. This might seem brief but makes perfect sense given the fact that today we’re dealing with so many busy readers on-the-go. The sooner you can get your point across, the better. Remember: your goal is to encourage a reply or click-through, not write a novel.

Here’s a shining example from Wistia of how a combination of brevity and imagery can get the job done via email.


What if you’re primarily writing text-based messages and sales letters? No problem. The folks at Constant Contact provide a good example of a short-but-sweet marketing message that doesn’t overwhelm your readers.


When in doubt, keep your messages and copy simple. Center around a single subject or action to stay focused and economical as possible in terms of your words.

2. Spammy Subject Lines

Okay, this is a big one. Think of your subject line as a sort of “barrier to entry” to your emails. If your subject line isn’t up to snuff, your open rate will inevitably suffer. And despite popular belief, clickbait-y subject lines will not score you points with subscribers. On the flip side, they might send you to the spam folder.

Instead, strive to craft punchy, personalized subject lines the pique your reader’s interest. Below are some good examples from the ecommerce space:

  • “We don’t want to stress you out but…” (Firebox)
  • “This is too sweet to pass up 🍭” (Chairish)
  • “Future [Name]’s Favorite Trunks.” (Chubbies)

Considering that you have approximately 65 characters or so to work with, businesses need to be brief yet creative. If there’s one element of your emails to agonize over, it’s your subject line. Give it the attention it deserves when planning your campaigns.

3. Ignoring Your Message Preview

Okay, this one’s easy to overlook. We just told you that your subject line should be one of your main points of focus, right? That said, don’t forget about your email preview (also known as a “second subject line”). This includes the initial line of copy in your messages that’ll show up prominently in a mobile inbox.

Previews matter because they serve as your readers’ “taste” before they click-through. As highlighted by Litmus, truncated and typo-filled previews are a bad look for any brand:


The “preview” piece of your message is valuable real estate, so don’t waste it or let it distract from your message. Granted your email marketing service doesn’t already provide a preview, you can use a tool like the aforementioned Litmus to make sure yours is on the up-and-up.

4. Lack of Mobile Formatting

Food for thought: the majority of emails are opened on mobile devices. In other words, they’re being shrunken down to size. This trend speaks again to the importance of keeping your emails short and sweet.

Additionally, it speaks to the need to format your messages for a mobile experience. Doing so isn’t rocket science, thankfully. Mobile-friendly messages should tick the following boxes which are fair game for desktop emails as well:

  • All walls of text should be broken up by headlines or small images (think: scroll-friendly)
  • Readers’ eyes should naturally be drawn to a call-to-action
  • Any buttons or links should be easily tappable

This message from Bitly works brilliantly with its sizeable CTA buttons and scroll-friendly, numbered format.


Meanwhile, this security message from Fortnite uses an eye-popping central image and subheaders to guide readers from Point A to Point B.


5. Hiding Your Call-to-Action

Whether it’s checking out an offer or answering a question, it’s your responsibility to give your readers direction. No matter what your call-to-action might be, it needs to be front-and-center rather than hidden.

Some rules of thumb regarding your calls-to-action include…

  • Having multiple CTA buttons (or at least one “above the fold” of your preview)
  • Providing multiple means of clicking-through, include image-based and text-based links
  • Using contrasting colors to draw attention to your CTA buttons or links

This message from Via boasts crystal clear calls-to-action, including two buttons with contrasting colors:


This message from Tom Raffield is pretty simple stylistically, but its four places to click and contrast of the CTA buttons are a nice touch to encourage action.


6. Following Up Too Often (or Not Often Enough)

If you haven’t gotten a response, your gut reaction might be to start hammering your list with follow-up messages, but not so fast. Although following up is totally fair-game, doing so to maximize engagement is often a balancing act.

How so? Well, pushing too hard could result in unsubscribes as people see you as a spammer. But by not sending enough messages, you could be hurting your bottom line or engagement rate.

This oft-cited study from MarketingSherpa sheds some light on the subject, noting that monthly to weekly emails are vastly preferred by readers.


Although this study isn’t the be-all, end-all of frequency, it does support the idea that you can always ramp up your emails down the line rather than come off too strong up front.

7. Failing to Test Your Messages

As rings true with any type of marketing, businesses should follow the mantra of “always test.” Consider just how many variables there are of any given marketing email.

  • Subject lines
  • Imagery
  • Body copy
  • CTA buttons
  • Text links

And that’s just for starters. The specifics and placement of each of these elements could have a significant impact on your click-through rates; however, you never know until you test them.

Rather than rely exclusively on third-party testing tools, you can ideally invest in an email marketing subject that can do it for you.  Through regular testing, you can fine-tune the various creative elements of your messages over time to maximize performance and engagement.

8. Poor Proofing

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised at how many major brand emails get blasted out despite being riddled with typos and errors. But unsurprisingly, poor proofing is a surefire way to kill your credibility with readers. This is especially true if errors become a common occurrence.

Taking the time to run your email copy through tools like Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor can make all the difference. Spotting grammar errors and awkward working, both tools can give you some much-needed peace of mind before you hit “send.”


9. Unoptimized Timing

Bear in mind that your business’ messages are competing over 100 others in your subscribers’ inboxes on a daily basis. As a result, anything you can do to increase your potential to get seen is a plus. Optimizing your email timing is certainly a step in the right direction.

There’s the oft-cited data by MailChimp that notes weekdays are typically the way to go, with reader activity peaking on Thursdays.


CoSchedule adds that emails can further be optimized based on the time of day they’re sent, providing specific logic for early morning, mid-afternoon and evening send-times.


These suggestions obviously make sense as opposed to sending marketing messages over the weekends during the dead of night. The takeaway here is that there is no “right” time to send but rather to use conventional wisdom on the subject.

The good news? Most major email marketing services have an optimized timing feature that sends messages based on either industry benchmarks or real-time data of when your list is most engaged.

10. Sub-Par Personalization

Personalized campaigns receive higher open and engagement rates. This is exactly why we oftentimes see a subscriber’s name featured in the subject line or body copy of any given email. Personalizing your messages by including tags such as your recipient’s name is a good start, but it’s not the only way to give your emails a personal touch.

You can take your personalization a step further by segmenting your email list. This can be done by the source of your opt-in or buyer behavior (think: emailing sects of your list who purchased a certain product).

Simply put, segmenting your subscribers ultimately makes your messages feel more “for your eyes only” rather than part of a marketing blast.

11. Too Much “I,” Not Enough “You”

Finally, if you want to avoid sounding like a salesperson, you need to put your recipient first. This means emphasizing what’s in it for them rather than just hyping up yourself or what you’re trying to sell.

Especially in sales-based emails, it’s crucial to push benefit-driven language that pats your reader on the back. Your messages should empower readers to feel good and take action, not wonder whether they’re facing a bait-and-switch.

This email from Asana is a brilliant example of what we’re talking about. Note that the benefits of the email’s offer are sprinkled throughout, no strings attached. If you can reach this level of persuasion and positive with your own messages, you’re definitely on the right path.



Are You Successfully Avoiding Today’s Common Email Mistakes?

So much of mastering email marketing is knowing what not to do. And that includes all of the mistakes listed above. By avoiding these pitfalls, you immediately poise your campaigns for engagement and ensure that your messages mesh with the best practices of email marketing.

No matter what you might be selling, an error-free email presence is going to help you engage more customers and score more sales. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want? Hopefully, this list served as some inspiration for how to improve your email campaigns this year. With that said, happy marketing!

Emil Kristensen is the CMO and co-founder of Sleeknote: a company that helps e-commerce brands engage their site visitors—without hurting the user experience.


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