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5 Common E-Mail Marketing Mistakes

The main reason unseasoned e-mail marketers' campaigns fail? Ignoring the basics of good practice. Learn how to avoid these most common mistakes.

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E-mail marketing can be one of the most effective marketing vehicles for a small business today. However, in their eagerness to reach out to customers and spread the word about their business, many e-mail marketers ignore the basics of good practice. Whether you're just starting out or even a seasoned pro, it's always important to review your e-mail campaigns and make sure these five most-common mistakes aren't standing in the way of your future success.

Mistake #1: Permission Violation

The recipient--not the sender--gets to decide whether they want to receive a business's e-mail communications. Permission is what separates legitimate e-mail marketers from spammers. First and foremost, you must ask for and obtain permission before sending any commercial e-mail communications. And you must offer a way for recipients to unsubscribe or "opt out" of your mailings. Failing to do either practically guarantees your mailing will be caught in a spam filter, deleted or ignored. Permission isn't just polite; it's good business practice--and it's the law. Learn more about compliance with the federal CAN-SPAM Act .

Mistake #2: Doomed for Deletion

Make sure your e-mail "From" line displays your company name or brand--not your office manager's name or whoever actually sends the e-mail. Recipients might not know your office manager, so don't make the mistake of entering that individual's name in the From line.

Likewise, make sure your "Subject" line clearly states what's inside the e-mail: "10% Off Everything Coupon," "Keep Your Pets Flea 'n' Tick Free," "Tips for Painless Tax Prep." A generic Subject line (e.g., "News from SmallBiz Consultants") is likely to get overlooked and go unopened. People are busy and bombarded with personal and business e-mail; a catchy Subject line tells them upfront what they'll get for their double-click.

Note of Caution: Test-run your e-mail through a "spam checker" first to make sure your subject line doesn't contain things like ALL CAPS, exclamation points!!!, and other sales-offer no-nos, which can trigger ISP and e-mail software spam filters.

Finally, make sure your content is relevant to your customers. If you're only telling them what you want to hear, they won't waste their time. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder. Get to know your audience , tap into their interests, and give them something of value. Then you'll have them clicking back for more.

Mistake #3: No Call to Action

You'll know your e-mail was relevant and effective if readers took the action you desired, whether it was visiting your website to learn more about a subject, clicking for a free consultation, downloading a white paper, or purchasing a product. If you're unsure of the desired outcome of your campaign--don't hit "Send." Choose the links that you embed in your e-mail wisely, matching them to your sales cycles and marketing objectives. Know your goals and measure your results . Sending e-mail with no clear call to action is like having a sales meeting and not asking for the order.

Mistake #4: Sensory Overload

Overzealous e-mail marketers try to cram way too much into one communication. Readers get overwhelmed and don't know where to focus, so they click off. That's an opportunity lost. Remember: You don't have to accomplish your year-long sales goals in one single e-mail. Each e-mail effort should fit within your overall marketing/communications plans, targeting a few specific ideas. Look at your last campaign and imagine it with half the content and graphics. Was your message front and center, "above the fold"? Could it have been two separate campaigns? Don't try to shoot for the moon or you won't get off the ground. Simple, concise, targeted e-mail communications with clear calls to action win eyeballs--and sales.

Mistake #5: List Size Anxiety

Permission is perishable! Don't wait until your list is a minimum size before embarking on your first e-mail marketing campaign. If someone gives you their e-mail address on a business card or at a networking event, close the permission loop immediately with your first mailing, which asks permission and shows them what they'll get if they subscribe. Sit on that address for six months and you'll no longer have permission! Don't worry if your list is only your 10 best friends or associates. Send them your first campaign and ask for feedback. With good content, they'll "forward it to a friend" and then your list will grow to 15. Your list helps build itself virally, but only with regular, relevant e-mail contact.

These mistakes are very easy to avoid. It's really not that hard once you grasp the basics. Keep it clean. And get going today! Your customers are waiting to hear from you.

Gail Goodman

Written By

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.