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10 things to avoid in email newsletters

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We've been at this email thing for a while now, and we've seen a lot of mailings over the years. So we've put together a list of 10 things to avoid the next time you create a mailing.

Remember, these things to avoid don't qualify as hard-and-fast rules. Rules are things like waiting 30 minutes after lunch to swim or not going outside with wet hair. You know, important stuff. We're just offering a few suggestions to help you on your way to email marketing greatness. After all, we think the best idea is the one that suits you and your audience, so if you've found something that's working for you, don't hesitate to speak up and share your mailing results with us.

  1. Using a generic subject line:You know that your latest email mailing is the November Newsletter. And you know that it's great. But it's up to you to tell your contacts just why November is so darn special. Consider using your subject line to tease your favorite article, a special, email-only offer or whatever *you* decide is the most enticing part of your newsletter.
    Also, try including your brand in the subject line. It'll let people instantly recognize *your* email at a glance and can help with inbox sorting down the road. Here are a few examples to get you started:
    November Newsletter
    Much better:
    Main Street Gardens November News: Fall mums are here, plus take 20% off all tools & equipment!
    Upcoming events this month
    Much better:
    Can't-miss events at James River Arena: City-wide soccer playoffs, a VIP-only concert, and much more...
  2. Getting freaky with Comic Sans: Fonts and colors and formatting, oh my. Keep your mailings easy on the eyes with simple, intentional style choices. Avoid switching fonts every few lines, and choose your colors with an eye for readability. After all, a well formatted mailing will catch your readers' attention and make it easy to keep reading. And isn't that the whole idea?
  3. Sending email to people who didn't ask for it: While it's important to make sure your email looks great, a successful mailing really starts with a solid, permission-based list. Stay in line with our permission policy, and only email people who have asked to receive your updates, bought something from you in the last 18 months or are directly affiliated with your organization. If it's a rented list, a purchased list or a list of people who've never heard of you, avoid it. Like the plague. Or like that dude at the Halloween party who came dressed as SpongeBob. Or like any Van Damme movie that came out after, say, 1999. (That way you can still catch Universal Soldier: The Return.)
  4. Using an invalid reply-to address: Since permission-based email marketing is all about staying in touch with your members and customers, giving your recipients a way to continue the conversation is a must. Otherwise, you'll miss the follow-up questions from your customers, not to mention those rare (but important!) unsubscribe requests from people who choose to reply to you instead of using the built-in opt-out link.
    If the from address you're currently using doesn't exist, consider asking your email administrator to create it, or change it to an address that does exist and is monitored by someone who can manage the replies.
  5. Ignoring those results: After all the work of the big send-off, don't forget the fun of watching the results roll in. They'll tell you a lot about what your audience is interested in. Have an overwhelming click-through response last month when you linked to your blog? Consider adding more links like that in this issue. Did 62 people click to learn more about your latest product? Sounds like follow-up phone calls might be in order. Make sure you learn from the way people respond, and apply those lessons toward even greater success next time.
  6. Sending one big image: We know it's tempting to take that gorgeous flyer your designer created for print, save it as a jpg and plug it into your email mailing. But sending one big image is risky. Servers are more likely to filter emails with large images, and recipients may move on to other things before your image fully loads. And some email programs, like Gmail and Outlook, block images by default, meaning that a percentage of your recipients might see the original email you designed as a big, broken image. Yikes.
    So, what is the best way to repurpose a print piece in email? Consider asking an HTML designer to take the single large image and recode it into smaller, sliced images. Our design team has been doing just that during the holidays, handcrafting custom seasonal mailings that promote events or offer special discounts. To request your own, just visit our online design form.
  7. Forgetting to test: Here's a tip: Any mailing you send to your test group won't count toward your monthly email total. That's our way of saying "test, test, test!" and sometimes we clap while we say it, sort of like cheering you on to testing greatness but maybe without the pom-poms? Anyway, by taking a few minutes to send a test to yourself and a few colleagues, you can have peace of mind that your links work, your copy is typo-free and everything looks just the way you thought it would -- all before you hit send to the big list.
  8. Writing -- and sending -- a novel: By novel, of course, we mean a really friggin' long email. When you send a mailing that goes on and on (and on), a typical subscriber -- with a typically short attention span -- probably won't sift through lots of text to find the content that interests them. Instead, your recipients may delete your email at a glance or even file your email in the dreaded "to read later" folder.
    Consider teasing your news articles with a quick text blurb in your email newsletter, then use landing pages to link your subscribers to additional content hosted on your website. In addition to shortening the length of your mailing, you also get the benefit of seeing which articles people click through to read -- and you'll end up learning more about what your readers are interested in.
  9. Sending too often (or not enough): Finding your ideal frequency depends on a few factors, like what your organization does and who you send to. Just keep in mind that sending too frequently may annoy your readers and increase your opt-out rate, but long lapses of silence may cause some readers to just plain forget about you. Aim for regular contact that keeps your brand and product in front of your readers, and make sure each send-off has a purpose. And in general, we recommend staying in front of your audience at least once a month but not more than a couple times a week.
  10. Neglecting to personalize: Sometimes being one in a million isn't such a good thing, and you certainly don't want your readers to feel like they're just one email address in a one giant list. Use your email mailing to connect personally with your readers, but don't just stop with a personal first name greeting (although that's a great place to start). Look for other ways to extend a personal touch, whether it's through sending targeted messages based on your readers' ZIP codes or interests or keeping a friendly, personal tone as you write your content.
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