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7 Ways to Fail at Email Marketing

September 21, 2017    |     Lindsay Jawor

Monday morning, 8:30 a.m. and the first email in your inbox has this stunning subject line: 


Interested? Neither are we.

There’s at least a hundred ways that you can virtually waste an email send by using an ineffective subject line. Some are obvious, like the fake reply or the obnoxious forced excitement we (ab)used above; others are just plain snore-fests.

Coming up with great email subject lines can be daunting, for sure. Instead of falling back on cheap tactics or sending out emails for the sake of sending emails, spend some time planning and being creative. And before you consider what to do, check out our quick list of email "crimes" to avoid.


1. Be too general. A good marketer knows their audience. Using targeted copy along with email personalization tactics shows your reader that you pay attention to them.

2. Ignore Your Audience. Building on that idea, don’t send emails that are irrelevant to the people on your list. Not only does it spike your unsubscribe rate, it completely destroys your credibility. People talk: make sure they’re talking you up, not down.

3. Lack Urgency. Don’t be afraid to put your call to action right in your subject line. Let your recipients know how many days or hours they have left before you’re on to the next big thing.

4. Be Selfish. If you’re emailing regularly without making any offer to your audience, your emails will eventually seem pointless. Don’t be stingy! Giving people information, discounts, coupons, or offers will keep them on your mailing lists. And let them know right in the subject line what you’re offering!

5. Miss the Mark. Segment. Your. Audience. Not everyone on your list is the same person. Create “buckets” of folks who fit specific personas and separate them. Sending one email to a million readers is never going to work as well as sending 5 specialized emails to segments of that list. Learn more about creating personas here.

6. Time Travel. Staying relevant is vital to good email marketing. Subject lines written 6 months in advance can potentially fall flat. Don’t pre-set subject lines. Pay attention to the environment: calling out audience-appropriate current events can boost your open rates tenfold.

7. Bore Everyone. For God’s sake, be creative. Be mysterious. Be quirky. Everyone is afraid to venture outside the box, but that’s exactly what we need to do! Think outside the inbox and give people an exciting reason to open your email.

Email marketing is a journey, and each person who receives your emails is on an adventure alongside you. Take them on the tour of a lifetime. Be the life of the party, the one that everyone wants to hang out with. Most importantly: do your research. You won’t regret the time spent planning once your email lists start growing!

Bonus Tips:

  • There are no hard-and-fast rules about images vs. text. Hubspot has studied this in-depth and found that while 64% of audiences SAY they prefer HTML emails, A/B testing showed that their HTML emails had a 25% lower open rate.

  • Be sure to reward folks who open your emails—don’t bait and switch people with false advertising. There’s no better way to run into legal problems!

  • Send your emails on whatever days you want, at whatever times you want. Base your sends on your audience, your experience, and the expectations you’ve set for your recipients. Many experts have varying opinions, but most note that it’s important to play to your audience. Constant Contact has an interesting starting point for a number of industries here.

  • Learn from your sends. Collect data and see what works, and then build on it - but don’t beat it to death. Keep your audience on their toes and they’ll stick around for more.

For more help creating a foolproof email marketing plan, check out our 2018 Marketing Budget Guide.



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