Getting email right is hard. Avoiding these mistakes is easy.
In the thousands of emails I see every week, these are the top mistakes to avoid.
1) Wasting the preheader
The preheader is the summary text that follows a subject line when an email is viewed in an inbox.
While it’s not going to make or break your email product, getting it right is the sort of low-hanging fruit you should aim to pluck.
Virtually all email service providers (ESPs) make it easy to fill out. And while the subject line will always be the biggest factor in determining your open rate, the preheader gives you just a little extra text to play with when drawing in your subscribers.
Also worth noting: If you don’t fill in your preheader (or if you don’t make it long enough), many ESPs will do the job for you — often to suboptimal effect.
Usually, the ESP will just start filling in words from your email, which might include the date, the text of your ‘View in browser’ link, or some other random element that you didn’t intend to live next to your subject line.
A recent preheader from the New York Times, for example, included “View in browser|nytimes.com”; not a disaster, obviously, but a wasted opportunity.
2) Having no welcome journey
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Too many newsletters and email products waste the onboarding process by not having a complete welcome journey.
On top of introducing yourself to your new reader, you can do a whole host of other things: ask them a question, ask them to whitelist your email address, give them your greatest hits, enroll them in a referral program… the list goes on.
Not all of this has to be — or should be — accomplished in one email. You can set up an automated sequence to send a number of emails over a number of days. And you can vary the sequence based on what the new reader does or doesn’t open and does or doesn’t click.
3) Failing to segment
Should all of your readers be getting the exact same emails?
If you run a parenting letter, should parents of toddlers get all the same emails as parents of teens?
You may not want to customize everything, but you can do a lot to learn about your audience, track data about them, and customize your emails based on that data.
Some things are for everyone; some things should be more targeted.
4) Making it difficult to unsubscribe
It should never take more than one click to unsubscribe. You can invite someone back, you can offer a less-frequent product, you can even send a follow-up email to make sure someone hasn’t accidentally unsubscribed their friend who forwarded them your email… but, in general, don’t cling to people trying to leave.
An unsubscribe is just the price you pay for a higher open rate.
5) Refusing to run a clean list
Don’t buy email lists. Don’t buy email lists. Don’t buy email lists!
Phew. OK, now that that’s out of the way…
Even if you’re obtaining all of your subscriber emails cleanly, ethically, and legally, there’s still plenty more you need to do to run a pristine list.One of the most important things you can do is pay attention to lifecycles.
You should have your audience segmented by their activity level, with ‘active’ users (who’ve opened or clicked in, say, the last 30 days), ‘unengaged’ users (who’ve not opened or clicked in 90+ days), and ‘dormant’ users (who’ve not interacted with you in more than a year) in different buckets being treated differently.
Your active users are the ones you should be emailing regularly. The others will only drag down your open rate and deliverability. You may be able to reengage those unengaged or dormant users with various types of reengagement campaigns.
But, after a certain point, you have to let go.
6) Neglecting to have a checklist
It’s amazing how many emails one can get with broken links, broken images, broken personalization.
Have you ever gotten an email to “Dear, [FIRST NAME].” As in, literally that. They messed up the code or left a placeholder in the final email.
Have a checklist.
Send a test email.
Run tests in more than one email client and on more than one device.
Test on desktop.
Test on mobile.
It would be hard to test too much. If you think you’ve tested enough, you’re probably missing something. If you think you’ve tested too much, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of sending a clean email.
Screw ups happen (I’m tempting the fates here… let me know what I screwed up in this email! Probably something…). You won’t break your trust with your readers due to one mistake. But a sloppy system will turn off users over time.
7) Missing out on monetization
With great power…
Email is a powerful tool for publishers and entrepreneurs. The first step to succeeding is to stop making the easy-to-avoid mistakes.
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