3 Common Email Marketing Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Cross-posted from K Street Cafe.

Originally posted July 25, 2014.

Famously referenced as the 'cockroach of the Internet' in David Carr's recent New York Times piece, email newsletters are here to stay. In fact, despite the proliferation of social media and sophisticated news applications, [tweetit]e-newsletters are actually taking off at an unprecedented rate[/tweetit]:

“Newsletters are clicking because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos,” wrote Carr. “At a time when lots of news and information is whizzing by online, email newsletters — some free, some not — help us figure out what’s worth paying attention to.”

Upon reading Carr’s piece in the Times, the marketing professionals I know had one of two reactions: they were either jumping for joy or heaving a deep sigh of exasperation. It can be tough to navigate best practices, especially when the suggestions are vague and/or contradictory (e.g. use images, but not too many images). That said, some email marketing mistakes are largely avoidable, if the right actions are taken. For example:

  1. Blacklists. If the word ‘blacklist’ prompts a notion of doom and gloom for you, your gut instinct is accurate: ClickZ’s Margaret Farmakis defines a blacklist as “a list of domains and/or IP addresses that have been reported to be ‘known’ sources of spam.” The public can access these lists, but more importantly, email clients can use the lists to prevent “spammy” email from winding up in their users’ inboxes.The most important step you can take to avoid a blacklist is to make sure that your email is CAN-SPAM compliant. Email opt-outs should always be honored if this feature is not already automated on your email platform. False and/or misleading sender information is also a big violation of the CAN-SPAM act. For a more comprehensive list of guidelines, check out the FTC’s compliance guide.
  2. Unsubscribes. Generally speaking, you’re in good shape if 1% (or less) of your email recipients are unsubscribing each time you send out a newsletter. But if you’re above 1%, you may have a problem. The first step is to think like an email recipient: what makes you unsubscribe from a list? Sending out emails too frequently is one obvious no-no. But a thorough analysis of your audience and their behavior will give you a lot of insight. Look at the click-through-rates (CTR) on each link that you send: are some topics heavily trafficked while others are ignored? And don’t forget your subject line – if it doesn’t offer immediate value to the recipient, they are more likely to unsubscribe from future communication. (I've written about this in greater detail here.)
  3. Spam filters. Spam filters assign a score to emails based on a long list of criteria, which can be tough to decipher. If you see that your email open rate is significantly lower than usual, it’s likely that your message is getting trapped in a filter. Mailchimp has compiled a solid list of marketers’ common errors: for example, [tweetit]never use ALL CAPS in the subject line or body of your email[/tweetit]. Another rookie mistake is sending an HTML email that uses a large image as the primary content, with little or no HTML text. Finally, designing an HTML email in Word and exporting the code to HTML is a good way to get your email trapped in a spam filter.

Remember that email marketing is necessarily tricky, and communicating your message to its intended audience is an art, not a science. Good luck!