5 Reasons Why You Can’t Make Your Email Marketing Work (and How To Fix It)

email

Email newsletters are one of the greatest ways to monetize your social media efforts. But it’s really easy to make mistakes too.

Would you like to know how to build a great email newsletter list without making the common mistakes that can ruin your reputation and cost you money? If so, read on to learn how to avoid these 5 mistakes.

Mistake #1: Buying lists

Most email marketers who’ve been around for awhile know that buying a list is a bad idea. Still, lists are for sale, and the temptation is there. For example, here are the sponsored searches for “buy email list” on Google:

buy emails

To those of you who are new to email marketing, you have to understand that buying a list can harm your business. Here are a few things that can happen to you. You can be:

  • Blacklisted by your Internet Service Provider.
  • Fired by your email service provider.
  • Viewed as a spammer by those who you email on that list.

So what’s the best way to grow a list organically?

  • Sidebar Opt-in Box – This option is by far the most popular and most basic. It’s what I use, and it’s proven very successful to grow my email list. You can easily create one through AWeber and actually have an option where if someone is logged into Facebook, they can subscribe with one click (this converts at 51.6% better than if you didn’t use the Facebook option).
  • Hello Bar – Another way to promote your email newsletter subscription is to use the Hello Bar. Bloggers like Darren Rowse and Tim Ferriss use it on their sites to promote products, but you can just as easily use it to promote your email newsletter.
  • Free Product – One of the best ways in my experience to generate sign-ups for an email newsletter is through the promotion of a free product. It could be a white paper, ebook or an app. Just ask for an email address in exchange for the product. Make it clear that the subscriber is also getting the newsletter.
  • Lightbox – A lightbox is just a simple pop-up that lays over your website when a visitor arrives. An “x” in the top right corner makes it easy for users to close it, but it typically boosts your conversion rate.
  • End of Post Subscribe Box – Sticking a subscription box at the end of each of your posts is also an effective way to boost sub-conversions.
  • Landing Pages – Finally, I’ve seen some content marketers devote entire landing pages to their email newsletter subscription.

Mistake #2: Focusing on quantity and not quality

If you are chasing quantity over quality when it comes to your email newsletter list, then you are wasting your time.

A large list isn’t necessarily a good thing. That large list is difficult to manage and probably represents a large number of people who were only slightly interested in signing up.

One email marketer I know shaved off almost 90 percent of his list after cleaning it up…but doubled his conversions! How does a smaller list improve conversion? It’s all about engagement. It’s interesting, but when it comes to ISPs, they look at engagement when deciding whether to put your emails through. ISPs can see your metrics, so if you have a large list that’s pretty much dead, then they’ll suspect it’s a spam list.

Here’s how to keep your list active, no matter the size:

  • Run a re-engagement campaignCopyblogger is really good about this. About every two years, they will send out an email asking if you want to continue to receive their emails. This helps keep readers connected, engaged and interested.
  • Offer frequency options – If you send out emails daily or even multiple times a day like Writer’s Digest does, I’d recommend offering a sign up for a summary email at the end of the week.
  • Segment your list – If you really want to improve conversions, break your list into segments depending on demographics like age, income, jobs or gender. Creating content targeted to these groups will work wonders for your conversion.

If you still doubt that you need to segment your list, check out Mail Chimp’s segmentation numbers. They measured multiple industries and found that email marketers got nearly 15% better open and click rates when they segmented.

mail chimp segmentation

With so much information flooding people these days, quality is so much more important than quantity, so make sure you engage with quality content, offer frequency options and segment your list.

Mistake #3: Not setting expectations on content, frequency and design

One of the first emails that you should send out is a short introductory email. This email should set expectations about what kind of content you are going to send your subscribers and how often. Of course, your subscribers should know this information before they subscribe.

Here are a few guidelines when it comes to setting expectations:

  • Content – When it comes to what you put in your email newsletter, you need to outline everything that will be in there, from tips and ideas to discounts and sales.
  • Frequency – Make sure your potential subscriber knows how many email newsletters to expect from you. I’ve seen a lot of email marketers who are sporadic about how often they send out content. If too much time passes between emails, your readers may lose interest or simply forget why they signed up in the first place.
  • Design – It’s not a bad practice to give people an idea of what your email design is going to look like. Then, it’s important to maintain that design throughout the life of the email newsletter. If you do decide to change the look of the email, make sure you get the input of your readers, base your redesign on your tests and then explain to your readers what to expect and when.

