Email marketing is complicated. A number factors and subfactors govern deliverability. The potential for email rendering problems is mind-bogglingly large. And email technology and tactical issues continue to evolve.
However, not everything in email is complex.
Some aspects are quite simple — and yet companies still regularly struggle with them. In most cases, they’re probably just unaware of the problem or just how easy the fix is. In other cases, turnover on their email team means expertise in the channel’s nuances has been lost. Whatever the reason, here are 10 common email marketing mistakes that are relatively simple to fix:
1. Not Using a Recognizable Sender Name
Subject lines get too much credit for driving open rates. Your sender name actually has a bigger impact on whether your subscribers open your emails. That makes sense for two reasons:
First, email marketing is a permission-based channel, so who’s sending an email to a recipient is critical. If your subscriber doesn’t recognize your name, it can lead to your emails being ignored or, worse, reported as spam. And second, email marketing is a relationship-based channel, so your sender name represents the value that your subscriber has gotten from your emails and from your brand previously.
So, put your brand name front and center and don’t change it from email to email. If you want to safely mix things up with your sender name, try using from name extension strategies. For example, you can emphasize that an email is about a Black Friday sale by changing your sender name to “YourBrand Black Friday.”
Related Article: 7 Factors That Determine Email Deliverability
2. Not Optimizing Your Preview Text
Preview text is the text from inside your email that’s displayed in the inbox either to the right of your subject line in inboxes like Gmail or underneath your subject line in inboxes like the iPhone Mail app. Often, inboxes display twice as many characters of preview text as they do subject line text, so it’s a valuable opportunity to communicate more to your subscribers about what your emails is about before they open it.
Make sure you take full advantage of what text appears as preview text by using either visible or invisible preheader text. But more than that, run some A/B tests on your preview text, just like brands routinely do for their subject lines. And if you want to take it up a notch further, use multivariate testing to try different subject line and preview text combinations to see which one drives the most clicks for your email.
3. Including Too Much Copy
A good rule for writing marketing copy is to write what you’d like to say, and then cut the number of words in half. A good rule of writing email marketing copy is to cut the word count in half again.
Many marketers seem to have lost their talent for brevity, says Fabricio Lopez, Expert Services Cloud Manager for Oracle Marketing Consulting. “I grew up in South America during the ‘80s when telegrams were still very prominent,” he says. “I used to watch my siblings write incredible messages as part of their jobs. I think we lost that ability when email entered the scene, although Twitter brought back some of that ability. In my opinion, marketers should practice getting the message reduced to the least number of words possible and then embellish it from that point, the result should be a concise and hard hitting CTA.”
If you can’t avoid sending an email with a lot of copy, make sure that you break the copy up and make use of subheads and bullets where you can. That will make the copy much more approachable.
Related Article: Why Are Marketing Email Open Rates Increasing?
4. Using Font Sizes That Are Too Small, Especially on Mobile Devices
Using responsive email design isn’t enough. Brands also need to use mobile-friendly design principles. Chief among those principles is using font sizes that are big enough for people young and old to easily read in a variety of environments, such as outside in the sun or in bed in the dark.
For standard text, we recommend text that’s 14pt to 18pt. Your headlines and subheads should be even bigger. If this recommendation alarms you because you worry it will make your emails longer or limit what you can put above the fold, keep in mind that while many subscribers will scroll below the fold, almost no one will pinch-and-zoom in order to read your text.
5. Using Low-Contrast Text
When the color of your text is similar in value to the color of your background, your text can be difficult for some subscribers to read, particularly if your text size is small. Using high-contrast text — such as black text on a white background — not only helps people who have poor vision, but is also better for someone who’s out in bright sunlight with their mobile device. It’s also just better for everyone in general.
Text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1, according to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. If the text is 18pt or larger or is bold and 14pt or larger, a contrast ratio of 3:1 is fine.
The trickier problem that I see routinely is brands running HTML text over background images that have colors with highly varied values. The result is that some of the text is legible while other portions are not. The solutions to this include picking a different image, darkening or lightening the image, cropping the image differently, and positioning the text differently.
Related Article: We Need Accessibility and Inclusive Design Now More Than Ever
6. Not Using Alt Text for Your Images, When Appropriate
Sometimes the images in your emails don’t load, usually either because the subscriber is blocking them or they are experiencing bandwidth issues because of spotty wifi or cellular coverage. When this happens, your images won’t be displayed to help convey your email’s message.
To serve your subscribers in these situations, as well as to serve your subscribers who are using screen readers, be sure to add alt text to your images, when appropriate. That “when appropriate” is important, because not every image needs alt text. Logos and product images? Absolutely. But generic images that are there to set a mood? Generally using an alt tag on those isn’t necessary and leads to unhelpful alt text like “picture of a sunset” (which is a real example of alt text I’ve seen).
7. Using Graphical Buttons
Creating call-to-action buttons that are completely graphical means that the text of your CTA won’t appear at all if images are disabled or don’t load. For that reason, marketers should always use bulletproof buttons, where hyperlinked HTML text is placed over a button made from a filled table cell or some other non-image-based construct.
Once you settle on a button design that you like, use it everywhere, just change the CTA text. That turns this shift into largely a one-time effort.
8. Clustering Hyperlinked Elements Too Closely Together
In a world full of touchscreens, both on mobile and larger devices, being touch-friendly is important. When linked images and text are too close to each other, it’s easy for people to miss their target and end up on a landing page they’re not interested in. Getting one click is hard enough, so expecting a second click because your email is poorly designed is unrealistic.
Using larger text, as already mentioned, can help. But having decent padding between hyperlinked elements is the biggest key. This is particularly important for CTA buttons. Having plenty of white space around them not only makes them easy to click, but also makes them stand out, which is exactly what you want your CTAs to do.
Also, avoid linking items that you don’t need to. Focus on linking the elements of your design that people are most likely to click on, such as product images, buttons and text links.
9. Making Your Unsubscribe Link Difficult to Find
Some brands are still under the impression that if they make their unsubscribe link difficult to find that fewer subscribers will opt-out. Unfortunately, when people can’t find the unsubscribe link because it’s small or buried in a big block of administrative text or legalese, they simply click the report spam button instead.
For subscribers, the effect is the same: no more emails from the brand. However, for the brand, their spam complaint rate has gone up, potentially hurting their deliverability. Plus, they probably irritated the subscriber, making them less likely to re-subscribe at any point in the future.
10. Having Your Emails Clipped in Gmail
If the coding of your email (excluding the file sizes for any images) is more than 102K, Gmail will clip your email and force your subscribers to click a “View entire message” link to see the rest of your message.
Besides looking suspicious, clipping hides content from your subscribers … including your unsubscribe link. So, not only does having your email clipped reduce its effectiveness, it erodes trust and leads to elevated spam complaints from subscribers who can’t find your unsubscribe link.
All of these mistakes have relatively easy solutions. Some, like writing effective and meaningful preview text or alt text, take a little time for each email you send. Others, like font sizes and button designs, are one-time efforts that pay off for the long haul. All are very much worthwhile.
Chad S. White is the author of Email Marketing Rules and Head of Research for Oracle Marketing Consulting, a global full-service digital marketing agency inside of Oracle.