The 7 deadly sins of email marketing

You don’t want your emails to end up in your customers’ spam folders—or worse, never make it to their inboxes at all. Follow these tips for email success.

It’s a harsh reality: When it comes to email marketing, your customers hold all the cards.

If they develop distrust in your “from” line, there’s nothing you can do to get them to open the email.

Worse yet, if they ignore your messages over the long haul or label your emails as spam, it will hurt your future deliverability to other customers.

Here are the top seven email sins that tick customers off:

1. Forgetfulness

You can’t let customers think your company has forgotten who they are or what they like.

You have to create a great customer experience, and that requires including some personalized information in emails. That doesn’t just mean using a customer’s name. Customers need to see that you remember what they like and that you tailor messages to their preferences.

It’s also critical you not stray from what you originally promised the customer when she signed up. You must be consistent—but not unoriginal—about the type and frequency of the content she signed up for.

2. Greed

Has your send frequency increased over time? If so, is that in line with what customers originally signed up for?

Resist the temptation to go overboard. It’s natural to want to expand your email program once it starts to deliver results, but don’t get greedy.

When customers first opted in, you may have promised one email a week, or to only send important updates. It’s a breach of the agreement to suddenly increase your frequency.

Therefore, it’s crucial you do not ramp up your send frequency significantly and without warning. If you decide to expand your email program, at the very least send out a preliminary email explaining what customers will receive moving forward, and when. Also be sure to include an option that allows them to adjust their email preferences.

3. Selfishness

The business emails customers most often mark as spam are those that promise educational information but deliver one hard sell after another.

If you write your emails in the “always be closing” sales mindset, customers will drop off your list.

Each of your messages should contain some type of content that’s useful to the recipient.

4. Irrelevance

It’s easy to stick to a merchandising or editorial calendar so vigorously that you ignore what your customers’ preferences actually are.

When you fall into this trap, you may forget that a customer already purchased the product you’re touting, or that he has no interest in it.

A study by ExactTarget revealed that of the customers who unsubscribed from permission-based emails, 25 percent did so because the content wasn’t relevant to them. Irrelevant content is one of the top reasons customers unsubscribe, behind frequency and repetitive/boring content.

5. Uncleanliness

Dirty email lists lead to deliverability problems. If you don’t remove inactive subscribers or process opt-outs, you’ll hurt your Sender Score.

Mail servers will look at your Sender Score before they determine what to do with your email. If your score is low, mail servers won’t deliver your email.

Of course, processing opt-outs should be a given. But deciding what to do with inactive subscribers is a different animal altogether. There may be people on that list who could still turn into paying customers, so it’s understandable you don’t want to just throw those addresses away.

What should you do?

Scrub them from your primary list and create a secondary email database to which you can send a reactivation campaign. During that campaign, spell out reasons why they should reengage with your email.

If they still fail to become active, it’s time to let them go.

6. Laziness

When your email program is finally chugging along and making a decent return on investment, you’ve found the right formula for your list and writing copy. You should ride the wave until it comes to a stop, right?


You need to constantly reinvent yourself. If you keep doing the same things over and over, customers will get bored and either become inactive or unsubscribe.

Keep testing, researching and trying new things, even if you just experiment with a small sample of your database.

7. Ugliness

Here’s an important hint that can save you unnecessary email turnoffs: Before you hit send, test your images and formatting to see that they render correctly. Test your email on something other than a PC to make sure it works properly on every device, from Macs to smartphones to tablets. It’s worth the work.

Generally speaking, the same content will not work well on every device. You may need to alter your content, images or layout in some way so customers can easily read it on any device.

Now that email viewing is spread so evenly across different devices, it may be time to adopt a responsive email design strategy. This requires the layout/content of your email to adapt to the size of the screen a customer views it on.

Christian Schappel writes for Progressive Business as editor-in-chief of Customer Experience Insight, a new resource for sales, marketing and service professionals to optimize the customer experience. A version of this article originally appeared on the Straight North Marketing blog.

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