Shame comes from poor email marketing technique

What’s the worst email marketing advice you’ve ever received? I saw that question on an online forum and spent a few entertaining minutes touring this email marketing hall of shame. Sadly, every exhibit in the hall exposed tactics that many marketers continue to employ — to their detriment.

If you want to master email marketing, maximize your marketing return on investment, and minimize mistakes that will undermine your business, join me on a brief tour of this hall of shame and note the exhibits in your “Things NOT to Do” playbook.

Shameful Tip #1: Build your list by buying emails. I’ve covered list building a lot in this blog so I won’t belabor this point too much. Just remember that quality matters more than quantity in your email list. So build a list methodically by encouraging interested parties to opt-in, rather than taking short-cuts like list-purchase. Response rates will be greater and you’ll avoid headaches and hassles that come with purchased lists.

Shameful Tip #2: Make your opt-out link as inconspicuous as possible. The misguided idea here is that you don’t want people to quit your list so you should make it difficult for them to do so. Actually, if someone doesn’t want your emails, you should make it as easy as possible for them to opt-out. Otherwise, they’re likely to file spam complaints, and then you have much greater trouble than one fewer subscriber.

Shameful Tip #3: Split-test your small list. Testing can be a great way to improve your marketing. For example, you can split your email list in three parts, test different subject lines for parts “A” and “B” and then use the “winning” subject line for the rest of the list — part C. That’s smart in theory. But many marketers employ this tactic with lists that are too small. When you split-test with a small list, the results reveal nothing but random noise, leading to conclusions that are not valid and potentially destructive for your business.

There are countless ways statisticians determine whether a dataset is valid. That’s beyond my paygrade. But we don’t bother with split-testing subject lines unless the list has more than 5,000 recipients, and we prefer to test with lists of more than 10,000 recipients.

Shameful Tip #4: Develop “Tricks” to Get People to Open Your Emails. Last month, I received an email from an acquaintance with the subject line, “Guess Who’s Having a Baby!” I immediately did the math. He and his wife are in their late 40s so they could be expecting. “Wow! Really!?” I thought. I opened the email with rapt anticipation, and then…(drumroll)…” No pregnancy news. It was a fundraising solicitation.

I might have forgiven the trick if the pitch had something to do with caring for sick babies or something related to the subject line. But no. It was just a shameless trick.

The saddest thing about this: The pitch itself was pretty good — with a heartfelt story about a friend who died of cancer. There were thousands of possible subject lines he could have generated to draw me in. But he chose a trick instead. I’m not donating.

If you produce compelling content with honest subject lines, and send the content to people who have told you they want it, your email marketing campaigns will succeed. No need for shameful tricks. No need for shameful list-building tactics. Play it straight and reap the rewards.

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