4 Email Marketing Mistakes That Kill Your Open Rates


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According to McKinsey, email is almost 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter. Plus, with more than half of emails now opened on mobile phones, and smartphone ownership on the rise, it’s clear to see why email is hot, hot, hot.

This is great news if you’re an email marketer, but it’s not the best news if your open rates aren’t going so well. But here are ways you can fix this.

In this post we will give you some tips on how to avoid low open rates and lost revenue by highlighting some common email marketing mistakes. Let’s dive in.

1. Bad Subject Lines

No surprise here: email subject lines impact open rates.

Between work emails, app notifications, retailer emails, and transactional emails from online orders, your subscribers are getting more and more emails these days. Your subject line has to stand out in the inbox.

So how do you write a great email subject line that entices subscribers to click?

Here are a few email subject line tips to keep in mind:

  • Be concise – The best subject line copy is short (under 50 characters),descriptive, and gets to the point. You want to strike that balance between sparking curiosity, but also describing what’s in the content of the email.
  • Avoid buzzwords – In our post The Ultimate eCommerce Spam Trigger List Guide, we offer a huge list of words that you should avoid. Some of them are obvious triggers, “cheap”, while some other ones may surprise you – like “password.”
  • Personalize Personalizing your emails with your recipient’s name, city, or the products they purchased is a great way make your emails stand out.
  • Test! – The only way to know what resonates with your audience is to test your emails. Every audience is different, and what works for one set of people will be a total disaster for another set of subscribers. Constantly test, tweak, and measure until you get the results you want.

Here are some email subject line mistakes you should avoid:

  • Long subject lines – Long subject lines get cut off when seen in the inbox, and they look terrible on mobile. Instead, if you need to include further details to explain yourself, use the preview text of the email for those details.
  • Getting too excited –  “SUPER SALE!!!!” or “OMG!!!” can get you in trouble. Find more creative ways to indicate a sense of urgency.
  • Offering stuff that’s too good to be true – Absolute guarantees and descriptions of your offer seem to be taken as too good to be true by spam filters. If it’s “free” or the “best sale ever,” or a “miracle solution,” it’s BS in the eyes of spam filters.
  • Using symbols – It’s tough because you want to have a reason to bug your recipients with an email. A sale is a good reason to do so. Communicating a sale with “$20 off” or “20% off” in the subject line is the easiest way to go. You just have to be careful so that you get don’t mixed in with the weirdos sending the “Dear Friend” emails and selling pills, who also tend to use symbols in their subject lines and have thus trained spam filters to be cautious of such things.

2. Not Segmenting Your Lists

According to eMarketer, 39% of email marketers that practice list segmentation see better open rates, 28% see lower opt-out and unsubscribe rates, and 24% see better email deliverability, increased sales leads, and greater revenue. Those are some pretty convincing statistics.
And yet, most eCommerce companies don’t pay enough attention to email list segmentation. They continue to send the same daily sales notifications about the same products to their entire lists each day.

This mistake has a domino effect.

Without segmentation, you will not be able to write subject line copy that is relevant to your subscribers. This affects your open rates in a negative way.

Your email list could be segmented by:

  • Location
  • Language
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Past purchase behavior

We recommend starting with segmentation by segmenting buyers from non-buyers.

This strategy worked really well for Klaviyo customer Top Streetwear.

They began marketing to their customers based on their stage in the lifecycle.

Top Streetwear came up with specific email strategies for engaged buyers and those who hadn’t bought before or hadn’t bought in six months.

It sounds complicated, but essentially all they did was concentrate their discounts/incentives on the less engaged audiences and focused their normal sales content toward the already engaged buyers.

It paid off big time. They achieved a 40% lift in revenue. Plus, they were overall sending fewer emails, which helped improve their unsubscribe rates and open rates.

Shadim Hussain, the company’s CEO, describes it best:

“I think sometimes even when you are interested in a product or site, when you get an email every day you tend to switch off and block it. I think the break in-between must have struck a chord with customers. It’s like if they are only sending me something a few times a week, what they take the time to send must be good.”

3. Skipping Auto-Responders

Automated emails, or auto-responders, are emails that are triggered by on-site events such as a product purchase. They can also be triggered by:

  • A visitor abandoning their cart.
  • A subscriber becoming dormant.
  • A subscriber purchasing a product that requires refills, such as contact lenses.

According to Smart Insights, these types of emails have been seen to yield 71% higher open rates and 102% higher click-through rates than non-triggered email messages. That’s because they are in line with your subscriber’s purchasing behavior. They are tailored to them like a one-off email, only done automatically. Triggered emails are segmented, relevant, and timely.

How to do automated email the right way:

Take a look at this email I received from Zappos. I was recently on their site looking at sneakers and I received this email, which is clearly targeted to my browsing interests:


4. Poor Deliverability and Engagement

If you are sending campaigns to a permission-based list, you are less likely to have issues when it comes to deliverability.

Recipients are expecting to receive emails from you, and are more likely to engage with the content. Segmentation and action-based emails also help with this. But if you aren’t doing these things, you could run into some trouble.

ISPs evaluate who you are sending to, how often, the number of abuse complaints, and open rates and click-through rates. They use all of these factors determine your sender reputation. This affects whether or not your emails are delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes.

Most of the time, if your email isn’t arriving at its destination, it’s because of poor reputation with ISPs.

But luckily there are many ways to ensure your email is delivered:

  • Only send to engaged users – Send to recipients who have engaged with your emails recently. More specifically, you can focus on people who have opened or clicked on your campaigns within the last six months. This will increase the likelihood that emails will land in their inbox.
  • Give recipients a preference center – A preference center is where a user can select which type of emails they would like to receive. It’s a good alternative to only giving the option to unsubscribe.

For example, this is what Piperlime’s preferences center looks like.


What other email mistakes do you think email marketers should avoid? Let us know in the comments. 

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