Email is still one of the most effective marketing channels for a small business today – it is cheaper, more measurable and can be targeted more effectively than traditional direct mail.

More than half of the respondents to our 2007 Industry Census that tracked their ROI, said that income from email marketing was three times or more than the amount spent , while almost a third said it was five times or more.

Still, it is important to get it right, and avoid the kind of schoolboy errors that will impact heavily on the effectiveness of your email campaigns.

Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • From / Subject LinesWary of spam, recipients will make a very quick decision whether to open or ignore your emails based on what they see in the from and subject lines.

    Your email ‘from’ line should display the company or brand name, not the name of the person who sent it, as customers are unlikely to know who this is. Virgin Wines makes this mistake, with their emails coming from someone called ‘RowanG’ (the CEO!).

    Likewise, avoid generic subject lines, and instead clearly state what is inside the email – such as ‘50% off selected furniture’. Keep subject lines relatively short too.

  • Sending emails too oftenEmail marketers can run the risk of damaging the relationship built up with a customer by sending emails too often, causing customers to ignore or delete them. Avoid overkill.

    It is important to set customer expectations. Let people know how frequently they can expect to receive emails  when they sign up. Give them choice if you can.

    Other than asking customers outright, you can tweak the frequency of your emails in line with open rates. Declining open and click rates may suggest that there is a problem.

  • Not testing for different email programs / filters

    Emails will look different depending on which email program is used to view them, so you need to run tests for this, otherwise your emails will look very odd to some recipients.

    Also, you need to find out whether your emails will get past the spam filters in major webmail programs; otherwise your efforts will have been wasted. This is something that NatMags found out to their cost when they encountered distribution problems with their Jellyfish digital magazine.

    We too have experienced the wrath of the spam filters, and it isn't pleasant. Amazingly just one 'complaint' in a million emails is the threshold for some spam filters, so any more and your legitimate email might be dumped in the spam folder. Firm definitions of 'complaint' are hard to come by.

  • Unclear call to action

    Whatever you hoped to achieve by sending emails, whether it is to get the recipient to visit your website, download a white paper, or purchasing a product, there’s little point unless you provide a clear call to action.

    Choose the links in the email wisely, and make what will happen next obvious to the customer, assuming they click your link. For example, if the email is promoting a furniture sale then try providing a call to action along the lines of: ‘view furniture sale’. The Ronseal approach.

  • Errors in emails

    This is pretty basic stuff, but it’s surprising how many errors you find in emails – misspellings, poor grammar, and links that don’t work being the most common.

    This signals a lack of professionalism and such errors can be easily avoided with some careful editing.

  • Lengthy unsubscribe process

    Marketers should make their emails as easy as possible to unsubscribe from, as customers will report mails as spam if they have problems opting out, which will in turn affect your sender reputation. Just one complaint in a million, folks...

    An unsubscribe process which requires as few steps as possible is essential, as is a clear opt-out link on the email - don't make customers search too hard for it.

  • Not targeting emails

    Just sending mass emails that only apply to half your target audience is not good enough, and will have the half who find the email irrelevant wondering why they signed up.

    Targeted emails generate higher open rates, so segment your lists and make the content and offer more personal and relevant to the interests and past behaviour of your recipients.

  • Not testing firstBy sending out emails to your entire list, test different content, subject lines etc with a small number of people first. By learning from the information about which emails received the best response rates, you can avoid any major mistakes.

Related research: Email Marketing Platforms Buyer's Guide

Related stories: Tips for a successful email campaign

Graham Charlton

Published 5 February, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (3)



Excellent article in an area that I haven't seen a whole lot of good coverage on. Another good tip: don't engage in email marketing campaigns during holiday months (Nov, Dec, July, August). Particularly during Nov/Dec, you'll be competing with a glut of holiday email spam, but the bigger issue is that people just have other things going on and your campaign will not have the impact that it would non-holiday.

Rich, Bizjama: Small Business News & Resources

over 10 years ago

Outi Tuomaala

Outi Tuomaala, Vice President, Marketing at L-Soft

Further reflections: These are good classic email marketing tips and best practices. To find out what works for you, systematic testing is the approach that provides you email marketing knowledge. With your email marketing metrics you can establish internal email marketing best practices and benchmarks. With just a little testing effort, for example A/B-split testing, you can increase the effectiveness of your email marketing messages over time.

There are plenty of good email marketing best practice resources on the Internet, such as:

Email Marketing Reports
by Mark Brownlow

BeRelevant: Email Marketing Best Practices Blog
by Tamara Gielen

Email Experience Council
by Jeanniey Mullen et al.

over 10 years ago


Scott Hardigree

Here's a resource that speaks about setting mutual expectations, other often overlooked key to email marketing success: Cheers, -Scott

almost 9 years ago

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