Here are some scary stats that will make you pay attention to the best practices:

  • Percent of people reporting email as spam even though they know it isn’t: 21%!
  • Number of people who click on the spam button based on the “From” field: 2.43%.
  • People who report email as spam based upon subject line: 3.69%.

You’ve got to set expectations, but you also have to meet them. Make promises and don’t break them, or your subscribers will never forgive you!

Mistake #4: Only looking at open rates

A lot of content marketers pay close attention to open rates. While that’s important, it’s better to keep your eye on total clicks. Unfortunately, an open is not always registered, since some metrics are dependant upon whether the images are displayed. So, what other metrics should you measure?

  • Clicks
  • Soft Bounces
  • Hard Bounces
  • Abuse Complaints
  • Unsubscribes

Use Mail Chimps email marketing benchmarks to help you set achievable goals.

mail chimp benchmark

These days, most email accounts like Gmail have the images turned off by default. So your subscriber could open the email and click around, but the stats won’t show up in your numbers.

Furthermore, about 84% of people use the “preview pane” to view email. That’s not rendered as an open.

While it’s definitely not a bad idea to have a goal to raise your open rate from 2% to 10%, make sure you don’t neglect the click ratio. Don’t forget to test different ways to encourage people to share your content.

Mistake #5: Writing content that is boring or re-purposed

Your relationship with your reader is the most important part of your email newsletter. You need their permission to market to them, which is the first step to building a great relationship. Now you need to send them useful content that tells them you care about them.

But that’s not enough. The content has to be unique and useful. Bad email newsletter marketers will simply send rehashed blog posts, which is a bad idea. One selling point to entice subscribers to keep subscribed is to show that your email newsletter is a place where you share special reports, information and findings.

For example, here are some good ways to think of the content you provide in your email newsletters:

  • Cornerstone content – This is the content that will make up most of what you give your readers. It’s what defines you. If you’re an SEO, then you’ll write about SEO. If you’re a graphic designer, you’ll give content based on graphic design.
  • Personal content – Don’t forget to share personal stories. Most of your readers will be around to learn what you have to say about your area of expertise, but sharing personal stories will build a great relationship with them.
  • Spicy content – Finally, you should also occasionally write spicy posts. Write about a high-profile figure that you disagree with or about something controversial. These email pieces are going to be the ones that probably will get forwarded the most.

Conclusion

It’s not easy to create a great email newsletter, but with a little engagement, concentration on producing great content and constant eye upon your metrics, you can have a very profitable email newsletter in just a few short months.

What other mistakes do you see email marketers are making?

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Comments

  1. Good tips, Neil. Definitely agree with you especially on the first pointer. Especially for those who just jump into this area, buying list is definitely very tempting.

    Besides the methods that you are suggesting, running a blog contest can be an effective method too. It is even more effective when you have awesome prizes to give away.

    Like the contest the I run with in my site at the moment, besides contacting WordPress theme developers, I also sponsor iPad 2 to be given away for my readers and those who have helped to promote my site. With this kind of prizes, it will definitely boost the site’s exposure and drive people into my site.

    The other reason why I love to use this method because as for now, I’m part of RaffleCopter (http://rafflecopter.com) beta tester. It works really like charm. It definitely make it easy for me to run the contest and select the winners later on.

    You should try it ;)

  2. Great post Neil, being subscribed to your list, I feel like I get the “right amount” of emails from you.

    Do you think it’s wise to space out blog post updates & regular newsletter sendings from each other?

    That is, do you make sure that emails updating people on blog posts and the regular emails you send out are widely spaced from each other, or does that not matter as much?

    • Yes, it is wise to space them out or else you will burn out your list.

      I recommend spacing them out by at least a few days and be consist. Also make sure you offer those people unique content that isn’t just your blog posts.

  3. This is pretty on point, and an an engaged e-mail reader is extremely valuable, particularly for information or SaaS products.

    One resource which I think Neil may have mentioned in the past is a list of keywords to avoid to decrease the chances of having a mail be marked spam:
    http://www.benchmarkemail.com/blogs/detail/how-to-avoid-the-top-twenty-spam-words

  4. Web Design India :

    Hi Neil,

    I always feel that creating a valuable and quality list is not easy at all. First you’ve to provide quality only then you expect quality from your list. Always try to interact with your audience that’s certainly going to help you build an amazing email marketing list.

