Scary Mother with blue rinseHave you ever made a cringe-worthy mistake, only for you to share it thousands of email marketing contacts?  I mean it is easy done.  Right?  The only thing, is since I made my first whopper I have become paranoid about the whole email marketing thing.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still the most effective form of digital marketing.  I know it attracts larger ROI than social media; I know the statistics.  But it is scary, and takes some courage each time to press send.  At least I won’t make that horrifying mistake again.

And I thought I had done everything right!

Josh. two desks down, chuckled at some of the content.  I passed the first test.  I passed the Alex test, as he only pointed out one mistake in my content (a minor miracle).  The directors had OK’d it to go.  The images were ready, all links were working.  A couple of swift edits and off it went – content I was proud of.  That day I was the J R R Tolkein of email marketing.  Of course, that was before I found out that the personalisation had gone horrifically wrong.  The email began with a mocking: Dear Adam.

Apparently thousands of people received this email, and only about three of them were called Adam.

Of course by the time we realised the mistake, it was far too late.  The replies were already coming in, thick and fast.  “Who is Adam?” – “Was this meant for me?” – “Very professional” – and (my favourite) “I think you ought to let the tea-boy have his old job back”.  All in all, a pretty memorable waste of decent content.  Plus-side: I learned something important.  Negative-side: I have only just heard the end of it.

Not Mad – Just Disappointed

When a mistake like this happens you are definitely taken back to your childhood.  You know you have done wrong – there is no escaping it.  It’s the same stomach plunge you experienced when you broke a window playing cricket as a kid.  Or, when you traipsed mud in over Mum’s freshly shampooed carpet.  We all have our own colourful examples, depending on what you got up to as a child.  But the end result was still the same:  you were angry and disappointed with yourself by the time your mother had finished with you.

Very naughty and very sorry.

I did realise, however, that I couldn’t be the only one who did something like this.  Of course, I don’t mean to say that everyone emails my name out to people, but I am sure many people have sent out an email only to find some embarrassing mistake later on.  I would love to read some of those stories if you dare put them in the comments afterwards.

So how can we avoid making mistakes like this in future?  Here are five glaring errors to look out for and fix before you click that send button.

The Email Identity Crisis

There are more ways to get personalisation wrong than accidentally sending out the wrong name.  That is actually surprisingly easy to avoid – despite the aforementioned story.  However, what your customer could read is something along the lines of: Dear %First Name%%.

It certainly is an unusual name.

Often this isn’t picked up by users of email marketing software, because the only time the email has been read it was a preview.  Personally I don’t use the preview function on mailingmanager for precisely this reason.  Create yourself a “test” contact list within your Email Marketing Software, and send your previews as live sends to various email addresses – and to your colleagues.  Immediately this mistake will be picked up and takes seconds to rectify.

That Torturous Broken Link

The paranoia surrounding this issue is immense.  Imagine crafting a customer-slaying email, with red hot copy, perfect images, and an irresistible product.  All your customer has to do is click on the sky blue link – just to find that it is broken.  Imagine the disappointment of the customer, and imagine how professional that doesn’t look to someone who has spent time reading and interacting with your email.

Just thinking about it is enough to break you into a cold sweat.

It is important for you to be able to track the links, and this can’t be done if your link is broken.  Of course, email marketing works better if it has a destination to direct traffic to, otherwise you have simply sent a very informative leaflet.  You have no way now to track how well your product has been received, and therefore no idea whether or not your campaign is working.

This horror could have been avoided though.  By sending to your test list, and trying every link within the email address, any problems would have been found.  That broken link would be repaired, and everyone who wants your innovative and desirable product can get there with relative ease.

The Horror of the Single Giant Image

Kapeesh Marketing points out that “85% of email clients block images by default, and upward of 60% of users choose to have them disabled”.  For Kapeesh, this was number one in their 10 of the Scariest Email Marketing Mistakes.   Bearing in mind that Kapeesh’s article is three years old now, the statistics may have changed.  But Outlook based clients often do ask you to download the images first.

