A list of mistakes that businesses commonly make when creating and executing email marketing campaigns.
1. Unsolicited messages (but you don't believe they are)
Are you absolutely sure that you have your customers' consent to send them a specific message? If you send a commercial message to customers (or prospects) who did not subscribe to receive such messages from you in a way is direct and verifiable way (i.e. they received a subscription confirmation request and confirmed the subscription), you are sending SPAM. It doesn't matter if you believe it isn't, or if you think that the recipients will definitely be interested in what you are about to tell them. Don't do it. It will negatively impact your reputation, the perception and respectability of your brand, the deliverability of future messages (as users will complain), and - of course - the effectiveness of the message itself.
Some businesses send spam because they believe it has a positive return on the investment. Apart from being illegal, unsolicited messages typically have a miniscule return on the investment. Responsible and well-managed marketing campaigns - even on small numbers - will deliver a much higher return.
2. Sending without testing
It's a jungle of desktop- and Web-based email software out there! That said, many businesses can spot and resolve problems in just a few minutes by testing a message on the most popular email clients (e.g. Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook,...). Make sure links work, images are loaded correctly (once permission has been granted), and that there are no grammar and spelling mistake. Then, focus on how the message is displayed across the different email programs.
For a more in-depth review of the message, you can use a service like Email Analysis.
In terms of testing the results of a campaign - if you are becoming a pro - you can use A/B testing to test variations of the same message on a small portion of the list, and then send the best performing one.
3. Underestimating subject and sender
The key to the success of an email campaign resides with two often overlooked elements: subject and sender. They are absolutely critical in the recipient's decision to open or not open a message. First, they need to recognize you (don't change the sender!). Secondly, you need to convey that the message is an interesting one.
A subject that says "September Newsletter" is likely going to attract a lot less attention than "[News] The 7 ways to send effective emails". That said: no tricks: never create a subject that is not consistent with the body of the message.
4. Mishandling unsubscribes
Your customers need to be able to unsubscribe with a maximum of 2 clicks, without having to receive a confirmation message, and without having to enter the email address that they are unsubscribing or a password to log into an account. Making it difficult for recipients to unsubscribe can only have one effect: they will complain by flagging your message as spam, or blocking you as a sender.
As multiple recipients take these actions, your sender reputation will begin to deteriorate, and your deliverability will suffer. Your messages will start getting delivered directly to the spam folder, or not delivered at all.
5. I'm a graphic artist!
Creating a well formatted email message is not like writing a Word document, and not even like creating a Web page. The fact that different email clients can render the same message very differently - if certain best practices are not followed - creates complexities that can heavily affect the success of a campaign. A list of do's and dont's is available in the article "How to create a good HTML message".
A message quickly thrown together will immediately be recognized as such by many of your recipients. The risk is that the message may not even be legible on some email clients (e.g. because of the way backgrounds are handled). The structure of the message is also very important: don't take for granted that the message will be read in its entirety (it often is not), that recipients will fully understand it, and that they will know what you are expecting them to do. Be as concise and clear as possible, and then link to more information.
If the message contains a request for action, make sure that it is prominently displayed and explained, and not just contained in an image (which might not be shown). Letting graphics do the talk is not a good idea because in many cases those graphics will not be displayed (e.g. blocked by default, not downloaded by the user who might be in a hurry, or not shown due to the message being accessed on a mobile device).
6. Ignoring message statistics
Message statistics are nice, but few actually take the time to really review them, learn from them, and act accordingly. Each piece of information carries an important message. The Open Rate is typically affected by the mailing frequency, by the sender/subject combination, and by the trust-based relationship that you have established with the customer over time. The Click Rate (within opened messages) is a great indicator of the quality of the content, the effectiveness of the "call to action", and the relevance of the message to those particular recipients.
Other statistics such as the Delivery Rate (how many emails get there?) and Unsubscribe Rate will help you understand the quality of the list and of the overall communication strategy. Monitoring statistics over time will help you anticipate potential issues, profile recipients, discover the best time and frequency for your mailings, and track the percentage of active vs. inactive customers.
7. I don't need an email marketing system
Without a professional email marketing system, the likelihood to see poor campaign results grows exponentially. Over 50% of recipients will likely never receive the message, for a number of reasons. An analysis of message statistics and bounces, together with some tests on the most popular email clients, will provide evidence of this.
Sending a message in BCC to a large number of recipients is a particularly bad idea. Apart from the fact that this technique leads to mistakes, is slow, does not allow for any personalization, and is blocked by many providers, many recipients will recognize that the message is part of a poorly executed mass mailing. This was the technique used by the first spammers.
The main reason to move to an ESP (an Email Service Provider) is - in one word - "infrastructure". We do this for a living, and we worry every day about things like (sorry for the technical jargon) IP reputation, well formatted headers, throttling, feedback loops, bounce management, SPF, DKIM, etc. etc. We do it, so you don't have to. And as antispam filters become stricter and stricter (rightfully so!), you need to know that all the precautions are in place so that your messages are not mistakenly flagged as spam.