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7 emails you should never send


The email industry has been around for more than a decade. In that time, industry leaders have done a great job of creating best practices for marketers to follow to ensure the success of their email marketing campaigns. It's amazing to me, then, that so many bad emails continue to be sent.

In my inbox today, I've received three emails from one marketer, two emails that showed nothing but an ad above the fold, and a daily email that I really only want to receive once a week.

I know that we can do better than this. As a first step to getting us on track, I have created a list of offensive emails. Do you see your emails on this list?

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One-size-fits-all email newsletters
Most of us wouldn't be caught dead in one-size-fits-all clothing, so why do marketers think it's acceptable to send one email designed to fit the needs of all their audiences? These emails arrive in inboxes without customization and include massive amounts of information that cause recipients to keep scrolling and scrolling, despite being disengaged from the content.

A better practice is to ask subscribers for their email preferences during the opt-in process and create an email schedule that honors those preferences. For example, when subscribers opt in for a newsletter, ask what kinds of topics they want to get information about and how often they want to hear from you. Tailor your communications to subscribers' wants and abide by their preferences so they look forward to hearing from you. Your audiences might look smaller, but they will be more engaged.

Daily, weekly, or monthly content, without setting expectations
Many marketers believe that when it comes to communicating with their email subscribers, more is better. However, a customer I work with was surprised to learn that when the company increased its frequency to daily emails, its number of unsubscribes spiked. The company found that while it might want to be in touch with its subscribers frequently, many of its subscribers didn't feel the same way. Since the company didn't give subscribers a choice, many made the choice themselves by saying "adios."

A better practice is to give subscribers a choice regarding how often they want to be emailed and regarding what topics. If possible, allow subscribers to see a sample PDF email so they know exactly what to expect. Once the expectation is set, abide by subscribers' wishes.

Image-only emails
About half of all corporate email administrators turn images off to save on server space and reduce the number of spam emails. Marketers that send emails with images only will be missing a large audience because the email recipient cannot see the image content. The image is replaced by the dreaded "red X." All those red Xs looks a lot like spam, so the chances are pretty good that the email will get deleted right away, or recipients will find it's too much trouble to deal with it.

We had one client who had a designer focused completely on form and not at all on function. While his emails were beautiful, they were not at all practical. The marketer ran into problems when it learned its highly designed image-only email with a black background didn't render at all for most subscribers who had set their email program to turned-off images.

To avoid this fate, create emails that are easily read by both image- and text-based email programs. Put text behind all images so the email can be viewed whether images are turned off or on. Any email service provider will enable you to easily do this.

Emails that are longer than one screen
Email is popular because it fills the need for quick communication. Subscribers' attention spans are short, and their inboxes are full. An email needs to grab them immediately. So why then do marketers insist on sending emails that ask subscribers to scroll and scroll and scroll? Marketers make the mistake of trying to convert a four-page paper newsletter into an email format, without learning what makes email unique: the ability to make subscribers act.

To make your email stand out, design it so the copy is on a single screen above the fold. Have a strong call to action in the email subject line that also is included in the content. Use hyperlinks to continue stories, link to information, direct people to surveys, show videos, etc. Including three to five hyperlinks within the body of each email keeps the message concise and provides multiple tracking mechanisms to determine how engaged the audience really is.

Emails that have not been tested
You don't leave the house in the morning without first checking the mirror to make sure your hair is brushed and your clothes are on straight. So why would you send out an email without first checking to make sure the message looks right?

Make sure you test each email to see how it will render on various email clients and on mobile devices. Read the email to catch typos and broken links. Most email service providers have handy rendering tools, or you can create your own test list by signing up for email accounts on major email services and sending a test email to this list.

Emails that recipients don't opt in to receive
When customers buy your product, does that mean they've opted in to receive your emails? What if people enter your contest -- is it OK to put them on your email list? Because CAN-SPAM isn't an ominous law, some marketers interpret it to fit their needs. That might mean buying lists, assigning email addresses to a list when the person involved hasn't really signed up, and other techniques to build lists as large as possible. The idea is that the larger a list is, the better. But this is a bad practice that eventually can ruin your brand.

Ask yourself: Why would you want to communicate to an audience who doesn't want to hear from you? Wouldn't it be better to talk to fewer people who really want to hear from you? An engaged list will have higher response rates and much lower unsubscribe rates. The best practice is to create opt-in lists organically by including sign-up forms on your website and Facebook page, links on Twitter, a sign-up mechanism at trade shows, etc. Make sure those who are opting in understand what kind of mailing they will receive from you.