If your entire email is one image, then you have almost literally sent nothing out to potentially 85% of your customer base.  Can your alternative text fully describe and relay the message that was embedded on the image?  Personally, I might not choose to download the image – especially if the subject line, or alt-text is less than persuasive.

All of your design work has been wasted.

I know for some, writing content is not the most popular task – but do it.  Even if it is a meagre few lines to improve your recipients interaction with your email.  If your call to action is clear, and not hiding on an image nobody can view, then your open-rate will improve as more people respond to your enticing copy.

Ghoulish Un-Segmented Recipients

True story!  I once subscribed to a certain mail-order site for “Rock and Metal” clothing.  After perusing an excellently designed website, looking at the sleeveless tees, the leather wrist-bands and Goth-style shirts, I was interested in keeping in touch.  Especially after I had just purchased some really exciting looking trainers.  I completed their contact form (with my chosen gender and age-range), and our beautiful relationship was about to begin.

Until I found out how lazy they were as marketers.

My first newsletter had some very fetching string-stockings and a beautiful leather corset (that didn’t come in my size).  My second newsletter was just as bad – the selection of women’s knee-high boots was rather diverse however.  Every other email I received was packed full of wonderful clothes that just were not suitable for a male, ballooning rocker heading towards middle age.  In the end I unsubscribed (and not because I wasn’t tempted by the flowing Gothic dresses).

This could have been avoided by simple segmentation.  I had willingly provided them with the information they needed.  Their bone idle marketing meant that after awhile I was not interested in opening their emails entitled “Look hot in these daring dresses”.   Segmentation is key, make sure that your lists and segments are up-to-date, and that you are sending to the correct demographic.

For me, this was a bit annoying – for some others this could be outright offensive.

Nightmarish Copy

Let me present two indisputable facts about the internet:

  1. There are millions of people using it every day of their lives, be it for work or social.
  2. There are millions of people using it every day of their lives, be it for work or social – and most of them don’t mind telling you that you used the wrong “their” in that sentence with the dangling participle.

The odd spelling mistake can be excused – and if we receive that email from one person scoffing about the wrong homophone used it is embarrassing enough.  But imagine a rushed email, written in a hurry, unedited and un-proofed.  If your email content reminds you of a birthday card from your over-enthusiastic three-year-old nephew – it shouldn’t be sent.

You might not get the scathing emails in response.  You may be treated to awful total internet abandonment.  No click through – many unsubscribes.

It goes without saying that you should spend time editing your work.  When writing content, leave some time for proofing.  Make sure there are second pair of eyes rolling over everything you have written before you click that send.  Often, after a long search of your own work, you fail to pick up on that silly spelling mistake – or to realise that your work sounds tired.  A second pair of eyes can check for consistency and engaging within your work, making sure it matches your brand’s voice.

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Wrap Up Warm (Just Like Mum Told You)

Unlike your teenage self’s angry mother, email marketing can be pretty unforgiving.  You may deliver your mistake to thousands of inboxes all in one hit.  The trick is to remember that you are human, and once in awhile mistakes can happen.  As long as it doesn’t become a regular occurrence most situations are salvageable.  As long as the mistake wasn’t chronic – like sending inappropriate content, or distasteful jokes – then perhaps a tongue-in-cheek “whoopsie” email will be able to save your blushes.

The important things to remember are:

  1. You are not alone – use your colleagues, get them to have a scan.
  2. There is more than one ESP – open a Yahoo, a Gmail and a Hotmail account for your test list.
  3. Previews give you a good idea of aesthetics – live sends test functionality.
  4. Segment your lists.
  5. If Mum is cooking dinner for you tonight, don’t be late!

These obviously aren’t the only mistakes that you can make with email marketing.  Feel free to let us know what makes email marketing scarier than your mother!