Email Marketing Best Practices: Avoid These Mistakes

In this guide, we outline some of the mistakes any email marketer can make and provide tips on how to avoid them, especially if you’re just getting started. 


One of the questions our users ask most, whether they’re marketing rookies or masters, is how they can avoid the common pitfalls of email marketing. In this guide, we outline some of the mistakes any email marketer can make and provide tips on how to avoid them, especially if you’re just getting started.

Mistake: Sending without permission

Building a quality email marketing list takes time, patience, and a verifiable signup process. Getting people’s permission to send them your marketing campaigns not only complies with anti-spam regulations, but it also ensures you’re cultivating an audience that’s loyal to your brand.

In Mailchimp, we recommend that users add subscribers to their list through a double opt-in process, which usually includes a signup form and an automated email that immediately sends to a subscriber so they can confirm their subscription.

It’s important to get permission from the people you want to email so they know what they’re signing up for, and then you have concrete proof that they wanted to receive your marketing communications.

Here are 2 key things to keep in mind when it comes to permission-based lists:

  • Make sure you have permission from all your recipients before you send your first marketing email. When you ask people for permission to send them your marketing campaigns, it helps ensure that all your recipients want to hear from you. Having a permission-based list means that your subscribers either signed up through a signup form you’ve shared on your website and social channels or they explicitly asked you to add them. Getting permission is easier than you think, and the benefits might surprise you. Not only will this result in fewer spam complaints on your campaigns, but also improved deliverability with higher open and click rates.
  • All recipients should understand what they’re signing up for and why they’re receiving email from you. Your signup form should clarify what type of emails you’ll be sending, as well as how often. And since subscribers can sometimes forget that they ever signed up at all, it helps to include a short reminder in each of your emails about why they’re receiving them. A permission reminder can be a short sentence that tells subscribers they’re receiving an email from you because they filled out a form on your store’s website.

Getting permission is easier than you think, and the benefits might surprise you.

Mistake: Purchasing email lists

By now it’s common knowledge that you shouldn’t buy a “totally legitimate list of 30 million opted-in emails” from a sketchy piece of spam that lands in your inbox. But there are still some vendors out there selling “opt-in” lists by collecting email addresses and asking members if they’d like to “receive special offers from third-parties.” Then these vendors sell those email addresses to other senders. It’s not technically illegal, but many ESPs prohibit sending to purchased lists.

As a leading marketing platform, Mailchimp has a strict permission-based list policy. We do not provide, sell, share, or rent email lists to users, nor do we allow purchased, publicly available, third-party, or rented lists to be imported into our system.

As a leading marketing platform, Mailchimp has a strict permission-based list policy.

Mistake: Sending to a stale list

An email list will go stale pretty quickly if you don’t send to it regularly, even if all the addresses were added through a double opt-in process.

Think about it: If you don’t email your subscribers regularly, there’s a good chance they’ll forget they signed up to your list when you do. Sending to a stale list can lead to high bounce rates, spam complaints, and unsubscribes, but creating a campaign schedule will prevent this from happening.

If you think there are email addresses on your list that have gone stale, ask them to reconfirm their subscription.

Mistake: Confusing transactional emails with email marketing

Do you have a list of customers who have purchased products from your online store? Most people who shop online like to receive receipts and shipping notifications for their order via email. These types of one-to-one messages are known as transactional emails, and they’re different from email marketing campaigns because they’re sent to individual customers rather than in bulk.

But the other key difference between email marketing and transactional email is that people need to opt-in to receive your marketing communications, while transactional recipients can receive information about their purchases like receipts and shipping notifications without signing up for your email marketing.

In Mailchimp, you can enhance your transactional emails to encourage more sales by including a coupon code or a product recommendations block that showcases items from your store personalized to match the purchase activity of individual customers.

Mistake: Rushing a campaign send

We know you might be under the pressure of a strict deadline, but asking your sales team for their contact list isn’t the answer. You don’t know if those contacts have gone stale or given their permission to be added in the first place, and sending to that list could lead to more headaches than meeting a deadline is worth.

Speeding through the campaign creation process without thinking about your design, content, and subject line can cause some issues, too. If your content isn’t relevant to your subscribers or is different from what they signed up for, there’s a chance you’ll see a decrease in opens and clicks or a rise in spam complaints and unsubscribe rates. So slow down, take a breath, and make sure your list and campaigns are in pristine condition.

Mistake: Writing pushy sales copy

Email is often an entry point into digital marketing for small businesses. If you’re a newcomer, you might be tempted to include sensational phrases like “Buy now!” or “Limited time offer!” in your subject lines because you’ve seen other companies do it. But keep in mind that what works for one company might not actually appeal to your audience.

