Thanks to modern email service providers like MailChimp, it’s easier than ever to send out polished marketing emails to thousands of recipients.
But just because you can set up an email campaign doesn’t mean you won’t make a mistake. There are a number of common pitfalls that every email marketer is bound to fall into at one point or another.
Here are the top 7 mistakes people make when sending mass emails — and how you can avoid them.
1.Forgetting to BCC recipients
Putting your email recipients’ addresses in the ‘To’ field instead of blind copying them is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when sending a mass email. Why? Because you’ve just revealed hundreds or thousands of people’s email addresses — potentially exposing them to all kinds of follow-up spam.
Other marketers may add them to their own email lists without permission, and if one recipient accidentally hits ‘reply all,’ everyone on the thread will be bombarded with unwanted correspondence.
Aimee Millwood, Blog Manager at Yotpo.com describes the moment she realized that she’d made this exact mistake.
Writing on Inbound.org, she recalls how she sent a survey to her company’s most loyal blog readers asking for suggestions about the content they wanted to read.
“Unfortunately, I made a critical mistake: I forgot to BCC. Seconds after sending, I realized the enormity of the mistake I’d made. Soon, the emails started. To make it way, way worse, someone accidentally hit ‘reply all’ to the email thread and immediately everyone was dragged into a 500-person email thread filled with shameless plugging, angry responses, and quite a few inappropriate comments.”
Luckily, Aimee’s CEO was understanding and she kept her job, but respect for data protection laws makes this mistake especially sensitive. Get it wrong, and your customers (and boss) could lose trust in you.
How to avoid it: Aimee made this mistake because she wasn’t using an email service provider (ESP) to send her email. She had initiated the campaign from a normal email program (i.e. Outlook or Gmail), where it’s very easy to accidentally select the ‘To’ or ‘CC’ field, rather than ‘BCC’. A professional ESP will prevent anyone on the list from seeing the names and addresses.
2. Messing up the merge fields
Receiving a marketing email personalized with our names helps to make us feel like valued customers. But when personalization goes wrong, the impression we’re left with can be worse than if the email simply had a generic greeting like, “Hi there.”
The Labour Party in the UK found this out the hard way in the run-up to the EU Referendum. The political party sent out an email to its supporters seeking donations which addressed them “Dear Firstname.”
Although it doesn’t seem like a major disaster, disgruntled Labour members flooded Twitter and Facebook with complaints — some even threatened to quit the party because of it.
How to avoid it: The smallest typo or case sensitivity issue is all it takes to mess up substitution tags (AKA merge tags). To avoid this mishap, send a live test to a real list (like a handful of colleagues on your team) to make sure the tags are populating correctly. Check out MailChimp’s Merge Tag Cheat Sheet for copy and paste solutions for personalizing emails.
3. Failing to proofread
Small spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are incredibly common in marketing emails. And while the odd typo is forgivable (we’re only human, after all), they can create an unprofessional image for your company.
For example, as is highlighted by the Media Culpa blog, one conference said that digital marketers and tech startups “joint” their summit instead of “joined.” Whoops!
How to avoid it: Failing to properly proofread is a real risk when the email author is also the editor. When we’ve written something, we’ll often read what we expect to be there rather what is actually there. Our eyes trick us and we don’t see mistakes. Because of that, always have at least one other person look over your email before you send it and use a free online grammar checker like this tool on Grammarly’s website.
4. Failing to check the subject line
Subject lines often get overlooked in proofreading — but they never get overlooked by your customers.
Cara Olson, writing for Marketingland.com, recalls an email she received from women’s retailer Blue Fly with the subject line, “See it. Love it. Not get it.”
She says: “I’m pretty sure this subject line was supposed to read, “See it. Love it. Now get it. That being said, I did open it, because I wanted to know, ‘Why do they want me to not get it?’”
In this example, the company was lucky the mistake created some reverse psychology that worked in its favor, but more often than not, a typo in the subject line just seems sloppy.
How to avoid it: Sending a test email, even just to yourself, is an easy way to spot this one. The gaff might go unnoticed when working in your ESP’s campaign builder, but the subject line is much easier to proofread once in your inbox.
5. Sending to an incorrect segment
Segmenting your audience (for example by demographic trait) is a great way to personalize your campaigns and improve your response rate. But it does mean you need to be extra careful when selecting the right list to send to!
After all, you wouldn’t want to send an email to childless singles congratulating them on the birth of their new baby. There were red faces all around when photo-printing site Shutterfly did just that.
The company had intended to send the email to customers who had recently purchased birth announcements, but it was sent to a larger distribution list in error.
While many of the recipients saw the funny side of the mistake and posted their bemusement on Twitter, The Huffington Post labeled the incident, “Shutterfly’s Mass Email Goes Terribly, Terribly Wrong.” Ouch.
How to avoid it: When you create segments in your ESP, be sure to clearly label them so there can be no ambiguity. For example, for subscribers to your event mailing list you could have segments such as ‘Loyal Customers’, ‘One Time Attendees’, ‘Yet to Attend’, or ‘Students’ so that you can tailor your message to suit each group. You can choose the recipient segment when you set up a new email campaign, but double check it in your ESP’s dashboard before you hit ‘Send.’
6. Accidentally sending the test email
Creating a test email to double check your template is a good idea, but sending it out to your entire subscriber base is not such good practice.
The online retailer Fab confused its customers when it randomly sent them an email containing nothing but a picture of a cat with their usual header and footer.
The email was titled, “[TEST] PM Tracking Test” and appeared to be a mistake — although Fab did succeed in turning it into marketing gold with its humorous cat-filled apology email (see below).
Writing for Marketingland.com, Chad White says: “While they used humor in explaining the mistake and saying they were sorry, they also gave subscribers a reason to forgive them in the form of a 10-percent-off offer. They concluded the email on a more serious note to reassure subscribers that they were indeed taking the mistake seriously.”
How to avoid it: Fab’s mishap is a great example of what to do if you do make the mistake of sending your draft email. But in order to avoid this mistake in the first place, take extra care to select your ESP’s ‘Send test email’ facility. This will give you the option to either enter email addresses, or select other users on the account to receive the test.
7. Failing to check links or promo codes
When you send out a mass email, you’re probably not just writing to say “hello.” You’re likely hoping to trigger a response, such as buying tickets to your event.
Consequently, you will have spent ages honing the copy and getting the call to action just right. So just imagine that after all of that work, you discover that you’ve sent the email out with the wrong link. Now not only have you potentially lost sales, you may have frustrated your audience, too.
Similarly, a promo code that doesn’t work is also likely to lead to disappointed customers. When it does happen, you need to act quickly; Reebok responded with a 30%-off apology when it sent out the wrong promo code.
How to avoid it: This error is easily avoided by sending out a test email and thoroughly checking links and buttons. Click on every link to ensure it goes where you want it to, and if you are sending out a promo code, try a test purchase to be sure it works.
Mistakes happen. Thankfully, many ESPs now have recall functions that can prevent delivery, as well as options to remotely change images or correct broken links.
But if you practice the tips in this article, you should be able to avoid most common email marketing mistakes.
Ready to go deeper into event email marketing? Check out this on-demand webinar with the email automation experts at Emma.