Emails without social media links
Social networks are excellent paths for continuing a dialogue with your most engaged audience. Email is a logical starting point for that conversation. Social links turn emails into viral machines. Emails without links to Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks are missing out on a powerful opportunity to extend their reach exponentially and be more effective.

Some email service providers have robust tracking capabilities for email marketing content shared via social media so marketers can measure the viral appeal of their email. Marketers can track exactly which recipients are sharing which emails, from which email campaigns, to which social networks, and how many people on each network viewed the content, beyond the original recipient. This allows marketers to identify the most valuable list members.

If you can identify with any of the aforementioned emails, it's time to change your approach to email marketing. The extra little effort it takes to create a good email is worth every test, link, and strategy revamp that it takes. You will find your recipient list more engaged, your emails more relevant, and your results more successful.

Carissa Newton is director of marketing for Delivra.

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Carissa Newton is Delivra’s Director of Marketing. She is responsible for developing and managing all marketing and communications efforts for Delivra’s email marketing solutions and services. Additionally, Newton manages the...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: chris bayes

2010, December 30

Carissa, you are on the money. So many marketers think the game is numbers only when the reality is laser targeted focus on prospects that you have identified through research to be your market. Wasting time sending out endless emails without quality content and to those that don't want to hear what you have to say diminishes your name or brand.

Commenter: Ian Orekondy

2010, December 22

The issue of image-based emails is challenging. While we know that often images are turned off, we also know that people often click the button that says "display images below". Comparing actual CTR results of text vs image-based emails, we often see higher overall engagement with the image emails, likely because that content is so much more attractive. So, I think the decision should be based on what will best convey the message.

Commenter: Ian Orekondy

2010, December 22

The issue of image-based emails is challenging. While we know that often images are turned off, we also know that people often click the button that says "display images below". Comparing actual CTR results of text vs image-based emails, we often see higher overall engagement with the image emails, likely because that content is so much more attractive. So, I think the decision should be based on what will best convey the message.

Commenter: Matt Seward

2010, December 22

This article is well done and the seemingly obvious pitfalls of e-mail marketing are often forgotten. It was good to see this refresher. For a cool blog post that features some obvious, but often forgotten, tips for effective holiday sales promos via e-mail, check out my post at http://tinyurl.com/33e7gbh.

Commenter: Carissa Newton

2010, July 26

Great comments all! In a few posts, there were specific questions that I wanted to address.

Alexander S: Many administrators feel that HTML bloats email and can present a security risk. The email experience council and Delivra's own experience shows that half of all recipients block images. This includes B2B.

Anna P: I agree with the point you make and provided that you can obtain this data elsewhere, I would say definitely do that. However, many marketers struggle with obtaining this type of recipient data and a preference center can be a great way to overcome this deficiency. Although they don't have to be implemented at the beginning of the conversation. You are right, requiring too much information at the beginning can turn recipients away. Another method would be to establish a preference center that can be accessed at a later time and then provide reminders to visit to customize.

Commenter: Anna Penrose

2010, July 21

In relation to your one size fits all point - I work a lot with small businessess with tiny mailing lists. Keeping in touch with their customers is important to them, and I always advise relevant, engaging content. All your post is ace, however, the only one I'd question is the use of preference centres and customisation at sign up. I know the benefits of doing this however not only can this put people off subscribing, but sometimes, with such a small list, it would be hard to warrent the time, effort and investment in setting up not only preference centres but also tailor made communications. A better way, for some, maybe, is to internally segement the newsletter - have a variety of content within that can be monitored to see which aspects of the newsletter are the most popular and relevant. Internal segmentation allows for targeting down the line based on behaviour and is less complicated than some custom settings at sign up. Fair comment?

Commenter: Sridutt YS

2010, July 20

Let me also add to that list - conference/webinar emailers that don't carry time conversion links and reminders on Outlook. You can't really expect anyone to make the effort to attend (Most webinars, being hosted in US time, are at late night in India) unless you take the effort to make their lives simpler. It's plain manners.

Commenter: Alexander S

2010, July 19

"About half of all corporate email administrators turn images off to save on server space and reduce the number of spam emails. "

Do you have proof of this? Server space these days is cheap - I don't think administrators are concerned about this anymore.

Commenter: Pamela Ortega

2010, July 19

Great article. It sums up everything a marketer should know. I feel that many marketers in the industry still only thinking print and logo design, and when they are put to the task of email marketing they are lost and that's why there is so many bad emails pieces out there. I give you an example: I signed up to receive email promotions for about 50 hotels (excluding the large chains) and I can see that the hotel industry is very lost when it comes to email marketing; emails are sent inconsistently, 35% of emails are image only and the creative doesn't even look good, the message is irrelevant, and last very poorly maintained social media efforts.