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6 Email Missteps Every Online Marketer Must Know



With dozens of new online marketing channels, outreach via email can seem like plain ol’ vanilla nowadays. However, to overlook the power and efficacy of email would be a mistake. According to industry giant SalesForce, over three quarters of consumers (a full 77%) “still prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email.” As a medium, I’m here to tell you that email isn’t going anywhere.

That said, the masses of people behind those email Inboxes are rapidly evolving in response to the proliferation of online marketing tactics, improved spam filter technology and an ever-strengthening “customer in the driving seat” perspective that demands, “if you aren’t bringing me real value, then don’t waste my time!” Even so, Email marketing can still be extraordinarily effective and actually doesn’t have to be complicated, but there are a menagerie of mission-busting missteps one must avoid to realize campaign success…and even avoid legal woes.

Here are 6 of the most common mistakes online marketers make:

1. Adding HTML: The practice of adding HTML/images to email is bitterly divisive; debated in forums, coffee shops and boardrooms the world over. There are basically 2 camps: Those that point to survey data stating that over 65% of consumers prefer HTML emails (1) and those that point to real-time tests showing HTML emails underperform their plaintext counterparts by margins of 25%. So what accounts for the difference? It turns out that while people prefer HTML, their email providers do not. Apple Mail, AOL, Outlook, Yahoo, and Android Mail block HTML/images by default, while market leader, Gmail, prompts users to manually enable, which only 57% do. (2) So while resisting the urge to be flashy may be difficult, the benefit in click-through is undeniable.

2. Baiting the Customer: With over half of all internet users receiving at least 1 phishing email per day, it’s no surprise that people are wary. (3) And while marketers race to outdo one another with ever more extreme subject headings, consumers just shrug their shoulders. Headings like “Hi, You’re Fired” and “ummm….I’ve noticed you before but haven’t said anything ❤❤❤” have been used and over-used, and not just by rogue advertisers, but by venerable media brands like BuzzFeed. Dirty tricks might bump up open rates in the short run but they’ll quickly land you in the spam/unsubscribe list. Don’t strive to optimize open rates. Rather, keep your open rate consistent with industry averages, which can be as low as 13.9% for daily coupon sites and as high as 29.4% for niche hobby/personal interest sites (4).

3. Sending Too Often: According to email marketing client, MailChimp’s, review of their 8 million users, “frequency and engagement are negatively correlated.” (5) Researchers reviewed click-through rates and predictably found significant decline with each additional email received. A regular emailing schedule is only worthwhile if the email truly brings value to the customer. Anything less could result in opt-outs and a gradual decrease in campaign profitability.

4. Forgetting to Segment: One of the most attractive features of email marketing is the high degree of segmentation. Information such as when customers like to open their emails, where they live, what time they wake up, how long they read an email, what keywords correlate to their opens and click-throughs, and even identity correlation (cross-referenced to social media and DMV records) is quickly becoming the norm. Most of these features are baked right into email marketing clients but sit unused because users aren’t willing to watch a 20-minute tutorial. With the right information, email marketing is iterative; each round becoming more optimized until your campaign exceeds industry averages.

5. Not Connecting with Real Business Processes: Having massive open rates and subscriber lists doesn’t mean much if you can’t find a way to convert the activity into cash. All too often, online marketing lives in a bubble of facts and figures, disconnected from real-world business processes. One effective strategy to turn opens into leads, is to equip your sales team with software such as Sidekick or Streak that alerts them every time an email has been opened. Placing a sales call shortly after opening a promotional email improves answer rates and allows the rep to pitch in conjunction with the email.

6. Using Paid Lists Improperly: Google “paid email list” and the first thing that comes up is HubSpot’s famous July post, Why Buying Email Lists is Always a Bad Idea. Add to the equation that MailChimp, Constant Contact, and Aweber all oppose paid lists, this really must be a bad move, right? Wrong. If you’re planning to import your paid list into a commercial email marketing client, then good luck. Auto-verification programs such as Omnivore ping the email servers of each account and stop you from contacting those addresses. However, inexpensive lists can be purchased on open lead markets, such as Integrate, or on a per-lead basis from providers such as Scrub the list with a service like BriteVerify and upload into a bulk mailing client such as SendBlaster. While this shouldn’t be tried at the expense of an organic mailing list, it also has the potential to drive revenues.

The good news is that if you’ve been putting off email marketing, there’s never been a time with cheaper tools or more accurate segmentation. For a modest sum (>$500) you can purchase a list as well as sign up for an email marketing client. Whether you fail or succeed your first time around will largely depend on how closely you listen to your customers while also adhering to evolving best practices.


  • Hubspot Inc., 2011 and 2014 surveys, “In what format do you prefer to receive email messages from companies?” Science of Email, 2014.
  • Lithmus Inc., The Ultimate Guide to Email Image Blocking, 2014.
  • phishing.org
  • Email Benchmark Stats, August 2015. mailchimp.com
  • Mandrill Official Website. Mandrill, 2015 & MailChimp, Inc. Sending Frequency: More is not Always Better, April 2013.

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