Suggestion: 9 Real World Common Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid


Not every email marketing best practice is an obvious one. In fact, in our experience at ClickMail Marketing, there are quite a few best practices that companies seem to look over or deliberately ignore. The result? The opposite of best practices, or what we kindly call “common email marketing mistakes” rather than worst practices.

In an industry where a half a percentage point can make or break a campaign, it’s our opinion that tweaking and optimizing every possible factor is worth the effort. With that in mind, I asked our staff to compile a list of the top 10 mistakes they see when deploying email campaigns on behalf of clients. The good news is that they only came up with nine. And the even better news is that these are all easy best practices to adapt and adhere to.

Below are the common mistakes seen by the staff at ClickMail, and what you can do to avoid them:

Common email marketing mistake #1: Sloppy Copy

  • Check your spelling. Copy and paste into Word and run spell-check if you need to. Also check the spelling in your links. If your URL is wrong, so are you.
  • Read the copy. Don’t scam, skim or skip over. Reading is the only way to ensure proper use of language like “their” vs. “there” vs. “they’re”, missing words, incorrect punctuation or poor sentence structure. Best practice: Print it out to read on paper. Even better best practice: Read it out loud.
  • Employ a second set of eyes for final review. Once you’ve written, read and edited the same piece of content many times, it is no longer fresh to you and errors are easily overlooked. Ask someone else to run spell check and read the copy. You may be surprised to see what you missed.

Common email marketing mistake #2: Crummy Coding

  • Set the pixel width to 600. This prevents the need to scroll to the right—and the potential to lose interest if someone feels they have to do too much work to read your email.
  • Don’t use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) in your HTML coding. It is stripped out by many ESPs, meaning your message can be lost. Even if you’ve spell checked it and done all the best practices described above!
  • Many ESPs also suppress images by default, as do email clients (about 80%). Do not create your email message out of one big image or your subscribers may only see a blank page with a little, tiny red X. If you use any images, to be on the safe side, utilize a View Online feature so they have another way to see images if they are suppressed.

Common email marketing mistake #3: Cold Calls to Action

  • Your call to action (CTA) should be in text format, not an image because—as mentioned above—images are suppressed by default by many email service providers and email clients.
  • Include two to three instances of your CTA above the fold (in the first 300 pixels). Make sure to include at least one graphical and one textual CTA.
  • The top one-third and the left-most area of your emails are the most valuable real estate. Try to place a CTA those areas, in text and as minimal images.

Common email marketing mistake #4: Poor Subject Lines

Your subject line should be seven words or less (or 35 characters). Most people know this but might not know that the following conditions in a subject line can be flagged as SPAM:

  • Percent of Capital Letters: Too many uppercase letters compared to lowercase letters
  • Repeating Capital Letter: Too many upper case letters in a row (e.g., SALE)
  • Gaps: When the words have gaps between letters like s*t*y*l*e
  • Repetition: When letters or characters are repeated (*****)
  • Special Character Flag: Overuse of special characters (e.g., & $ # @ ( )[ ] !)
  • Punctuation Flag: Too much punctuation (…) or the type of punctuation (!)
  • Word/Space Ratio: Spammers use blank spaces to catch the recipient’s attention resulting in a high ratio of spaces to words
  • First Character Flag/First Word Flag: Subject lines starting with a special character or punctuation. Words like “Free”, “hey”, “Sale” etc.

Common email marketing mistake #5: Obscure “From” Label

Your From address is key information used by subscribers to determine if your email is spam or not. If it’s not relevant or recognizable, they may mark it as spam, or just delete it without opening it.

Common email marketing mistake #6: Floating From Address and/or Domain

Keep a static “From” address and/or domain, and ask to be added to the recipient’s Safe Sender list at the top of each email.

Common email marketing mistake #7: Lazy Lists

  • Utilize the Forward to a Friend (FTF) feature to organically grow your list.
  • Practice good and consistent list hygiene. Most people know to honor opt outs in 10 days to be CAN-SPAM compliant but you should also clean your list(s) of hard bounces after each send, plus monitor soft bounces and remove from your list as needed.

Common email marketing mistake #8: Competing Links

Don’t include competing links, period. Unless it’s a newsletter, most emails should be single subject with a single call to action. If it’s a sale, link to the appropriate sale items. If it’s an invitation, link to the registration page etc.

Common email marketing mistake #9: Unfair Unsubscribe

The unsubscribe link must be the first step, per CAN-SPAM. Don’t make people jump through hoops to opt out.

Now, I hope you read the nine common email marketing mistakes above and nodded your head in agreement, confident you’re innocent of all.  If not, if even one of those nine listed tripped you up, go fix it now and increase your ROI later as a result.


– Marco Marini, President & CEO, ClickMail Marketing

Marco Marini is an acknowledged expert in e-marketing with over a decade and half’s-worth of experience in the field. Before taking over as CEO, he was CMM’s VP of Marketing & Operations. Marini has also held key marketing positions with CyberSource, eHealthInsurance, DoveBid and IBM Canada.

6 thoughts on “Suggestion: 9 Real World Common Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Spammers also try to use increasingly provocative subject lines to compel the recipient to open the email.

  2. I thought I knew more, but am pleasantly surprised to find several great tips. Great article! Thank you. Ken

  3. Good, common sense, suggestions.

    I’m a big fan of making it easy to subscribe in the first place. A read somewhere that average subscription times are longer than unsubscribe times – why make it harder to join than leave?

  4. Professional proofreaders have told me that they also read copy backwards to check for spelling errors. Reading backwards prevents your brain from filling in the words it expects to see even if you’ve misspelled it.

  5. Great tips! One more suggestion that should not be overlooked: re-engaging former customers lost to bouncing or inactive email addresses.

    "In an industry where a half a percentage point can make or break a campaign," utilizing an ECOA (Email Change of Address" service to help you reconnect with 20+% of your customers over the course of a year will have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

  6. Completely agree with these email marketing mistakes.

    I also feel that these are the most common mistakes which most of the email marketers make. Sending emails with boring subject is very much common mistake.

    I never open any email which don’t attract my eyes. I always ignore or delete such emails instantly.

    Email marketers should understand that nobody wants to waste their time in reading boring emails. If you really want to convert them then you must have to send emails with having eye catchy, attractive and promising subject line. Because It is the only line which readers read first.

    So taking care of it can improve your skills.

    I am glad that you have listed all the major email marketing mistakes here so that we can learn them and can avoid them. Thanks for sharing it with us. 😀

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