    • I agree, you make some good points. It is necessary to have valuable information in order to have valuable followers. As well as reaching out and staying connected. It is important to make sure you don’t loose your readers interest.

    • If you deliver quality it becomes your testimonial and people would love to follow you and buy your product. You see I find quality in your blogs and I follow.

  5. Scott Hardigree :

    Hi Neil – I agree with all points, expect #2. “Focusing on quantity and not quality”. Instead marketers should focus on quantity AND quality.

    Email marketing is largely a numbers game, mixed with a bit of lucky timing. Send more email, to more people, at the right time, and more revenue will be generated.

    Email is not a marketing channel for the timid. I typically recommend that marketers try sending more campaigns, a lot more. Perhaps the list will tolerate, or even appreciate, a considerable increase in campaign frequency. Test it internally or work with a partner, but test it and find the ROI tipping point.

    • A friend of mine says he does “Good, fast, and cheap” but he only lets his client demand two of them (good and fast, but more expensive; good and cheap, but low priority; fast and cheap, but poorer quality.)
      With finite time resources, it’s hard to focus on both high quality content in large quantities without letting other parts of your business suffer.

    • You can focus on both but it will be difficult to manage. You will have to spend even more time and it may not be worth it over all.

  6. Hi Neil,
    Great post like always, but I believe that quality is of foremost importance. If you deliver quality it becomes your testimonial and people would love to follow you and buy your product. You see I find quality in your blogs and I follow. Thats what builds quantity.
    Neil I would like to talk to you directly can you tell me whats the best time to call you?

  7. I have a list of about 750 double opt-ins. They would get any post I make on the blog. Then I changed the Aweber RSS feed settings to only send from a specific category within the blog. My ‘feedburner’ chicklet suddenly nosedived! :P

    I also use segmentation but need to be more ‘ninja’ about it. :)

    My open rate’s around 35%. It is the first time I am actually feeling good about this (I used to think that that’s a pretty low rate).

    But the open rate for a segment was nearly 60%. Segmentation works for the obvious reasons. :)

    Good post Neil. Thanks.

  8. Great points, Neil. I see a lot of small business owners come to me saying, “This guy called me out of the blue and said he’d sell me 15,000 email addresses! Sweet, huh?!”

    It’s hard to be the bearer of bad news when you lay out exactly what you outlined in this post. There are email lists and then there are email lists.

  9. Nice tips, Neil. I just started to build my list and your newsletter provides valuable information, like always. I like your style.

  10. Great points Neil!

    I just wanted to share that when you look the analytics/campaign data at I’m sure you see the same thing MORE AND MORE mobile traffic/clicks.

    I am seeing if there is NOT a mobile version of the email or landing page that abandonment is like 85%5 within under 2 seconds.

    When we put a Mobile version (with an auto detect script) open rates remain about the same – but visits increase dramatically & conversions spike as well.

  11. Love this post, Neil. One other thing I see a lot of small businesses doing with email marketing is sitting on a list.

    The owner has an opt-in form on their website but doesn’t feel ‘ready’ to send out emails or has been ‘meaning to get around to it’ and is shocked to find that people don’t remember who they are, report them as spam, or unsubscribe.

    • Yep, it is definitely important to keep connected and interact on a regular basis. If you don’t you may be forgotten about or abandoned like you mentioned happened to others.

  12. thats some great tips. something I notice with my emailing list is that the subject line MUST be attractive.

    I also notice some webmaster are not asking for a first name but rather just the email alone.

    which is wrong. You must be asking for the the name and email. I have notice that when you greet a subscriber with there names it coverts better.

  13. Another common mistake made with email marketing is not mentioning the main site or what’s going on with it. I like sending out an email once a week letting them know of posts from the week. If you only post once a week, then letting them know when you post is fine, but if you’re posting once a day or more, the summary posts can be a way to get them to come back to your site.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Definitely, you want to make sure your emails are benefiting not only the readers but your site as well. Thank you for your suggestion. It may be indeed be a good idea to summarize key topics. This way they are able to quickly see if there is something on your site they would like to read more of.

  14. Thanks Neil. Excellent advise and follow up comments.

  15. I hate dealing with newsletters, they definitely work, they are just really involved…. I smell an intern post on Craig’s List coming….

  16. Nice one Neil, I use every opt-in you mentioned in one way or another across my sites. I have just installed ‘newsletter-sign-up’ plugin (would fit nice here) on the comments bar of my blog with Aweber double opt-in so looking forward to testing this one. I don’t really use segmentation, probably because I haven’t looked into enough (mental note).

