5 Email Marketing Mistakes That Are Killing Your Sales – And How To Avoid Them

5 Email Marketing Mistakes That Are Killing Your Sales – And How To Avoid Them

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This article has been contributed by Daniela McVicker.

So you say that email marketing is dead.

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“It’s just not working for my business,” you might say. “And no one reads promotional emails anyway, so why bother?”

But what if we told you that you’re wrong? At least that’s what the statistics say.

According to statistics by 99Firms:

  • 80% of companies say that email marketing is their top customer acquisition strategy
  • email marketing delivers around $44 ROI for every dollar spent
  • almost 18% of email clicks result in a purchase
  • the average open rate across all industries is 20.81%
  • the average click-through rate is 2.43% for all industries

These are impressive numbers, and it’s as clear as day that email marketing is far from being dead – in fact, it isn’t even close to dying.

And for those who are saying that social media overshadows email marketing, the average engagement rate across all social media platforms is only 0.6%, while it’s almost 21% for emails.

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So, why are your email marketing campaigns failing?

If you look closer at the stats above, you’ll see the word “average” coming up here and there. At the individual business level, some email marketing campaigns are successful right away, but others are total flops.

But don’t despair! There are well established reasons why some campaigns are effective and others aren’t – so there are certain things you can do to increase your chances of success.

To help you out, here are the five most common email marketing mistakes that prevent you from making sales.

1. Ineffective Subject Lines

The body of the email is more important than the subject line, right?

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A subject line is the first feature of your email that the reader uses to determine whether it’s spam or not. Optinmonster reports that 33% of recipients open emails because of a catchy subject line. And 69% would report an email as spam based on the subject line alone.

Companies make many mistakes when writing email subject lines. Common ones are the use of spammy words, too many emojis and lack of optimization for mobile devices.

Let’s take a look at a few more mistakes that companies often don’t notice but can seriously affect open rates and therefore, conversions.

a. Making a Subject Line Too Short or Too Wordy

Yes, the open rate of your email will depend on the length of your subject line.

According to InvespCRO, different length brings different open rates:

  • 0-5 words – 16%
  • 6-10 words – 21%
  • 11-15 words – 14%
  • 16-20 words – 12%
  • 21-25 words – 9%

As you can see, it’s better to stay within under 5-15 words. But the length will also depend on the email service and will also vary when it comes to mobile optimization.

Even just in terms of visibility, shorter email subject lines are more effective. Here’s an example of a long one:

Email marketing mistake - Using long subject lines

And, here’s a short one:

Email marketing mistake - Not using short subject lines

See the difference?

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A subject line doesn’t need to contain entire sentences taken from your email, or tell the reader about every piece of content inside. Instead, use a catchy phrase to attract the reader’s attention. Asking questions also works well because they spark curiosity, which instantly drives engagement.

b. Using All CAPS

Some companies might use emojis or spammy phrases in their subject lines, but nothing is as annoying as this:

Email marketing mistake - Using all caps in subject line

You can understand why some brands do it – using all CAPS helps make their subject line more noticeable in an overcrowded inbox. And, indeed, it works. But that’s about the only benefit that using all CAPS in a subject line can bring you.

In reality, this approach looks like you’re shouting at your subscribers. Sure, you want your subscribers to get excited about your upcoming sale, but you don’t have to use upper case for that.

On a more serious note, emails that have subject lines with all CAPS have a poorer open rate. To confirm this, Boomerang reviewed over 300,000 publicly-available emails and found that emails with upper-case subject lines received a reply 30% less often than other emails.

Since we started talking about fonts and letters, here’s one more example of a poor email subject line:

Marketing email subject line italics

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It might be tempting to make your email subject line stand out using italics, but it’s not always a good idea. What might look good in Gmail doesn’t look that great in Yahoo Mail (our example above is from Yahoo).

Apart from using the right words, your task is also to make your email subject lines readable. Otherwise, your email will end up in the spam folder, and for a good reason.

c. Not Connecting Subject Lines with Pre-Header Text

Preheaders are the snippets of text that appear after the subject line of an email when it’s viewed in the inbox. Some people think they’re unnecessary, but they’re wrong.

You’d be surprised, but, according to Sendpulse, 24% of email recipients read the pre-header text to help them understand if this email is useful for them. But most importantly, emails that have good pre-headers have an 18% higher open rate.

Yes, pre-headers bring benefits, but what IS a good pre-header?

A good pre-header is always connected with an email subject line. Together, they should form a cohesive narrative that describes what the email is about but also gives a sneak peek, driving the reader’s engagement.

In a nutshell, here’s what you should strive for:

Marketing email preheader text

As you can see in this example, the subject line briefly describes what the message is about, and the pre-header provides important details that both give context and invite the subscriber to open the email and continue reading.

