Email Marketing Mistakes Even The Pro’s Make

Some emails work like gangbusters. Others fall flat as a pancake.

What’s the difference?

I’ve found five major mistakes people make that ruin a marketing email’s chances before you even press the send button. I’m going to share them with you, and show you how to fix them–or even avoid them altogether.

By the way, I’ve been on email for 30 years. In 1986, I got on “MCI Mail,” one of the first email services. I’ve written thousands of emails and read tens of thousand.

I’ve worked with some of the top marketing email writers on the Internet. Even these pro’s make these mistakes sometimes.

Lord knows I have and still do. At least in the first draft.

So I developed a “cheat sheet” to identify these problems. And a “Rule of Thumb” to solve each one.

Before we get into these response-killing mistakes and how to avoid them, let me share an important discovery with you. Here are the five things an email without these mistakes will do:

1. Your email will get read.

2. Your reader will be excited rather than bored (key point!).

3. Your email will capture your reader’s imagination.

4. Your email will jolt your reader out of not caring and into intense curiosity.

5. A much higher percentage of your readers will take action.

Look, as we go through these improvements, the key thing to keep in mind is:

You’ll get a far greater response rate when your email focuses on what your reader wants and doesn’t rattle on and on in an attempt to make yourself look good to the reader.

(Give people the value they want, and you’ll automatically look good—without even trying!)

OK, let’s get to it.

FIRST MAJOR EMAIL MISTAKE: Your subject line is out of synch, and it just doesn’t work.

Subject lines that work do three important things.

First, they connect seamlessly with what’s on your prospect’s mind… whether it’s what they have read that brought them to the email (like an affiliate email, or an ad), or it’s something the reader painfully obsesses over (like, “How am I going to lose five pounds without starving to death?”).

Second, subject lines that work get the prospect to open the email.

Third, great subject lines also connect with what comes next: the opening line of the email itself.

Let’s make up a product to see how it works.

How about a new health supplement?

We’ll put together red currants, white gooseberries and (blue) blueberries. It’s for USA patriots who want to toughen their immune systems. Let’s call it “Patriot Red, White, and Blue Triple Berry Immune Miracle.”

Yeah, that’s a clumsy and overlong name. Maybe “Triple Berry Immune” for short.

OK. So let’s say you have an ad that leads to an opt-in page, and once your prospect opts in to get a free special report, your system automatically sends out the email.

The ad might say:

One weird trick with three berries to superpower your immune system–patriotically!

Now, your subject line needs to connect with the ad (in your reader’s mind).

For a subject line, how about:

Red, White and Blue Berries – A Patriot’s Health Secret

Not bad for our target market, patriots who want to safeguard their susceptibility to disease, using alternative health methods, like supplements.

Now for the first line of our email. How do we keep it congruent with the ad and opt-in process that got the reader there… and the subject line?

Simple. Just repeat the elements, but in a new way.

Like this:

If you’re concerned about how effective supplements are, you’ll be shocked when you discover what fellow Patriot Roger Man discovered.

While experimenting with red currants, white gooseberries, and good old American blueberries, Roger found that the protection to his immune system far exceeded…

… and away we go.

This may seem a little contrived to you.

That’s because… it is!

But—and experienced marketers will get this right away—it won’t seem contrived at all to people in the target market.

Their internal response will be along the lines of, “Yeah, man, dang, that’s right. This is what I’ve been looking for!”

RULE OF THUMB: Take extra care to keep your subject line congruent with what comes before and after for your reader.

Now… we’ve spent a LOT of time on the subject line, and we’re going to pick up the pace from here on in. Just in case you don’t instantly know why we spent so much time on subject lines: It’s because 80% to 90% of the effectiveness of your email depends on how well your subject line works.

Moving forward…

SECOND MAJOR EMAIL MISTAKE: Aimless rambling, instead of getting to the point.

Many emails ramble on and on at the beginning, instead of starting right where your reader is interested in starting.

Examples of this mistake include:

– Apologizing for the email, and explaining–at length–why the writer wrote it and why the reader should read it.

– Hinting at what you’re going to talk about, instead of getting right to what the reader is interested in.

– Talking at length about: your day, your pet, the weather, an email you got from someone about a previous email you sent, your favorite movie or TV show, or a Big Issue like climate change, the economy, or rankings of sports teams.

In the writing biz, this is all described by the catch-phrase: “The writer spent five paragraphs clearing her throat.”

Don’t do this. It makes you look like an idiot, and it will only annoy (and often lose) your reader.

Usually, you can solve or avoid this problem by editing after you write your first draft. Get to the meat of it (even if you’re a vegetarian).

Important exception: If you’re one of the one-in-1000 people who can ramble aimlessly… fascinate your readers… and get a high click-through rate, then you can ignore this section.