    Some great content I can relate to here Neil, I have most of this down and working for me now. Keep us the awesome posts mate.

  17. I received many newsletters for the past few months that seem very “spammy” and doesn’t look like it’s catering to it’s audience really well. Hope they actually read this post so they’d know what’s wrong and what they actually need to do.

    I think companies that have email campaigns should focus a bit more on market research, since they might want to study the actual behavior of the people subscribing to their newsletters. They should know when to enhance the quality of the content of their emails, but not too extravagant that readers will mark them as TLDR. It’s kinda like what email outreach for link building campaigns should be, but that’s another story.

    • I hope others are able to improve as well after reading this post. You bring up some good suggestions. It is important to find out what your readers want and to be able to provide them with quality content. Thank you for your added input.

  18. Great tips as always Neil. I made the mistake of buying a list once a long time ago. Thanks for the creative alternative. I’ll give them a shot.

  19. Hey! Neil. That’s really a good stuff on creating a successful email marketing campaign. One of the reasons for people going for purchasing email lists is that they do not have enough time to build good email lists. The ideas that you provided to build email lists are definitely good but they require time and effort.

  20. I was confuse about e-mail marketing software and i did some mistakes… spend lots of money on it, but now i can understand the trick from this post and i will surly start again this work. Thanks for the information… :)

  21. Please, please, please can we have links mentioned in your text to be opened in a new window. You promised! :)

  22. Hi,

    Nice info when any body wants to make money quickly by the help of these kind of services then one thing is sure he/she will make mistake and some times some little mistakes will cost lot to him/her.

    So i think these are the best ways to keep away from mistakes which all are mentioned in this blog post and i am totally agreed with point #2 mistake no question in that if you are looking your quantity then it can be effect your quality.

  23. Renting email lists isn’t a bad idea, if you’re renting from a reputable website or provider. There are tons of news websites and organizations who rent out very strong lists.

    We’ve seen a very strong ROI on acquisition using that strategy.

  24. I get so annoyed when I get random emails from local businesses both because they are hurting their image and wasting their money buying untargeted lists. Sometimes I guess you’ve gotta learn the hard way…

  25. I keep learning something everyday form you Neil.

  26. Is is true that people avoid visiting bolgs that have Google ads scattered all over?

  27. Can you share your personal details of newsletters, how often u send and all?

  28. I have another tips for everyone looking to improve their email marketing. Simply: Pay attention to people who know

    By that I mean, signup for newsletters of people that you know do a great job with it. Neil, Shoemoney, John Chow, etc

    These guys have been doing it a while, an they know what they are doing. I bet I’m signed up to at least 20 people’s newsletters. For me, this has taught me a lot. Especially if the newsletter has me ready to take some type of action, I look really hard at the details and figure out how/why they got me ready to take action.

  29. Houses for Sale in Chula Vista :

    I enjoyed reading this as right now I am really trying to get a list built and was seriously contemplating buying a list but now no way! Thanks

  30. Like always, your post is extremely well written and informative. I am striving hard to build a list and I prefer putting a Lightbox on my site. Is there an easy way to put a Lightbox on my site?
    Please help.

  31. Thanks Neil.

    I think it takes a great care to build a great newsletter.

  32. Another mistake is not paying attention to the subject of the emails and using it to “sell” the content, to attract attention and make the reader open your emails.

  33. Timing tips. I was assigned on email marketing and definitely this could help me. I remember I did an email blast before. My former boss asked me to harvest as many emails as I can. But it did not work.

    The company of a cousin 0f mine buys email addresses from a site.. just like what you mentioned above.. and if it gives them thousands of email.. hundreds of them does not work anymore..

  34. Your articles are excellent. I have a question for you neil. Where you pick these topics?

  35. Delias Coupons :

    Luckily, I have a pretty good CTR when it comes to my personal E-mail list.

    But I really need to work on segmenting, I guess that will increase my conversion rate.

    Thanks for the tips Neil.

  36. But now it is very hard to get target people trust most of the time right emails treat as junk or spam one..

  37. thanks for sharing, great notes. I used to do marketing once, but as you mentioned, i got listed as spam and got kicked from the marketing company.

  38. I don’t entirely agree with your mistake #1 “buying lists”. It’s difficult to find a good list. However, if there are good/clean/targeted list out there that could be a nice complements to in-house lists. In most cases the list owner will deliver the email campaigns. The key for the list renter is to work out some kind of Pay for Performance deal with the list owner/broker. This could be a nice new customer acquisition tool for the list renters.