That’s it. You don’t need long sentences, unnecessary punctuation marks or the like. Just make the connection between a subject line and a pre-header meaningful, and that’s all your email needs.

2. Click baiting the Consumer

The most important thing for increasing sales through email marketing is creating an effective high-conversion email funnel that will bring and nurture your new leads.

To achieve that, companies resort to different methods, even those that aren’t right. Click baiting is one of them. Some companies strongly believe that click baiting is justified because it brings them higher open rates.

2015 research by Marketing Land gave them hope that their click baiting efforts were not in vain. In this research, emails with the most clickbait-y words and phrases in their subject lines were investigated. It appeared that they actually had pretty decent read rates:

Click bait email subject lines and read rates

Image source: Marketing Land

However, as with many research studies, you can’t fully trust this one. Although these words might feel spammy, the emails weren’t all actually clickbait. They’re only real clickbait if the subject line doesn’t correspond to what the email is about.

Thus, seemingly spammy words and phrases are not necessarily true indicators of clickbait. However, there are other signs that can help determine that a subject line is click baiting the subscriber:

  • Too much drama. You might have noticed that clickbait headings are often too emotional. Avoid extra punctuation, all CAPS, and phrases like “you won’t believe” and “shocking” from the image above.
  • Overused “You” and “I” pronouns. Personalization might be good, but it’s not always used correctly. In the combination of spammy words and phrases, the use of personal pronouns can be considered clickbait.
  • Listicles. Everything has its place, and email marketing is not the perfect place to use listicles. Subject lines, such as “Shocking 15 Weight Loss Tips You Never Knew About”, hardly indicate that the email is trustworthy.

What’s the lesson here?

Don’t try too hard. While clickbait can deliver good open rates, it won’t generate increased revenue. On the contrary, you might start losing subscribers.

Apart from that, it’s really hard to fool the spam filters that every email provider has. Spam filters review emails on several different levels:

  • Header filters – look for spam indicators in email subject lines and pre-headers
  • Content filters – crawl the content of the email to find spam indicators
  • General backlist filters – use the database of spammers to determine if the email is clickbait
  • Permission filters – ask the reader for confirmation before opening the email

Keep in mind that your email can always be stopped by a spam filter. It’s like face ID – you need to prove that your identity is authentic before you can proceed.

But in case your subject line contains words and phrases that can be considered a clickbait, run a quick test on different email providers to see how they react to it.

3. Lack of Personalized Approach

What are your subscribers looking for in an email?

Exclusive deals? Sure!

Hot offers? Of course!

But nothing is as important for your subscribers as personalization.

One more reason why readers might consider an email a clickbait is when it’s too obvious that it’s been copy-pasted without any regard for the addressee. That’s why personalization is so important for your subscribers – it makes them feel special.

Stats by Campaign Monitor prove this point:

  • Personalized emails are 25% more likely to be opened.
  • Such emails deliver 6 times higher transaction rates.
  • 74% of marketers say that targeted emails significantly increase customer engagement.

But the most important statistic for the topic of our article is that marketers have noted a 760% increase in revenue from segmented campaigns when the target audience is broken down into segments and email content is tailored to the needs of each segment.

So, you cannot walk past personalization if you want to write emails that increase sales.

Of course, in successful personalization, a lot depends on how well you do audience segmentation. This can cover a whole range of tactics, but there are a few basic personalization mistakes you should try to avoid.

a. Not Calling Your Customers By Their Name

We already mentioned that you need to use personal pronouns like “You” and “I” with caution when writing your emails. If you use the wrong combination of words, your email can end up in the Spam folder.

Instead, you can call your customer by name in the subject line of your email:

Email personalisation with first name in subject line

You can also do the same at the beginning of your email:

Email personalisation with first name in email body

How effective is this approach?

By calling a customer by their name, you immediately establish rapport with them and make it look like a conversation. Besides, such emails look less robotic, even though all of us know that this feature is automated.

b. Not Addressing the Customer Experience

There’s nothing more personal than talking to your customers about their experience with your product. Such an approach makes them feel truly special and valued by your brand.

TripAdvisor does a great job addressing customer experience. Every time a user leaves feedback on the reviews page, TripAdvisor immediately reacts, congratulating them on their first review and even reward users with a badge.

TripAdvisor email personalisation

This is a great personalization for improving relationships with customers. They feel that they are being appreciated and are more likely to return.

c. Not Introducing Yourself

This approach is quite unusual, but it still works well to help you improve email personalization.

Much like calling your customers by name, introducing yourself also helps build a connection between you and your subscribers.

You can introduce yourself by adding contact information at the bottom of the email, or do it right in the email subject line.

Email marketing mistake - Not introducing yourself in subject line

This method also makes emails seem less robotic, as your customers feel that they’re hearing from a real person.

