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Email marketing tactics that are wasting your time (and what to do instead)

By Alexandra Gavril - September 17, 2014

Are you sure your marketing emails aren’t making your subscribers cringe? With subscribers receiving 416 commercial messages a month, are you sure you’re not “spraying and praying” your subscribers and emailing them too often in the hope that you’ll sell more products? And are you sure your emails aren’t triggering spam filters because you’re stuffing your subject lines full of spammy and tiresome phrases like “Buy now” and “100% FREE”?

Let’s take a closer look at the six most common email tactics people waste precious time on and what you can do instead to avoid losing customers and alienating subscribers.

1. Emailing inactive subscribers

It happens so often that people subscribe to your email list after interacting with your company or purchasing one of your products. But then they’re no longer interested in your offering or they simply aren’t interested or don’t care about what you have to say. Or they simply changed jobs and are no longer using that email address. Why keep those people in your list if too much time has passed since you’ve seen signs of life? Emailing them is simply useless and a waste of your time and money.

It doesn’t matter how huge your mailing list is. It’s the number of people who actually open, read, click and share your content that matters. Continuing to send emails to people who never open your messages or, worse, mark them as spam, but never actually unsubscribe can hurt your deliverability to those who actually want to receive news from you.

You might not know this but since many of the major Internet service providers are now making filtering decisions based on engagement rates, this practice can harm your reputation and prevent engaged subscribers from receiving your emails in their inboxes, even though they might be interested in receiving them.

A report from ReturnPath, a company that provides inbox placement solutions, revealed that 83% of the time an email is not delivered to an inbox, it is due to a poor sender reputation.

In email marketing terms, this is referred to as “Sender Score” and it’s an indication of the trustworthiness of an email sender’s IP address. There are a number of factors used to calculate a sender score, and two major ones are the number of invalid email accounts you attempt to contact and the rate at which recipients mark your emails as spam. In other words, if you keep emailing inactive subscribers, you’ll get a poor sender score which means you’ll have a harder time getting into someone’s inbox.

What to do instead

Make it a priority to review and clean your list from inactive and unengaged subscribers every 30 to 90 days, depending on how often you email your subscribers. There is a fantastic post on how to identify inactive and unengaged subscribers on the ReturnPath blog and here’s a quick summary:

Start by making a list with inactive subscribers. Depending on the frequency at which you email your subscribers (daily, weekly, monthly), inactive may mean someone who hasn’t interacted with your site or email in the last 30 days to 14 months. So when putting this list together, look at:

  • The date of the last email read
  • The date of the last purchase
  • The date of the last visit to your website
  • The date of the last account login
  • The date of the last download

For example, say you usually send out a monthly email. If a subscriber hasn’t interacted with your site, opened or read your emails in the last nine to 14 months, even though you’ve tried to win them back with special offers, then simply remove them from your list.

Also, make sure you always have an unsubscribe link in your emails. This may be a no-brainer but there are actually companies out there that make it hard to unsubscribe by hiding their unsubscribe link in their boilerplate footer copy, thinking that it can help them retain subscribers. Don’t. If they’re looking for a way out, you should make it easy for them to opt out.

2. Sending the same email to everyone in your list

The days of sending the same email to all your subscribers, regardless of whether they’re long-term customers or new leads, decision-makers or money-savers, and keeping your fingers crossed for sales are over.

Blasting emails to your entire subscribers list with no segmentation or personalisation whatsoever hoping you’ll make some sales (also known as “spray and pray”) is a sure way to alienate subscribers and to drive your unsubscribe rate through the roof.

When it comes to email: There is no one-size-fits-all customer. Not everyone in your mailing list has the same problems, needs or wants which means they should be treated differently, right? Some might not have purchased a product from you yet, while others might be loyal customers, anxiously awaiting your next product.

For example, let’s say you sell tickets for events such as concerts, theatre and football matches. Why would you send an email about a football match to someone who has only shown an interest in jazz concerts?

What to do instead

Do you research and try to figure out who your various segments of target customers are. They are also known as buyer personas and here is nice guide on how to identify them based on factors such as:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location
  • Industry
  • Products they have bought before
  • Previous purchase price

For example, if you provide bike trips for all skill levels, you may have three different types of buyers such as:

1. Occasional riders, who only go on bike rides on weekends, in the park, to relax.

2. Everyday riders who ride their bike to work and everywhere.

3. Avid riders who ride their bikes an average of 100 miles per week on all terrain, with hills and big mountain passes.

If these are your three buyer personas, you’ll need to cater your offers and educational content to these three skill levels. To occasional riders you’ll want to show destinations that are built for light riding, with shorter rides over easier terrain while to avid bike riders you’ll want to show destinations and trips that are built for mountain goats, with high, jagged peaks. Obviously, if you promote the same easy trek trip to both occasional and avid riders, the latter won’t be interested in your offer.

By creating buyer personas and segmenting your subscriber list into different lists, you can target your audience more precisely and deliver relevant messages which as a result help you get better open and click rates.

