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10 Deadly Mistakes With Email Marketing

10 Deadly Mistakes With Email Marketing


Email marketing is one of the most important channels in the digital marketing arena.

1. Not obeying the law

I don’t want to sound like an anti piracy advert but the majority of us don’t break the law in our everyday lives so you shouldn’t do so when communicating electronically to your members. Make sure you’ve read The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 specifically section 22 and 23.

To paraphrase it in non legal speak:

You need to ensure you have permission of the person you are mailing. So make sure you know how you have obtained their email address. If someone asks you how you got their email address legally you have to tell them.

Make sure you give them every opportunity to opt out of further communications from you. I would suggest making this as easy as possible so ensuring you have clearly visible links on how they can unsubscribe. If you make it difficult for users to unsubscribe then they are more likely to hit the spam button. An unsubscribe is much better than a complaint!

Don’t hide who you are. Include your company address and company registration number.

2. Not following the guidelines set out by the ISPs you are mailing to

Your email isn’t a lot of use to people if it ends up in their spam folder or worst still doesn’t get delivered at all. This will happen if you don’t follow the rules and guidelines set out by the ISPs whose members you are mailing.

Ensure you sign your messages with the various authentication methods available to you such as SPF, SenderID, DKIM and DomainKeys.

Sign up to Feedback Loops. Most of the big ISPs give you the sender the chance to know who has complained about your message. If someone has complained about your message then the chances are they don’t want to receive your mailings. Most delivery platforms will automatically suppress these but if yours doesn’t ensure you remove your complainers from future mailings.

Make sure your sending domains are configured correctly. Reverse DNS is a must! If your IP and your sending domain don’t resolve to one another you are going to be fighting a losing battle.

3. Burying your head in the sand when you do have a problem

I’ve heard stories of ISPs blocking their own communications to their own members so nobody is guaranteed of inbox delivery. If an email marketer or an ESP say they can guaranty inbox delivery then they are lying! The chances are you will encounter some problems with delivery at some point in time.

Make sure you keep an eye on your bounces and the reasons behind them. If you encounter a problem with a specific ISP contact their postmaster and ask why. The chances are you’ll get a stock response from them but make sure you read it and make sure you are doing all the things they are asking of you. They won’t even consider giving you anything but a stock response if you don’t.

4. Attempting to send too much too soon

Reputation is key but reputation must be earned!

ISPs treat IP addresses and sending domains like credit scores. They will set an appropriate level of volume you can send like a bank will let you know how much money they are prepared to lend you. As long as you stick by the rules the number of emails you can send will increase over time like the amount of money a bank will lend you if can prove you’ve been a trust worthy borrower.

Don’t assume you can send 1 million emails right off the bat as you’ll soon get blocked. Also don’t assume a new IP/domain will solve your problems. A bank wouldn’t lend £1m to someone they’ve never heard of before.

Start slow, build up the trust, do as they say and as long as you don’t upset the ISP in question they’ll soon raise your daily thresholds.

5. Letting your list hygiene slip

Having a clean list is probably the single most important task for email marketers. It’s essential from day one you must know where your data has come from, as I mentioned earlier it’s actually a legal requirement.

Once you have broadcast to them then ensure you are on top of their actions. If they unsubscribe then you must not communicate to them, again this is law.

Should they complain about your message I would suggest that it’s a pretty good indication that they aren’t interested in your mails so therefore continuing to mail them will only do more harm than good. Remember the more complaints you have against your mailings the more likely your messages are going to get filtered by ISPs.

Bounces come in many shapes and sizes these days but they affectively fall into 1 of 4 categories. Blocks, Hard, Soft and Technical. It’s important you deal with them in the right manner.

Blocks are exactly what they say on the tin, the ISP you are trying to deliver to has blocked your mails for whatever reason. Follow the steps I mentioned above and find out why. There is a good chance these people still may want to receive your mailings so I’d fix the problem and try and deliver again.

Hard bounces are where the ISP has told you the mailbox doesn’t exist. We don’t want to keep sending to these people as they don’t exist. Get rid of them. Any modern delivery platform will do this for you.

Soft bounces are when the mailbox does exist but for some reason the mail server isn’t going to let you deliver to it. This could be that the mailbox is full or it is currently disabled. We don’t want to get rid of these people just yet but we don’t want to continue to send to them if they are just going to bounce every time we broadcast to them. Set a limit the number of soft bounces you allow before marking them as a bouncer. I’d suggest between 3 and 10 is a good yardstick. Again most delivery platforms will do this for you and should be configurable to suit your needs.

