8 Easily-Avoidable Email Marketing Missteps (and how to Avoid Them)

If you send enough email, at some point, you’re bound to slip up.  You make a mistake.  It might be something small, like an omitted word, or something major, like a non-functioning form.  When it happens, it’s frustrating, it’s embarrassing, but ultimately life goes on.

As long as mistakes like this are isolated, they’re nothing to lose sleep over.  However, if such things begin to occur on a regular basis, they’re likely an indication of larger issues in your organization.

Continued errors show your prospects and customers that your organization doesn’t have itself together.  This lack of attention to detail is also a sign that your employees aren’t invested in the business.  Neither of these are signals that you want to be putting out to potential partners or customers.

Let’s take a look at some of the things I’m talking about:

1. Typos

If book publishers can put out 1,000-page novels without an error, you can make it through 150 words of email copy.  No excuses.

2. Sending to the Wrong Segment

Segmenting your audience is important. By grouping similar contacts into segments, you’re able to craft more relevant (and effective) email messages. The thing is, it only works if you send the right message to the right segment. If you cross the wires, you end up with totally irrelevant messages rather than highly relevant ones.

3. Sending Emails at Inappropriate Times

Not everybody works the typical 9-5 job. Maybe your audience works nights and weekends. Regardless of the actual times, the important thing is to recognize that there are times when it’s appropriate to send business emails and times when it is not.

Knowing the appropriate times is half the battle, but it’s equally important to account for time zones and their impact on your email sends. An appropriate 9:00 am send on the East Coast, is an annoyingly early 6:00 am send on the West Coast. Likewise, that day-end send from the West Coast is likely to disrupt East Coast recipients who have signed off for the night.

4. Oversending

Whether you’re sending multiple promotional emails in a day or sending every day for weeks, this type of volume is excessive (unless the audience has specifically opted in to this type of communication). Along with sending at appropriate times, sending a reasonable volume of email falls into the category of respecting your contacts.

5. Personalization Problems

Hey [First name], we are looking forward to speaking with you.

Personalization is another tool to add relevance to an email when it’s working properly. Dynamic fields, sometimes called personalization tags or tokens, are features of marketing automation systems that allow you to insert information from a database record into your email.

When these fields work, they’re a nice way to connect with your audience and make your emails seem more like one-to-one communications. On the other hand, when there’s an issue (missing information, incorrectly formatted information, etc.), it does exactly the opposite.

6. Wrong/Broken Links

The goal of most marketing emails is to secure a click. If that click takes you somewhere other than the intended page, your email has failed.

7. Image Dependence

Visuals are eye-catching. They can quickly convey things that are difficult to get across with words alone. Don’t build your email around images. Many clients have images disabled by default. There’s no guarantee your contact will ever even load the images in your email, so the message has to stand on its own.

8. Rendering Issues

When you send an email, it has to be interpreted by the recipient’s email client. Unfortunately, different clients like to interpret emails in different ways. Even within the same client, there can be differences between different applications (desktop/web/mobile) and versions. In other words, an email that looks fine on your up-to-date Gmail web app might be a mess on the surprisingly (still) popular Outlook 2003 desktop client.

Alright, so there are a lot of ways to mess up when it comes to email.  We’ve got that, but let’s move on to the more important question: What can we do about it?

Luckily, all the aforementioned issues can be remedied with a little extra attention and a couple of key precautions.  Here’s what you can do.

Find Safety in Numbers

In terms of quality assurance, two sets of eyes are always better than one.  As good as automated proofreaders can be, they can’t be totally relied upon – there’s no substitute for human proofreaders.  Make sure you’ve had at least two people read through each piece of copy before it’s sent out.

Likewise, many setup and scheduling errors can be avoided with a simple approval system.  Most marketing automation systems can send without authorization from a separate user.  Use this feature to your advantage.  If nothing else, it makes another person accountable for getting things right.

Tidy Up Your Data

If you’re going to be doing any sort of personalization with dynamic fields, your data needs to be in working order.

First and most importantly, your fields must be standardized.  All information must be in the same format so there are no surprises when it’s called.

The next step is to make the data useable.  You want information in a format that can be used naturally in copy.  For example, job titles should all be capitalized and put in the format [Department] [Rank], rather than [Rank], [Department].  That way, when the field is called in your email, it reads “You know as a Marketing Manager…”, instead of “You know as a Manager, Marketing…”

Finally, create a clear data standards document that outlines the conventions used by your various fields.  Even if you couldn’t put every field into a usable format, this document is hugely important to ensure the right fields are placed in the right context.

Test for Reality

Most marketers do some form of testing.  They might do some preliminary testing to optimize design or copy.  They probably do at least a basic test send before they launch a campaign in their system.  Most marketers don’t, however, take this testing far enough.

Marketers have to test their emails for real-world use.  That means checking an email out in a single email client or halfheartedly clicking your way through an email and landing page simply doesn’t cut it.

Real-world users don’t use emails as intended.  Most don’t just open the email, click the download button, and fill out the form.  More realistically, they open the email, click a link, hit the back button, leave the page, come back, read a little more, click another link, view your home page, go back to the email, and then fill out the form.  When testing an email, perform similar other-than-intended combinations of actions – it’s often through this that you uncover unnoticed issues.

Likewise, real-world users don’t all have perfectly up-to-date, business-focused desktop email clients.  A lot of users still have clients that are 10+ years old.  A lot of users prefer to use Gmail, Apple Mail, Yahoo, and other less business-minded clients.  A lot of users are on smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, and other non-desktop properties.  Plan for the variance.

Tech Support

Technology is your best friend and your worst enemy when it comes to sending emails.

Software can make your life much easier.  For instance, tools like Litmus’s email rendering preview makes email client testing much less of a headache.  Similarly, other software can also do things like validate the links in your email or automatically manage communication limits.

At the same time, when relied upon too much, technology is just as likely to cause mistakes as it is to prevent them.  If you’re using software to help manage your email, it’s important to test features thoroughly and closely monitor outcomes.

Build Email Fail-Safes

Even well-designed and well-tested emails will run into situations where they are unable to function as intended.  Things happen – data is missing for dynamic fields, images are never enabled, the email loads incorrectly, and so on.

Fail-safes help you to make sure your email can continue to function under these adverse circumstances.

Some precautions are simple:  Alt tags for images describe the contents of images to those who have not yet loaded them.  Default values for dynamic fields give the system information to substitute in the event that the database record is missing that field.

Other fail-safes are more involved.  For example, you should create a functioning plain text version to go along with every email (some recipients elect to receive emails in this format).  You should also provide a web-based version of the email and a link to reach it, in case the receipt’s client renders your email incorrectly or otherwise makes it unusable.


Let us know what you think:

  • What is the worst mistake you’ve made in an email?
  • Did anyone notice? 
  • How did you address it? 



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