Aug 9, 2005

Common Email Marketing Mistakes

Over the years, we’ve noticed some common mistakes that new email marketers make, so we thought it would be good to post them here…

If you’re new to email marketing, look out for these common mistakes that people make when sending their first email newsletters:

  • Mistake #1: Not testing enough. Before you send to your entire list, you should have sent at least 3 or 4 tests to yourself, and to all your test accounts (such as HotMail, Yahoo!Mail, Gmail, AOL, etc). Check that your images aren’t broken, each and every hyperlink works, and that your unsubscribe link works.
  • Mistake #2: Did we mention not testing enough? Test, test test! Remember, once you hit send, there’s no "undo."
  • Mistake #3: Using JavaScript in HTML email. Just about every single email application out there blocks JavaScript from working, as a security measure to prevent viruses. Make sure your code doesn’t contain any JavaScript, such as on form submit buttons, pop-up window links, image pre-loaders, etc. If you’re copying HTML from an existing web page, make sure you clean the code of all JavaScript.
  • Mistake #4: CSS in the wrong place. Normally, when you code a web page, you put the CSS code in between your <HEAD> tags. But lots of email applications (especially browser based ones) strip out the HEAD and BODY tags of your HTML, so your CSS will get stripped too. Embed your CSS just above the content, below your BODY tag. It’ll work fine there.
  • Mistake #5: Over-ambitious CSS. Don’t even try to use CSS for positioning. Sorry, but with HTML email, you’re still stuck using a lot of tables and shim.gif’s (for now). Don’t try to link to an external CSS, either. Use embedded and inline CSS. If you’re not an HTML coding pro, and you’re letting an application generate your code for you, just be sure to look through the code and check to make sure CSS is done according to these guidelines.
  • Mistake #6: Writing like a spammer. We all get spam. You know what it looks like. The subject lines are IN ALL CAPS, letters are highlighted bright red or bright blue, they SCREAM by using lots! of! exclamation! points!!!! and they use phrases like, "viagra, hottest, best, click now! limited time only!, and act now!" Don’t be like that. Keep your subject lines brief and to the point. Keep your content relevant. Don’t try to use gimmicky catch phrases. Avoid spammy words.
  • Mistake #7: Forgetting to track clicks and opens. Don’t forget to click the "track clicks" and "track opens" checkboxes in MailChimp, if you want to get campaign reports. Once you’ve sent the campaign, it’s too late to go back.
  • Mistake #8: Not including an unsubscribe link. Never forget to include an opt-out link in your emails. It’s the law. In fact, we highly recommend you place it near the top of your email, so that people don’t get lazy and click the "this is spam" button instead.
  • Mistake #9: Sending emails "out of the blue." Say you’ve been collecting email addresses through an opt-in form on your website for years, but you’ve never had the time to send them anything. One day, you finally find the time to code your beautiful email newsletter, and you’re ready to "blast it out to your list." Don’t do it. If this is your very first email campaign, and these people haven’t heard from you via email before, you need to send a quick "warmup" or "reminder" campaign, to tell recipients, "We’re really excited about our new monthly e-letter, and we just wanted to confirm your email address before we start sending. Click here to subscribe." If people haven’t heard from you in years, and you suddenly start sending them emails, they’ve probably forgotten who you are, nevermind that they opted in. To avoid getting reported for spamming, send a preliminary warmup email to "cold lists" to re-confirm their permission.
  • Mistake #10: Not using full paths in your images and hyperlinks. With HTML email, you need to host all your images on your server, then use absolute paths that point back to your server. So, instead of coding an image like this:

    <img src="/images/photo.gif">

    You would code it like this:
    <img src="">

    Same goes for hyperlinks. Instead of a link like this:

    <a href="index.html">Click here</a>

    You’d code the link like this:

    <a href="">Click here</a>

So there you have it. Hope we’ve helped save someone out there from making some really embarassing mistakes. Speaking of embarassing mistakes, I’ll share a couple we’ve made over the years (if you promise not to use these against us). Once—many, many years ago—I sent a Christmas campaign for a client to about 1,500 recipients, and put "Happy Thanksgiving" in the subject line by mistake (I was re-using old code). Once, Mark (our head of technology) sent a campaign for a client’s huge corporate event, and placed his own email address in the reply-to field by mistake. He had to forward every single response to the client. And then there was the time Dan (head of customer service) sent a test campaign to an old buddy of his, and jokingly put "here’s your email, sucka" in the subject line. The friend logged in, and sent the campaign to his list without checking it first (for the record, that one got a fantastic open rate). What would have prevented all these mistakes? Test, test, test.

If you’re new to email marketing, we’ve also got a free "Getting Started" guidebook on our website at:
It’s full of HTML email design and coding tips, best practices, and links to more resources.