I wrote this section just in case you’re one of the 999 other people…

RULE OF THUMB: Start as close as you can to what the reader is interested in, and stay with it.

Now, a quick breather.

Do you find this blog post hard to read or easy to read?

Easy, I hope.

What I am doing and how I am doing it are covered in our next section.

THIRD MAJOR EMAIL MISTAKE: Making your email hard to read.

It’s a problem: People use 10 words when one will do.

People use ten-dollar words when a “nickel” word works better.

And people write long, convoluted paragraphs. When short, punchy ones would make their emails easier to read.

The next time you feel like showing off your impressive vocabulary, remember these words of The Master:

“I use the oldest words in the English language. People think I’m an ignorant bastard who doesn’t know the ten-dollar words. I know the ten-dollar words. There are older and better words which if you arrange then in the proper combination you make it stick.”

Wisdom from Ernest Hemingway, quoted in The New Yorker, May, 1950.

The advice is 66 years old, and as true now as when The Master first gave it.

Other examples of this mistake:

– Putting more than one idea in a sentence.

– Meandering from one topic or idea to another, without a transition in-between that makes sense.

– Making the reader work too hard by using jargon and not explaining what you mean in plain and simple English.

Here’s a little “equation” that might keep you from making this mistake:

Hard to read = Hard to buy.

RULE OF THUMB: Go through your email—read it out loud, if you need to. Find everything that might be confusing to the reader, or even just slow your reader down a little bit. And, fix it.

Now, let’s talk about Big Ideas.

Everyone wants to have a Big Idea in their promotion, these days. It seems.

Instead of showing people how to get rid of plantar warts, they want to talk about how changing pH levels in the atmosphere… and its effect on drinking water… is causing a global epidemic… well, you get the gist of this, right?

And that leads us to:

MAJOR EMAIL MISTAKE #4: Expounding upon wandering generalities, instead of focusing on meaningful specifics.

This is a big one, especially for people who are passionately committed to Big Picture issues.

If you see yourself as a thought leader, just remember—that’s what TED Talks are for.

Keep the high-level philosophy out of your email.

Unless, that is, you’re raising money for a political candidate or a non-profit you believe in.

But even then:

– Personalize

– Keep it specific

– Keep it tangible

Remember the idea of “What keeps my prospect awake at night?”

Or, “What’s on my prospect’s mind, first thing in the morning?”

Realistically, most people with plantar warts do not wake up pondering the question:

“How is a change in atmospheric pH causing environmental shifts that increase the chances I will get plantar warts?”

It’s usually more like:

“I’ve got these dang plantar warts.

How do I get rid of them?”

RULE OF THUMB: Make your entire email: simple, close to the ground, and based on normal human desires and experiences. Focus on things ordinary people normally talk about.

And, finally, we get to the part of the email that makes the cash register ring.

You know—the last part.

The close.

The call to action.

The “click on this link” part.

Most marketers find this part of the email exciting.

And it is!

Especially when it works—and you get a high click-through rate.

So it’s especially important not to fall prey to…

MAJOR EMAIL MISTAKE #5: Trying to bore your prospect into buying.

Too often, marketers with an otherwise solid email will, well, “wimp out” at the very end.

Actually, the last part of your email is where you want to keep your energy high–and build the excitement of what you’re talking about, to a peak.

You don’t need to go over-the-top. But not asking for action at all, or being cutesy or embarrassed about it–hey, that just doesn’t cut it.

Just as bad: Asking for action, but making it so complicated (or hard to figure out) that your prospect has to stop and think about what to do.

The key word in the phrase “stop and think” is stop—once they stop, they may never start again.

So keep the energy high and keep the path to taking action and clean and simple as you can!

RULE OF THUMB: Try writing your close right after you write your subject line. Keep reviewing and refining it so that even the most distracted and hurried prospect would know exactly what to do–and feel excited about doing it!

OK… that wraps up the five mistakes even the pro’s make, and how never to make them yourself. Use this info to keep your emails super-charged and super-successful.

And if you’d like to apply for a critique or to sign up for my mentoring program, just click on one of the links below:

Copy Critique

Professional Copywriting Mentoring Program

By | 2017-04-13T09:13:12-04:00 September 15th, 2016|Uncategorized|2 Comments

About the Author:


  1. Jason Anderson September 16, 2016 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    What’s your take on multiple offers in one email? Specifically promotional emails, not multi-thread traditional newsletters.

    Personally, it’s never ever worked for me. It’s a less common mistake but one that I see enough to mention.

    • david2016 September 16, 2016 at 11:59 pm - Reply

      I’m glad you brought it up, Jason.

      More than one offer in an email is a huge mistake.

      I suppose there is some situation in which this could work or has worked.

      But overall, it’s a terrible idea.

      Getting someone to make the one decision to click on a link in the email is hard enough.

      Why make it harder by adding new decisions?

Leave A Comment