7 Common Email Marketing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Your small business' email list is your most powerful marketing tool. Improve the messages you send with these tips.
Your email marketing campaign should align with your company’s visual branding. Make sure your email's design is eye-catching to customers. (Photo: Faizal Ramli/Shutterstock)

We can’t live without email. For most consumers, it ranks among our most-used smartphone and computer functions.

“It is one of these channels that’s fully embedded in our lives,” said Kath Pay, CEO and founder of Holistic Email Marketing, a London-based email marketing consultancy and training company.

For small businesses, email is one of the most important tools in the marketing arsenal because it’s an opportunity to speak directly to customers. “Emails and websites are the two main channels that are constantly in contact with your customer,” said Pay.

A lot of small businesses aren’t maximizing their email lists, however. Whether you’re slapping on subject lines that make customers trash the emails without reading them or your call to action buttons aren’t standing out, learn from these seven common mistakes.

Related: 7 Ideas for Growing Your Customer Email List

Mistake #1: You’re not looking at the big picture

According to Pay, email marketers tend to craft emails in a vacuum rather than thinking of them as one touchpoint in the customer’s overall journey with the business.

From the moments before a person signs up for your email list to what happens after, your marketing emails should fit seamlessly into the larger customer experience — and with the brand’s approach to marketing on other channels, including social media.

Start by adding a few automated emails to your repertoire, such as a welcome email that outlines the benefits of being on the list and occasional check-ins with customers who haven’t shopped in a while, perhaps with a small discount to entice them to come into the store.


All emails that you send should benefit the customer in some tangible way, says Kath Pay, CEO and founder of Holistic Email Marketing. (Photo: Kath Pay)

Mistake #2: You’re not delivering value

Why are you sending this email? If you can’t answer this question and you don’t have a concrete goal beyond “I need to be using email marketing,” chances are you’re turning your customers off.

Great emails are all about your customers’ needs and desires, according to Pay. They shouldn’t be sent for the sake of reminding your customers that you exist but to give you customer some tangible benefit.

“You might not even be sending too many emails, but if you’re not sending the right information or anything of value, you’re not fulfilling your promise to customers,” Pay said.

The most obvious example of value is a discount or promotion. But the benefits of a product or service — not features, mind you, but benefits — is another.

“When you’ve said ‘here’s the feature,’ you’re leaving it up to the customer to figure out a benefit they can use,” said Pay. “You, the marketer, need to do the hard work of turning features into benefits.”

A product benefit might be staying warm and dry in a jacket designed for bad weather. If you offer personal styling, a standout email would be one that highlights the benefits of this service — that it’s great for busy people and helps shoppers feel more confident.

Related: How to Execute a Customer-Centric Marketing Strategy

Mistake #3: You’re worrying too much about clicks

Some of the most common metrics related to email marketing are open rates (how many people open the email) and conversion rates (how many people take an action as a result of the email, such as clicking on a product image to buy the product). These are important metrics, but it’s easy to get caught up in chasing numbers.

“When it comes to email, people get caught up in downloads and clicks, they stop thinking about the customer,” Pay said.

When you do focus on metrics, know which ones to focus on, Pay said. If you’re trying to appeal to a subset of your customers, don’t expect to have huge open rates. If you want customers to RSVP to an event, download a whitepaper or buy something, pay attention to conversion rates.

Mistake #4: You’re neglecting your subject lines


The subject line of your email draws the customer in, so make it count. (Photo: Pincasso/Shutterstock)

Many email writers spend a lot of time crafting the body text of their email and then throw in a subject line at the last minute. The result? No one is enticed into reading the email.

Your subject line is just as crucial as the email itself.

Pay advises clients to define the objective of the email and use that to create the subject line.

“What do we want them to do? What action do we want them to take? Use those two questions to put the email and subject line together.”

Generic subject lines tend to attract a wider audience and increase open rates, while specific ones lead to higher conversation rates and lower open rates because you’re attracting the right (smaller) intended audience.

Mistake #5: Your design isn’t converting anyone

Your emails should align with your brand’s visual identity, but they also need to be designed to highlight the call to action, whether it’s checking out a sale on your website or buying tickets to an event. Pay said the best way to do this is to use strong and contrasting colors.

“We don’t want the call to action to be pleasingly hidden, in the same color that’s used 15 times already,” Pay said.

If your brand’s palette favors shades of turquoise and your email calls to action use the same shade, your emails are not being designed to convert but to be aesthetically pleasing. You want to strike a balance to do both.

Mistake #6: Your envelope fields are sending you to spam


Start by sending yourself a test email to make sure your emails aren’t ending up in customers’ spam folders. (Photo: AFANASEV IVAN/Shutterstock)

Have you checked your envelope fields lately? One way to ensure your emails don’t end up in the trash or marked as spam is to make sure they don’t look like spam.

Your “from” name, “from” email address and reply-to email address should all include real information. Your “from” name should be your business’ name or your name, and all email addresses should display properly. Sometimes these fields get auto-populated or jumbled when you use automating software, so, for example, your “from” name might just say “Admin,” or it might be your email address.

Before you send out anything to customers, send yourself a test email and look at every element.

Mistake #7: You’re not frontloading the first sentence

According to Pay, the most important part of your email after the subject line is the top left section.

“If you look at any heat map of an email or website, people skim the first couple words on the first line of a paragraph, so you need to frontload exciting words — verbs and action words that that grip us,” Pay said. “You want to sell them on reading the rest of the paragraph.”

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