Top 10 Email Marketing Mistakes

At Pinpointe, we see very smart customers make mistakes that cause their email response rates to suffer.  Here are the most common mistakes we see our new customers make: 

Not running the SPAM checker

Pinpointe has a built-in email SPAM checker that evaluates your email content using the popular spamassassin spam engine, gives you a spam score and provides suggestions to help get your email to the inbox.  Wise customers use it before sending any email campaign.  Yet some customers don’t run the spam check and confidently send their email campaign to thousands of recipients, only to learn that 25% of their emails were blocked or filtered by spam filters because their spam score was too high.

In the Pinpointe spam checker, a SPAM score as close to 0 is ideal; below 2 is ok.  A score of 5 is pushing the limits and a score of 19?  Well let’s say you won’t be too impressed with your email campaign response rates.  Each spam filter engine is different but here is what the Spamassassin engine uses to give you a spam score.

Sending One Big Image

Maybe your design team created a really cool direct mail piece and you want to ‘re-purpose’ it and send it as an email campaign, so you get a .JPG or .GIF image of the design and send away.  Hey the design looks excellent and you’re confident your readers will love it.

This fails on several levels.  First, spam filters measure your ‘Image to Text’ ratio.  Spammers often use large images to get around content filters; so you look like a nasty spammer.  Second, more than 65% of business email inboxes will block images by default, so your recipient sees only a big blank email with a little red X.  Either way, no one will read your email.

Forgetting the TEXT Version

Every email campaign should have an HTML version and a TEXT version.  Emails are sent to recipients in what is called a MIME format – the text and HTML version are packages up and sent together.  The recipient’s email program then displays either the text or the HTML version, based on the recipient’s preferences.  In business, we still see over 10% of recipients who view only the text version.  More importantly however, is that sending only an HTML version will increase your spam score by 2+ points – increasing the chances your email will be blocked by a spam filter.

Over-Zealous Design / CSS Styling

In a nutshell, many email clients are brain-dead when it comes to displaying HTML code.  Outlook 2007 and 2010 for example don’t even support basic CSS styles like alignment, image/table sizes or background images.  Don’t think about using an external CSS style sheet. And an embedded CSS stylesheet will still be ignored by Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 and Gmail (including business accounts hosted by Google.)  If you want more tips about email coding gotcha’s, ‘Download 33 Tips to Improve HTML Response rates.’

With Email design – code like it 1999 – use tables to structure the layout and be sure to inline your styles.  Here’s a great little tool that will take your email and inline your email CSS styles.

Not Testing Enough

The top email feature request we see is for an UNDO button – as in ‘Oops I found a mistake in the campaign I just sent to 25,000 recipients – how can I undo it?  Before sending a campaign to your entire list, make sure to check that your images links aren’t broken, each and every hyperlink works and that your unsubscribe link works.

Ignoring CAN-SPAM Compliance Requirements

As an ESP, we’re required to enforce spam laws because spam negatively impacts email delivery and our job is to ensue that your emails get delivered to the inbox.  Sometimes you just make an honest mistake – you send a campaign and forget to check CAN-SPAM compliance, but more often, customers just don’t take the time to become familiar with CAN-SPAM laws, which should be required reading for anyone sending email campaigns.

In a nutshell, the following need to be in every email:

  • Valid send-from email address
  • Nothing misleading.  You can’t ‘pretend’ to be someone else.
  • Physical address; a PO box is now acceptable but not recommended
  • Wording indicating that the email is an advertisement - if it is.
  • Include an unsubscribe link.  If you forget – we’ll automatically include one.  Yes – this is a legal requirement; no, you can’t work around it, even if you are sending email campaigns to your customers or company.  We recommend adding a second unsubscribe link at the top if your email – so lazy people who don’t want to get your future emails won’t just hit the ‘this is spam’ button instead.

For more information – here is the US CAN-SPAM law at the FTC website.

Ignoring the Inbox Previewer

Running the Pinpointe email campaign previewer not only shows how your email will display in various email clients, but it also provides valuable feedback about possible html incompatibilities with various email clients.

Want to know how your email will display in Outlook, Gmail or yahoo.com?  Be sure to run the inbox preview tool.  It is valuable, and will provide a list of warnings / errors for you (or your designer) to fix in order to ensure your campaign displays properly.

Deleting and Re-uploading Lists for Each Campaign

Like all serious email programs, Pinpointe keeps track of who unsubscribed from your lists and which email addresses bounced.  We of course also keep a really great history of all of your campaign results, including links clicks and email opens.  So if you upload a list, send a campaign, delete the list, then repeat all over again, you simply lose all that valuable data – including the list of contacts who unsubscribed!

Pinpointe’s contact import feature let’s you upload and update contact records, so you are infinitely better off to continue using the same list and when necessary, using our contact upload/update feature, to upload new contacts (we also de-duplicate contacts too.)

Using Poor Email Structure

The two top email structure mistakes are a) poor / bad subject line and b) not including a call to action or at least, not including a call to action within the first paragraph of your email.  Here’s what to do:

  • Keep subject lines short: 50 characters maximum works best.
  • Add a call-to-action in the first paragraph.
  • Watch our on-demand webinar ‘Writing Tips to Improve Email Response Rates’, or at least download the slides.

Not Designing for Blocked Images

65% of all business email clients now block images by default.  If you have a lot of images and if you are not using ALT text tags for all images, your email will simply look like a bunch of blank boxes with red ‘X’s, and you’ll lose readers.  You might be an exceptionally creative designer, but when it comes to email – limit use of images, and always add alternate text tags to all images (even though Outlook wont even display them!)