When writing subject lines and content for your emails, the general rule is to make them relevant and interesting to your subscribers. Write short subject lines that tell rather than sell what’s in your email. And be sure to avoid pushy sales copy and gimmicky catchphrases that can annoy your subscribers and get your emails caught in spam filters.

Mistake: Not understanding spam filters

Spam filters use a long list of criteria to decide whether or not your campaign will be placed in a recipient’s spam folder. The list of spammy criteria is constantly growing and adapting because filters learn more about what spam looks like every time someone clicks “This is junk” or “Mark as spam” in their email client. Spam filters even sync up with each other to share what they’ve learned.

There’s no magic formula for avoiding spam filters, but we have some tips email marketers can use to avoid the most common mistakes that get emails marked as spam.

  • Maintain a good sending reputation. Some spam filters will flag a campaign if anyone with the same IP address has ever sent spam. When you send through Mailchimp, your campaigns are delivered through our servers, so one person getting flagged for spam could affect the deliverability of our users. That’s why we work vigilantly to keep our sending reputation intact and require users to abide by our Terms of Use.
  • Use templates that are properly coded. Sloppy code, extra tags, or formatting code pulled in from a rich-text editor can trigger spam filters. If you’re not familiar with HTML code, we recommend using one of our templates or working with an expert.
  • Test your design. Some spam filters will flag emails for specific content or images they contain. It’s frustrating, we know, and there are no concrete rules or best practices to follow. But we have learned a few things you might want to keep in mind when designing your campaigns.
  • Create campaigns that have a good balance of text and images. You’ll also want to make sure your intent is clear so your subscribers know why you’re emailing them.
  • Make sure all subscribers on your list have opted-in to receive your campaigns. This is the easiest way to ensure no one unsubscribes, complains about, or reports your campaigns.
  • Be consistent. Try not to stray too far from the content and design your audience already associates with your brand, website, or social media channels.
  • Run an A/B or multivariate test campaign to learn how small changes made to your content can affect delivery or engagement.

Looking for more information on this topic? Check out our How to Avoid Spam Filters guide and the About Spam Filters article.

Mistake: Sending without testing

The campaigns you design in Mailchimp will always look a little different when they’re sent and viewed in your recipients’ inboxes. And different email clients and devices display HTML emails according to their individual rendering engines. Before you send an email, we recommend using the preview and testing tools we’ve created so you can preview what your design will look like as a live campaign in various email clients.

In just a few clicks, our Inbox Preview feature automates this testing process by generating different renderings of your campaign as it will appear across up to 40 email clients. Mailchimp Pro and Monthly Plan account holders are provided with a number of free Inbox Preview tokens to use each month, and all users can purchase 25-token bundles for $3 each.

Mistake: Not connecting your store

If you don’t connect your online store to a marketing platform, you’re missing out on important customer data you can use to create targeted campaigns based on purchase activity, send automated product follow-ups and order notifications, and encourage customers to return to your store to find other products they’ll love.

When your store’s connected to your marketing platform, any purchase data you’ve collected for your customers is automatically synced with your email list, so you can see which subscribers are also active customers who might be interested in receiving emails about special promotions and sales. You’ll also be able to target subscribers who have never made a purchase or have been inactive for a while, maybe offering them an incentive—like free shipping or a discount—to visit your store and make a purchase.

Combining e-commerce data with the power of your email list helps you maintain or build a relationship with your customers to keep them coming back. It’s a fast and effective way to build your brand and increase sales.

Mistake: Ignoring campaign reports

One of the benefits of using Mailchimp for your email marketing is being able to track and measure the results of every campaign you send. Mailchimp’s account dashboard and campaign reports contain a lot of data that can help you analyze how your campaigns are performing and provide insight into what you can do to improve future campaigns.

If you’re an online seller and connect your store to Mailchimp, you can track e-commerce data from your customers to create personalized campaigns and automation. Our e-commerce segments allow you to narrow down your audience and send more relevant campaigns if you’d like to showcase items from your store to customers who purchased similar products or offer a discount to those who have spent over a certain amount.

But ignoring your reports means you’ll miss key information about your customers and campaigns that can inform your marketing strategy. Keeping tabs on the day and time your campaigns see the most engagement will tell you when you should send your e-commerce emails to get the greatest return. Once you identify trends in your campaign reports, you can make any necessary changes or run an A/B test to see if you can improve your open and click rates and, perhaps most importantly, your conversions.

If you would like to help with setting up an email campaign reach out to us and we would love to have a conversation about how we can get started!