The trouble with email marketing is that it’s too easy.

Import list, click. Set personalisation, click. And in just another click or two, you’ve sent a piece of marcomms to 50,000 inboxes for pennies. That’s why everybody does email marketing: it seems so low-cost.

But in fact, it can be the highest-cost campaign you’ll ever run.

Approach a large audience with the wrong message, or use a single headline that turns them off, and you’ve lost any prospect of that individual ever becoming, well, a prospect.

That’s why instead of the usual list of best practice in email marketing, this is a list of WORST practices.

1: Starting on the wrong foot, with the wrong list

It doesn’t matter how clean or up-to-date your list is. If all it contains are email addresses, don’t use it.

If you know nothing at all about the recipients, you have no chance to personalise that communication. And these days, a one-size-fits-all email puts you on the fast train to Unsubscribeland.

2: Not making your emails mobile-friendly

Today, nearly two-thirds of email is opened first on a mobile device. Smaller screens, narrower line measures, and readers on the move. That means two times out of three, you’re taking more of your readers’ attention than if they were sitting at their desk … and the fastest way to lose them is to present them with an unreadable mush.

A key metric of any data-driven strategy today: know what device your emails are being read on. Mobile usability is no longer optional.

3: Subjects that make “War and Peace” look like a Post-It note

Some marketers see the 80-character limit for subject lines as a speed limit. (They’ll try to get as close to it as possible.) Yet in a Really B2B study, the top three best-performing subject lines were of three or fewer words.  That’s less than 20 characters or so.

In email marketing, short and simple is where it’s at. Don’t lose prospects with flowery subject line prose. The only purpose of your subject line is to get people into your content.

4: Making the thing you want to be easiest, hard

The most basic part of campaign strategy is what do you want the reader to do? Yet as many as 70% of SMEs don’t even include a CTA on their websites. There’s no excuse for missing a CTA off your email marketing.

The most brilliantly creative email template design gets dragged to the Bin if it makes the recipient think, So What? Never, ever miss off a simple and strong CTA.

5:  Every email is to sell, sell, sell

CRM is about treating your customers as human beings and building a relationship. If you’re only sending promotional emails and never bothering to engage them in conversation, you’re on the losing side. Especially with B2B clients, who get hundreds of hard-sell emails a month.

Sustained business relationships – the only kind that makes a profit – are built on a series of sales over time. Not endless one-off promotions. Keep your email marketing two-way and informative, not offer after offer.

6: Hitting Send without thinking Test

Segmented audiences. Geographical differences. Subscriber demographics. Given the resources available to database marketers today, it’s amazing how many have never done the simplest A/B split on their email campaigns.

It’s not enough for a campaign to sell something; everyone should also teach you something. Because at the core of any data-driven strategy is a continuous improvement over time. And for that, you need to learn from your data.

7: Setting your strategy on a different planet

Sales and engagement cycles can be months long. But so often we see emails completely “out of sync” with a company’s communications strategy. Off-topic, off-message, or just plain wrong.

Think about it. Your emails shouldn’t sound totally different to your public advertising, or your DM strategy, or any other channel, should they? Yet sometimes it seems the email marketing team is working for a different brand. If you’re trying to build brand equity, that’s a drag.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. These 7 mistakes – and the 700 more like them – can be surprisingly easy to avoid. By listening to your data, acting on learnings not instinct, and – most of all – treating data as a strategic enabler, not a spreadsheet.

8: Not complying with the law

Not complying with the law. It’s a legal requirement that all B2B marketing emails have an unsubscribe option and contain the sender’s full postal address. It’s also good practice as it helps to instil trust with the recipients (you’re less likely to be viewed as a dodgy trader if you comply). The law is a lot stronger for consumer email marketing were gaining an ‘opt-in’ is compulsory.


Email Service Providers are specialist in the creation, management and delivery of emails, specifically for marketing purposes. Saving money by sending marketing emails from your internal systems is a false economy and a potentially dangerous one.

Most ESPs supply services that usually include easy mailing list segmentation, automated unsubscribing, analytics that show open and click-through details and much more.

And, most importantly, their systems, processes and relationships with the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can prevent your untutored emailing from getting you blacklisted as a spammer and losing all your business email functionality.

10: Embedding text in images

Having a whizzy design with lovely big images and colourful typography included might be a designer‘s dream, but all too often it’s a recipient’s nightmare.

With so many email clients having images switched off as default, a degree of pragmatism is necessary at the design stage so that the email has enough compelling text viewable to all recipients to induce them to switch on the images. If not, they might easily decide to delete the email when all they can see is a few box outlines with ‘x’s in the top left corners.

Related Topics: Email Marketing