Email Planning & Strategy Mistakes
1. Forgetting Mobile
This is first on the list because it impacts every other element of email marketing. About 56% of all emails are opened on mobile devices, and many brands see mobile open rates that are much higher than that.
Here are a few keys to mobile email success:
- Keep it short. Email content, including headlines and individual paragraphs, will appear longer on mobile devices due to the narrow screen.
- Use images carefully. Think about how they will display on smartphones, especially when held vertically.
- Make sure that CTAs are easy to tap. In-text links should have longer anchor text, and any buttons with an image component should have descriptive alt text so that if your image doesn't display, the recipient can still click.
- Test send times with mobile in mind. If you have a high mobile open rate, take a look at your successful campaigns. Are people opening your emails right when they wake up? While they're in line for coffee? Over their lunch breaks? If you have a lot of repeat opens, are they checking them out on mobile and then returning later on a desktop? If that's the case, you may want to make it easier for them to read or act on your emails the first time.
2. Unwanted Content
When each person on your contact list gave you their email address, they had expectations about what they were going to receive and how they would benefit from it. It's risky to stray from those expectations—if you send them things they don't want or feel are a violation of that contract, they can unsubscribe or even report you for spam violations.
Yet when you surprise them by delivering more value than expected, you build and expand those relationships, converting or retaining more customers and creating brand advocates.
- How have you acquired email addresses over time? Did all of those people consent to receiving marketing emails?
- What expectations were set when they signed up? What did you tell them they were going to receive?
- What have they heard from you since then?
- Are you making changes to your email marketing content that you need to explain to them (e.g. starting a weekly newsletter)?
The key is understanding who they are and what they want from you. If those questions are too complicated to answer, you probably need to segment your list into clear groups. Which leads me to...
3. No Segmentation
If email marketing success is all about sending the right content to the right person, list segments are how you make that happen. Segmentation refers to the process of dividing your list into segments so you can target the content they receive to their specific needs, preferences, concerns, locations, or stages in the buyer's journey.
There can be overlap among these segments, and people can move between them, such as when they get further into the buyer's journey. But you can only segment your lists based on data you've collected from your contacts, so it's closely related to other marketing tools like forms and lead-capturing content offers.
How to Start Segmenting
If you're currently sending all your emails out to the same list, start by identifying the type of customer with the best lifetime value and finding the piece of information you collect that allows you to group them together. If you aren't collecting it yet, don't worry—just use the best information you have to create the most useful segment you can.
Then, create email content targeted specifically to your new list segment. How can you customize the messages they receive to appeal to them in particular? Can you use examples or make suggestions that are more specific to their experiences? Can you change the sender and email signature to a member of your team with subject matter expertise, or who they might have heard from before or work with in the future?
You're probably starting to see the massive potential of segmentation, and why targeted emails generally have better open and click-through rates.
4. Bad Timing
5. Wrong Frequency
I have no doubt you've been on the receiving end of this one. Too many emails is irritating, perhaps even more so from brands you actually want to hear from because you don't want to unsubscribe. Unsurprisingly, 78% of consumers have unsubscribed from emails because a brand was sending too many emails.
Too few is just as bad—if you've been out of sight for too long, people may not remember subscribing and think your emails are spam. So, how can you find the right balance? According to a 2015 survey, 86% of consumers would like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with at least monthly, and 15% would like to get them daily.
6. Ignoring Analytics
Email isn't really a "set it and forget it" medium. As devices and platforms evolve and brands compete for consumer attention, both technology and trends evolve quickly.
Best practices are a great place to start, but you have to prioritize your own data. Experts may say that a first name personalization token in the subject line increases your open rate, but does it do that for your audience? Maybe not! You have to check.
Surprisingly, 15% of marketers report that their companies do not regularly review email open and click rates, and the remaining majority who do often struggle to act on the information. Set reminders to review your data after each campaign or an appropriate period, and make a few actionable notes each time about what you can do to improve your metrics. Make sure that information lands somewhere you'll be able to review it when crafting your next campaign, and presto, you have an optimization process.
If your email system has the capability, A/B tests are the best way to isolate the individual factors that most impact your results. Not only do they yield more accurate results, but they will save you so much time and effort in analyzing the data from separate email campaigns.
7. Isolating Email from Your Other Marketing
Email marketing shouldn't happen in a silo. If it doesn't reflect and support your overall business goals, the work of other departments, or even your other marketing efforts, it's a waste of your time and energy.
That's not to say that every marketing tool has the same goals or targets the same buyer persona, product line, or pain points. Indeed, one of the main benefits of using different platforms and media is that you can appeal to a broader range of ideal customers—but your marketing shouldn't be working at cross-purposes.
Think about the experience of a loyal customer. What other marketing messages are they seeing in addition to your emails? Do they follow you on Instagram or Facebook? Are they receiving different messages about what actions your company wants them to take via those platforms? The more clearly your brand speaks with a single voice, the more effective your marketing will be.
Pulling your marketing efforts into alignment begins with communication within your marketing team. Work together to document your weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly goals, and how different platforms and campaigns work together to accomplish them. And then, before you begin execution, explicitly discuss how you're going to track your progress against those goals.
