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16 Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid in the 2020s

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Email marketing mistakes to avoid

If you’re one of those marketers that doesn’t really put time and thought into email campaigns, you'll quickly find them landing in a recipient’s junk folder. So, if you want your emails to drive online traffic, create new leads and benefit your business, make sure you avoid these 16 common email marketing mistakes.

1. Making your subject line pointless

People won’t open an email if it has a boring or irrelevant subject line. To keep your subscribers engaged, you need to create a consistently positive experience for them. This means tailoring your email marketing content so that it meets their needs.

According to a study done by Walker Sands, subject lines using up to 50 characters result in 12% higher open rates and 75% higher clickthrough rates. With this in mind, you should always plan what the subject line is before you start creating the content of your email.

It's worth really taking the time to create a subject line that you personally would open based on careful thought and input from your colleagues. Then, A/B test it to see what wording resonates with your target audience. This will allow you to continually improve your email marketing strategy.

2. Using generic email addresses

This is one of the most common email marketing mistakes. Using a generic email address will always make your messages seem impersonal and robotic.

If you really want to build a relationship with your subscribers, have your emails come from a real person. Recipients will be more likely to open an email if there is a ‘face’ to your brand.

Email addresses to avoid include:

3. Not personalizing anything

If you don't include any personal details within an email, you easily make your subscribers feel like like they’re members of a massive email marketing list. This will make them less inclined read your emails.

According to Campaign Monitor, personalized emails are more likely to be opened and clicked, strengthen customer experiences, and really stand out in an inbox. So, if you want to catch a recipient’s attention, use their contact data to create something warmer and more personalized.

4. Sending emails to your entire database

Digital marketing 101 always highlights the need to segment your data and carefully target your messaging. So, why would you send everyone in your database information unless it is of relevance to them? However, 89% of all marketers make the same mistake of sending one email to their entire database. This is in the vain hope that at least a few readers will take action.

Now you might also think that sending out your email marketing communications to all of your contacts is a good idea. However, if you go to the trouble of segmenting your data, such as by different regions, you’ll see much higher engagement levels and lower unsubscribe rates.

Make sure that you send tailored content to segmented audiences, created based on actions taken by recipients, e.g. opens, clicks, purchases, and sign-ups. Segmentation can provide the most notable metric lifts companies are looking for when done correctly.

5. Writing something really boring

People get mountains of emails every day. They don’t have time to read every single one in detail. So making your email marketing content too long, hard to read, and boring, you're effectively inviting people to delete your message.

With this in mind, you always want to keep the content short and to the point. It's also a good idea to use formatting devices like bullet points and break up the copy so it is easy to read. This way, you make it more likely that people will actually read your email, even if only at a glance.

6. Not proofreading copy

Nothing says "This email was written by an amateur” than lots of spelling and grammatical errors in the message body. It's a surefire way of getting your readers to rapidly lose respect or trust. Your email marketing message is more likely to get marked as spam too.

Keep your wording tidy, avoid long sentence structures, and make sure you thoroughly review the copy before sending. You could even get a coworker to read over it for you.

7. Not adding a call-to-action (CTA)

If you want your subscribers to do something with the email marketing they receive, you need to make it as clear possible what you want them to do next. Always include a very clear call-to-action where it is obvious what you want them to do.

8. Leaving out forwarding and social media links

Do you want your subscribers to forward your content onto other potential subscribers easily? Then, go the extra mile by making it easy for your recipients to share your content on social media or forward it on to a friend. After all, you might end up growing your email list, attracting more readers, and gaining additional site traffic.

9. Not including an unsubscribe link

Want to frustrate all your readers and break many email laws? Then, don’t add an unsubscribe link to any email you send. A potential $1 million fine is nothing to worry about after all.

You could, though, follow email marketing best practices and the law by placing a simple unsubscribe link at the bottom of any message you send. This lets subscribers easily opt out of marketing communications from you.

10. Forgetting about mobile devices

55% of your recipeints will read your emails on a mobile device. If you only format your messages for desktops, you can forget about mobile users reading your content. It’s too irritating to have to zoom and scroll wildly to find out what your email is actually about.

It makes more sense to capture the attention of your mobile audience in order to convert them into leads. This involves optimizing every email you send for mobile devices so it is actionable and easy to read.

11. Not getting a recipient’s permission

Most countries have anti-spam laws in place. You can find yourself in serious legal trouble if you add people to your marketing list without getting their express permission.

This became even more important with the introduction of regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL). These enforce email marketing permissions much more rigously.

You should never:

  • Take business cards and add the email addresses to your mailing list manually

  • Go through every contact in Outlook/Yahoo/Gmail and use these email addresses as your starting list

  • Add customers to an email list without getting them to confirm that they want to be added

The best way to ensure that you have the permission of every single email contact is to use a “double opt-in” system. This in essence prevents you from ever emailing people you shouldn’t.

Using such a system is something that not only protects your business from a legal perspective. It can also protect you from malicious attacks.

12. Not providing any subscribe opportunities online

Not all of your landing page visitors will look at what you offer in detail. They might be in a hurry, reviewing other competitors, or simply not know what they want. In other words, you want to provide plenty of opportunities for potential customers to subscribe to your marketing content that they can refer to later. A simple way of doing this is by offering a subscribe box.

Some good locations to place a newsletter signup form include:

  • In the sidebar

  • Below a blog post

  • In the header area at the top of your page

  • On a a floating bar

  • On a slide-out box that appears in the bottom corner

  • A popup that appears as the visitor is about to leave

13. Not engaging with your contacts

If you don’t contact people for weeks or months at a time, then you simply aren’t going to be at the forefront of their mind. This is why you should craft emails with interesting content and then aim to send something out at least once a month.

However, don’t do the opposite and send too many email marketing messages either. This type of behavior will lead to high unsubscribe rates and the possibility that you might be blacklisted for spam.

For even better levels of engagement, you should encourage recipients to reply to your emails. For small lists, you can get them to contact you directly. For larger lists, you could run a survey to get direct feedback.

14. Not making data-driven decisions

If you just send email marketing campaigns without much thought, then you probably won’t get the necessary results you’re looking for. Just because a certain strategy works for one business, it doesn’t mean it will work for yours. You need to be making data-driven decisions that are not based on wishful thinking.

The two main areas to focus on are:

  • Conversion rates of visitors to subscribers

  • Your open rates and click-through rates on different emails

15. Not building your own lists

Many businesses make the mistake of purchasing data lists over building their own. It sounds like a great idea – purchasing 10,000 email addresses for a set fee which you can then market to. The catch is that major email providers like Campaign Monitor expressly forbid this practice.

Another point to think about is that if a data list is for sale, the chances are that it will have been purchased by other businesses too. They will also be sending pointless email marketing communications to these contacts. Do you honestly think that people on a purchased list will be receptive to your offers when they are getting bombarded by other emails on a regular basis?

16. Using email on its own

The best email marketing results occur when they are part of an integrated multichannel campaign. Email performance can be directly related to the quality of the product/offer or can be boosted in tandem with relevant display ads.

You can even tailor your email marketing messages to take into account the results of your overall promotions. A good strategy is to set up meetings with key players responsible for various marketing channels to discuss email performance and optimization plans.


We are all very busy. The demands of the business world mean that we have to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you want your email marketing to work, you need to make sure that you focus on audience engagement and lead conversion.

Before you send any email, go through the above steps and see if your message is something that your readers will want to read. This will then determine if you can actually achieve your marketing goals.

If you're still struggling with email marketing and want to get your message in front of as many people as possible, consider the use of email signature marketing.

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