Technical bounces are exactly what they sounds like…something technically has gone wrong. This could be for numerous reasons the most common ones are that a DNS server is down or the mail server is experiencing high volumes. Again we want to keep these people mailable for the time being. These problems tend to clear themselves up as most of the time the issue is at the other end.

6. Not thinking about who you are sending to

Allot of marketers operate a spray and pray mentality when it comes email. What I mean by that is chucking out as much email as possible and hoping that at least a few people take up their kind offer. If that is your philosophy then that is fine and I hope it works for you. However it’s not the best way about going about things.

One of the joys of email, other than it’s cheap, is there is a good chance you would have collected more data than just their email address and therefore that makes it very easy to target the specific demographic you are after. If you’ve got the data why not use it?

Sending offers to people who plain and simply don’t have any interest in your offer is not only a waste of time it could also be a waste of money if you are paying for delivery on a CPM basis. More importantly if content isn’t relevant then there is a good chance the user will complain about the message and therefore make future communications that little bit harder to get into other inboxes.

The more you send the more you are likely to alert ISPs about your communications which again could have knock on deliverability issues.

Make sure you use your data from previous broadcasts. You’ll know who clicked and who opened your message so you know these people respond to email as a marketing channel. This is particularly important if you only have a few products. That said don’t overdo it (see point 10).

7. Rubbish subject lines

The first contact you are going to have with your customer is likely to be when they see the subject of your message. Not everyone will have the preview pane (most web based clients won’t nor will the smart phone users) therefore the only way these users are going to see your communication is if they physically open the email.

Given the amount of email the average user gets these days there is a good chance they will make the decision on whether to open said mail based on the subject line so be creative.

Keep it short and to the point, nothing worse than an essay as a subject.

If you can personalise it then personalise it.

Don’t do daft things like SHOUTING or going over the top with punctuation, not only is it annoying it’ll increase the likelihood of your message being filtered.

Use buzzwords that are going to interest the consumer, if you’ve ever been involved with SEO you’ll know the importance of keywords, subject lines are no different in the modern inbox. However be careful there are plenty of keywords that are used by spammers and will increase the likelihood of your message getting filtered.

8. Confusing your recipients

As a consumer who admittedly consumes allot of email one of the most frustrating things I find is when marketers seem to put little or no effort into thinking about what they are sending and what they are trying to achieve with the broadcast.

Make sure your email is concise and to the point and most importantly make sure your call to action is obvious and easily accessible.

Far too many people will try and cram so much information into an email when it’s really not necessary. I’ve seen people try and send a complete website in an email. Use the email to get people interested in your product so they visit your site. Emails are massive limited in what you can and can’t do so get them to your site as quickly as possible where you aren’t held back by these limitations.

9. Testing cross platform and cross client

I get so many emails either on my phone, in my web-based client or in my stand-alone client that obviously don’t look right. They’ll be a break in the creative or the look and feel simply doesn’t look how it should. I’m sure it looked fine when it was coded and viewed in web browser. What you must remember is your user isn’t going to be viewing that mail in the same environment as you are.

Stand-alone Clients such as Outlook and Lotus Notes have been giving email marketers headaches for years. CSS isn’t widely supported and neither are very basic things such as animated gifs or background images. Have a read up on what you can and cannot do within email and make sure you design your creative accordingly.

Don’t think that just because your user is using a web-based client such as Hotmail or Gmail for example that your creative is going to look perfect there because it looks good in your browser. Every web-based system will parse your code and remove bits that could potentially spoil the look and feel of their site. You’ll find your creative may look completely different by the time it gets to the inbox.

Its also worth baring in mind that most clients both web and stand-alone will suppress images by default and will require the user to click to display. Image only creatives are a big no-no. If your message is image heavy ensure you populate the alt tag with relevant copy that will entice the user to click that display images button.

Make sure you test across as many platforms as possible. There are tools in the market place to make this easy for you but if you aren’t prepared to pay for these then sign-up to as many free email providers as possible and test each mailing to all of them prior to broadcast. Because it looks good in Hotmail doesn’t mean it will in Gmail and vice versa.

10. Sending too frequently

All forms of marketing centre around its ROI and email is no different. Where it does differ is that it can sometimes be overused as a medium simply because of its cost effectiveness compared to other channels.

Ensure you aren’t bombarding your members with the same offers over and over because if they weren’t interested the first time then the likelihood is they won’t be the second…or the third…or the fourth and by the fifth they either going to unsubscribe or complain about your communications. As previously mentioned both are actions we want to avoid.

So that’s it... in summary. When you send commercial email to your prospects or members, ensure that it is SMART email – Specific, meaningful, accurate, reasonable and tested! Good luck - Phil Blackman

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Phil Blackman

Phil Blackman

Coming from a web development background I joined the TMN back in 2004. In that time I have been

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