Need more proof that segmented email outperforms general, untargeted emails? Just take a look at the following data from the Lyris Annual Email Optimizer Report. When marketers who segmented their email lists were asked to point out the top three areas in which they noticed the most significant results, 39% said they experienced higher open rates, 28% experienced lower unsubscribe rates, and 34% experienced better deliverability and greater revenue.

3. Including offers no one wants

No one wants to hear about how your products are the best so stop being selfish. When your email strategy is completely centred on marketing your products over and over again, you’re definitely on the right track to alienate subscribers.

People don’t want the ad nauseam sales pitch: “Here is our product. It’s the best. You need to buy it now!”

They are looking for a solution that can solve their problem. They are looking for resources to make sure they’re buying the right product that can help solve their problem. They’re looking for proof that you’re a trustworthy company that won’t forget about them the second they pay for their order. They’re looking for signs that you’re happy to help if they need advice.

Think about it. What’s a better approach? Using the trek trips example above, do you think you’d be more successful:

  1. Blasting emails with offers and testimonials, raving about your biking trips and how much other customers loved them.
  2. Sending educational content like which trip to choose depending on lifestyle and other factors, which bike to use depending on terrain, and so on.

With option A, you either get a sale or get ignored, with option B, even if they don’t become customers right now, you’ve still helped them out, so they might later on. Or they might tell their friends about you.

What to do instead

Remember those buyer personas I referred to above? This is the time to use those detailed persona profiles to help you tailor your content and offers to suit those individual personas.

Think about each persona’s individual needs, problems, and interests. Is there anything specific they might care about or need a solution for that your offer doesn’t address because it was meant for a more general audience? If so, work these concepts into the content.

In addition, stop emailing them offers they don’t really want and instead send them ebooks, video tutorials, top ten lists, genuinely helpful tips, fun polls and puzzles or invitations to webinars, and anything else that they might find interesting and useful.

4. Including multiple calls-to-action

Too many marketing emails try to do too much: buy this product, download this ebook, get this great deal, and since you’re still here why not also sign this petition? All in one single email.

The more calls-to-action (CTA) you include in your email, the more you’re confusing your subscriber as they have no idea what they should do next. A single, powerful CTA is all you want and need. And that CTA should tell the reader exactly what you want them to do and how they can do it.

What to do instead

Focus on a single, strong CTA that answers this question: What do I want the recipient to do after reading the message?

Also, make sure that the structure of your email content always highlights CTA. Here is how you can prepare a proper CTA in your email:

  • Place the CTA in a visible place where they can’t miss it.
  • Don’t just use words. Make your CTA stand out with colours and large fonts.
  • Use clear statements – the message must be crystal clear.

5. Implementing bad subject lines

The subject line has the biggest impact on your open rates (and you can’t get a click without an open).

One of the worst things you can do as a marketer is to write your subject lines just like you do your advertisements. Not to mention stuffing your subject lines full of spammy words. That’s going to push your email directly into the spam folder, without even having a fighting chance in the inbox.

What to do instead

Don’t sell what’s inside, tell what’s inside.

Here are a couple of things to avoid:

  • Don’t use cute symbols and special characters like H3LLO or ~*Hi*~. While they may catch people’s attention, they’ll make you look cheap and desperate.
  • Don’t use RE: and FW: to imply you are a trusted source. Definitely don’t be sneaky as people aren’t stupid and you’ll lose their trust right away.
  • Try to avoid subject lines that begin with “how to”.
  • Avoid spam-trigger words like 100% free, make money fast, FREE, click here, or exclamation points and odd punctuation. Then there are also words that won’t trigger a spam filter, but will negatively affect your open rates like Help, Percent off, and Reminder, according to a MailChimp study.
  • Don’t talk explicitly about your products, services, catalogues of products etc.
  • Don’t be clever or vague – your subject lines should be clear, not mysterious.

Check out this useful info graphic on how to craft the subject line that gets your email read.

Oh, and don’t forget to also do A/B Testing on your subject lines. (This links to a great post with a handful of quick, easy subject line A/B test you can run right now.)

6. Guessing

So many marketers guess when it comes to email marketing. They guess about their subscribers’ wants and needs, they guess a longer subject line works better than a short one, they guess a subject line written in ALL CAPS will get people to click and so on.

But guessing what works almost never works.

What to do instead

Test! It’s the only way to know what works for your audience. It’s how we all learn.

Tests can help clarify when it’s best to send an email, which trigger words to use in the subject line, where to place calls-to-action in your message. So, stop guessing and start testing. And keep in mind that the goal isn’t to get these tests done but to get better results.


Improving your email marketing won’t happen overnight, but the common denominator in any successful email campaign is personalised, relevant content. If you can prove to your subscribers that your emails are interesting, useful, worth reading and uniquely tailored every time, your email campaigns will be more than just a selling tool. They’ll become a trusted resource and the foundation for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

What’s your take? Have you ever used any of these tactics? Or have you read or heard about worst email marketing tactics? If so, we definitely want to read about them in a comment below do don’t hold back.