This is where lots of great companies drop the ball; only 23% of marketers say they've integrated their email marketing with their websites so they can track what happens after a click. So apparently 77% of marketers don't know that you can set up email tracking in Google Analytics relatively easily.
8. No Focus on ROI
This is closely related to ignoring your analytics, but we're going to take it one step further. Technically, you can use analytics to increase the performance of various metrics without actually measuring profitability. It's important to measure the return on investment of the time you put in to your email marketing, and to break down different email activities to determine what's working.
Email Execution Mistakes
Whether your reader is opening emails on the phone or computer, the first thing they see is the sender name and subject line. Their decision about whether to open your emails is largely based on those elements. If they recognize the sender, great—they'll skip to the subject.
But if not...
Sender Name and Email Address
For email recipients who might not recognize you as a sender, either because it's the first time you're contacting them or because it's been a while, the important thing it to trigger their memory, if possible in a way that's tied to the value you offer.
The oft-repeated advice is to send from an actual person, but what if the recipient won't recognize that person? Sure, people are more likely to open an email from an individual than from a company, but as the tactic has become more common, context has only gotten more important. One compromise is to do both: instead of "Emily Winsauer," try "Emily from VIEO Design" or something similar.
If you do use someone's name, the email should be sent from their email address or at least an address associated with their department. Though recipients rarely see the actual sender email these days, by all means avoid the generic "info" or "donotreply" at your domain.
- Relevance and Timeliness
- Name Recognition
- Cool Stories
- Give people only the information they need, then stop.
- Make important details "skimmable" to entice them to keep reading.
- Vary the formatting (headings, lists, bold text) to make it easier to read.
- Use short, 1-2 sentence paragraphs to optimize for smartphone users.
- If you're getting bored reading it, so will they.
12. Essential Data in Images
When you include key data in images, such as coupon codes, event details, or (*gasp*) the entire message, anyone with image auto-loading turned off won't see anything but the alt text you've added for the image.
If you're worried about losing visual appeal, don't—according to HubSpot, the clickthrough rate of an email actually tends to decrease as the number of images increases. So, by all means, use a cool header image, a timely in-text GIF, or a cute staff photo in the signature, but keep things lean 'n' clean and don't use images to communicate essential information.
13. No Clear Call to Action
No matter how good the impression you make with your emails, you need to channel that attention you have on your brand into action.
Email CTAs can be tricky because space and your readers' attention is limited. Every word of your email is essentially part of the CTA. You can't just have a "Join Now" button at the end of a short description about your company and expect results. Join what? And why?
Make sure your email has a purpose (and a clear benefit for your reader), and that every word of your email is working towards that purpose. Then, finish up that purpose with a related, easy-to-spot CTA. The more specific, the better.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, keep mobile in mind. CTAs need to be easily visible and easy to tap for mobile users. And don't forget about that alt text.
14. Not Proofreading
This one doesn't need much description. I know you're eager to send, but proofing your emails before they go out is non-negotiable.
It's not just about typos—be sure to check any embedded links, recurring elements like promo codes, and the font and formatting of any text you copied and pasted in, etc.
15. Skipping the Test Send
Chances are, you've received a weirdly-formatted email at some point in your life. If you're like me, you probably clicked away from it pretty quickly instead of trying to spend precious time figuring out how to navigate that formating.
You can proofread your copy all you want, but without a test send, you have no way of knowing how it's truly going to look once you send it out into the world. Depending on your platform, you can preview for different devices. This feature becomes even more powerful combined with the ability to see what devices your readers use to open your emails. Keep track of best practices for different platforms - how Gmail displays vs. Mac Mail, for example - and the differences in display between mobile and desktop.
Do an actual test send to yourself. You may even catch important copy errors now that you're looking at it in a different format.
16. No List Maintenance
Failing to maintain an updated list of contacts can result, in the best case, in low engagement. It can also lead to compliance issues, which can affect your ability to send emails or even shut down your account. With new GDPR regulations to contend with, it's especially important to update your list and make sure no one is receiving unasked for communication from your company.
Once you have compliance taken care of, you can focus on metrics like open rates. You probably already know that clean lists see higher open rates. In some cases, a carefully purged list saw raw opens increase by 25% or more. Of course, cutting off people who aren't opening your emails will improve your open ratio, but there's more to it than that.
Internet service providers are a little intense about deliverability. They estimate about 95% of emails have no value. Harsh. It's far from hopeless though. Higher engagement triggers higher inbox placement by telling ISPs that you're worth people's time - which means they'll let more of your emails through.
Here are some changes you can make to your list to see a rise in open rates:
- Remove soft bounces
- Remove email addresses that don't belong to an individual (e.g. info@, etc.)
- Create a re-engagement campaign. Try to re-engage users who haven't opened an email in the past 6 months or whatever time period you feel is appropriate. Then remove people who don't open those emails.
While we're at it, make sure it's clear and easy to unsubscribe. As a subscriber, it's frustrating enough to get emails you don't want, but not being able to quit getting them is even worse.
Email marketing is hard to master, but it has the potential to drastically change your business. If you haven’t seen the results you want from your email marketing efforts in the past, we hope these tips will help you turn email marketing into a valuable, successful part of your marketing campaign. And if you need a hand, we're happy to help you make the most of email marketing.