4. Misspelling and Formatting Mistakes

Now, let’s talk about quantity and quality.

During your email marketing campaign, you’ll probably produce not one or two but tens or even hundreds of emails, depending on the nature and the size of the campaign.

However, when writing one email after another, make sure that their quality doesn’t fail you.

Poor quality is a common problem for mass-produced stuff. It can also happen during a content marketing campaign when you create too much content but don’t have quality assurance guidelines.

To make sure that quality doesn’t become an issue, you can incorporate the following activities when writing your emails:

  • Grammar check. Let’s be honest, grammatical mistakes look embarrassing, especially when you see them in promotional content. You can quickly run the text through online tools like Grammarly to make sure your email doesn’t end up in the “Find a mistake” compilation.
  • Readability check. It can be tempting to provide as much detail as possible in your email, but you need to keep in mind that you’re not writing a scientific treatise. The purpose of your email is to be the mediator and guide your customer to the website page, where they can get more information. You can run a readability check using tools like Hemingway App to make sure there’s no waste in the text of your email.
  • A/B test. The only way to know that your email will get the reaction you expect is to run a preliminary A/B test. Divide your audience into two groups and send them two variations of the same email to see which one has more potential to improve sales.

How does correctness affect sales, you may ask?

In this case, correctness is equal to quality. Your customers expect you to deliver professional-looking emails, so even small grammatical or punctuation mistakes are not acceptable, not to mention that they can completely alter the meaning of the email.

5. No Clear Call-to-Action

We already mentioned that the role of your email is to guide your subscribers from opening an email to going to a landing page where they can learn more information about a promotion, an exclusive deal, etc.

In this matter, a call-to-action button is the most important tool. Without a proper CTA button, your emails just don’t make sense (if they are promotional and aimed at increasing revenue).

How effective are CTA buttons for better sales?

A CTA button can be a game-changer. Even a single CTA button in an email can boost sales by up to 1617%, also proving that a CTA button delivers better open and read rates.

So, if your goal is to improve your revenue through an email marketing campaign, your emails just can’t go without a CTA button.

Now, let’s take a look at a few basic CTA mistakes to avoid – depending on the situation of course.

a. Not Making Your CTAs Action-Oriented

The word “action” is right there in the name (call-to-action), so choose words that are dynamic and inspire consumers to make a move.

Here’s a classic CTA for sales purposes from Redbubble:

Email marketing CTAs - Action-oriented

Or, you can be more specific and use a promotion code to drive more interest:

Email marketing CTAs - Action-oriented

Your main goal is to inspire action and make your subscribers excited about moving forward and exploring more. If your email is quite long, you can also create several CTA buttons and locate them in different parts of your email to make sure that the reader doesn’t overlook them.

b. Not Creating Urgency

FOMO (the fear of missing out) is a powerful tool. It makes consumers feel the urge to buy something just to make sure they don’t miss their opportunity to own something great.

You’d be surprised to find out that 60% of people purchase something because of FOMO, usually in the first 24 hours. You just can’t afford to not have this tool in your email writing arsenal.

A FOMO CTA button usually contains words like “final,” “now” and “ends”. Here’s a good example:

Email marketing mistakes - Not creating urgency

Such a CTA works great in terms of click-through rates, not just because it inspires action, but because it offers something valuable.

c. Using Long CTAs

As you might have noticed, CTA’s aren’t usually long.

Because CTA buttons are usually about 50 inches tall, there’s no need to put entire sentences in it. The optimal length of a CTA button is up to 4-5 words, depending on its size and placement.

Besides the length of the CTA, you also need to consider the color of the button. Of course, it will depend on the general style and design of your email. But, according to research, different colors of the CTA button can give you different results.

Reportedly, researchers compared red, green, blue, and orange colors used in different CTAs and found that red outperformed every other color, delivering 34% more conversions.

So, even something as small as the color of your CTA can affect how effective your email will be in terms of sales.


Whew! That was quite a ride!

As you can see now, you cannot underestimate email marketing. This is such a powerful strategy that it can singlehandedly increase your revenue. Of course, if you do everything right.

One of the most common mistakes you can make is disregarding the subject lines, which are, in fact, your first chance to make the right impression on your subscribers. If you choose to clickbait them, you might lose their trust forever.

Apart from that, a good email should also be personalized. Your subscribers always expect exclusive treatment, and they have the right for it. So, segment your audience, take into account their interests and experience to make sure you serve their needs.

And, of course, an actionable email cannot lack correctness and a good CTA. You need to make your email clear to make sure it communicates the right message.

Of course, these are not the only mistakes in email writing. But by just avoiding these five mistakes, you can already significantly improve chances to boost your revenue.


About the author: Daniela McVicker is a blogger with rich experience in writing about UX design, content planning and digital marketing. She currently provides writing services for Essay Guard.

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