    However, once a new customer is acquired, it’s up to the list renter to retain the customers, and keep an ongoing conversaion.

  39. Nice Post! I am thinking about creating a newsletter for my business. Really good tips!! Thank you!

  40. Hi Neil,
    E-mail marketing really can work if you test out different things. One of the things I have noticed are the timing trends of sending out an e-mail marketing sale or lead generation message. Watching the trends of subscribers or buyers from e-mail sales messages has really made me pay more attention to the timing and dates of emails sent out. Gotta love Awebar for their awesome statistics.
    Another thing to catch and increase subscribers is having a greet box right on top of the post. I like to call it the “friendly swarm” of information to get the reader to subscribe – from WordPress Greet Box.
    Until next time, adieu!

  41. Thanks for the article. I am currently trying to switch emailer programs, do you know a way to transfer my list without having users opt in again?

  42. Hi Neil,

    I have started an email marketing for my business but still finding an good source for saving the list can u give me an good source of software

  43. It is defiantly interesting idea to consider. I could certainly see how offering an incentive may help. Thanks for sharing this method.

  44. Totally agreed. Many marketers focus on great newsletter content but often forget about the subject which is the main point of attraction on initial contact.

  45. Thanks for this summary of popular mistakes.
    I once faced bad (to not say minimal) results from my email campaigns and was looking for ways to improve them.
    First I segmented the mailing list by year of sign-up (my list dates back to 2003). Then I imported it in a new mailing software (I don’t use 3rd parties like aweber) so I could monitor all bounce codes (mailbox full, user unknown etc) for later cleanup.
    A reactivation mail taylored to the individual segment was sent out and besides the expected dead email adresses I also got a lot of positve responses (clicktroughs to landing page and converting into leads). These positives I assigned to a new segment as active listmembers. For the rest I either purged them from the list or sent a second reactivaton mail (when bounce code was ‘mailbox full).

    Conclusion: don’t assume that email marketing is easy just because service providers tell you so. You still have to use your brain a lot to get the most out of it.

    • I have do quite a few trials and error myself. You really have to try many options until you can get a good solid list. I appreciate you sharing with everyone what you personally did to improve your list. It definitely isn’t easy and takes time and experience to get it right.

  46. No surprises why my email accounts are constantly bombarded with spam and nonsense. Mistakes number one and two are clearly hit and miss propositions while the ‘canned’ email content is the one that probably irks people the most. Great points from this one.

  47. Really nice recommendations and ideas! I have recently installed a newsletter sign-up on my website. I had no more ideas on how to get sign-ups. Thanks for your tips!

  48. I’ve always felt e-mail marketing was a waste of time…until i tried it and it actually worked for me!

  49. The biggest problem is that everyone thinks e-mail marketing is same as spam, so it’s hard to make such marketing profitable.

  50. Mail list is definitely one of the best ways to increase your revenue…!

  51. hey neil,
    totally agree upon mistake#2,which most of the people use to do. thanks for giving such insights. it was good to read.

    Thanks.

    Matt

  52. All the points listed on this article are great. Therefore, I periodically clean up my email lists, which is a long and tedious process. However, a few months ago I found a real FREE open source which helps me tremendously on this process: it’s a multilingual sponsored tool and its website URL is http://www.freeemailverifier.com It works as a breeze to me as I save valuable time (and money as they don’t charge me anything). Love it!

  53. Thanks for resolving conflict on email marketing method.

  54. Hello Neil,
    It really helps me on my marketing methods more powerful.
    Thanks for sharing these.

  55. It certainly helps a lot when you make your email lists. It is always better to use words different than the rest of the community if you want people to pay attention at what you say.

  56. Thanks For Neil .. You are awesum as always :) I usually dont mind if spammers are just a few.. In your case, maybe, I’d think about adding captcha to the form!

  57. I just found this great post on google while searching for email marketing tips and what a writer you are Neil, once someone start reading your post they cant stop unless they read the whole post about anything whether that is email marketing or SEO, Keep it up Neil.

  58. Neil,

    I like the font size you chose for the content. It just clicked for me that besides the interesting material, great writing, and need (for work), it is very easy to spend time on your pages because of the ease of reading.

    Thank you!

    -Kaitlyn

  59. Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?
    I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and
    would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers
    would appreciate your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me
    an e-mail.

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