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You’re Doing It Wrong: 5 Email Marketing Conversion Killers

There are a number of conversion killers that haunt your email marketing campaigns, usually without you even knowing. They’re the sorts of mistakes that are easy to miss, are made by the best of us and happen time and again.

Today we’re going to look at some real world examples of the top problems that creep into email marketing campaigns and actively reduce your conversions. So, without further ado, here are the top five email marketing conversion killers you need to look out for…

1. Nagging your customers with unnecessary emails

There are few things more hated by customers than receiving emails they don’t want to.

It’s easy to get to the point of sending emails to everyone on your list consistently and without checking.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to ensure your campaigns aren’t falling on deaf ears or, worse, annoyed ears!

  1. Automatically unsubscribe customers – this is a trick perfected by companies like Fab.com and LinkedIn. There is no point emailing customers that never engage with your campaigns so why not automatically unsubscribe them? If a reader doesn’t open or click on any campaign within a 30-60 day window, it’s time to consider removing them from your list. Of course, letting customers know you’ve unsubscribed them and perhaps giving them options of other ways to stay in touch (or re-subscribe) is a great idea. Check out this example from LinkedIn: linkedin-auto-unsubscribe
  2. Segment your emails – don’t send the same email to everyone! As an example, we recently sent out a product update to our users. We made sure we created separate campaigns for non-paying signups (trials that had expired) and paying customers. This meant that we delivered a more personal, targeted message to each group of customers. Using customer actions and attributes to segment you campaigns can help you drastically reduce the amount of unwanted emails you’re sending. vero-targeting
  3. Never, ever use bought lists or old, inactive lists (without cleaning them first). First up: never use a purchased list for bulk email sends. This should go without saying! If you do have a list of inactive customers that you have emailed in the past then you should consider first verifying the emails are even valid using a service like BriteVerify and then follow-uping with an email campaign to re-activate the remaining subscribers. This generally involves getting permission to start emailing these customers again and there are lots of great guides out there on how to approach this process.

2. Using a self-importance and aggressive tone

Never use the word “I” in an email.

Copywriter extraordinaire Joanna Weibe suggests you should never use the word “I” or “we” when writing copy unless you’re making a promise.

Regardless of whether you use the word “we” or “I”, the point Joanna is making is that you should be writing to your customers about their problems and solutions.

When it comes to copywriting, focusing on yourself and your own goals can lead to you sounding aggressive. Someone recently forwarded me this example of a sales email they had received:


They described it as a ‘complete turn-off’ when they forwarded to me and perhaps they’re right. Being aggressive is generally not the best way to get the sale, so always pay attention to the tone of your emails. Generally, being educational and friendly works wonders. You want to educate your customers and share with them meaningful information about how they can improve their lives or businesses, not focus on your own achievements or by big-noting yourself.

A nice way to do this is to consider the question and answer format, particularly for behavioural or automated campaigns:


By answering the most common questions you receive from your customers, you can rest assured you are helping them with their problems – after all, you are literally using their problems as inspiration! This is definitely the fastest hack to coming up with content for your lifecycle emails.

Take this second example from Olark. You can see that they have transformed their customers’ most common ‘getting started’ questions into an awesome step-by-step welcome email that focuses 100% on the customer.


A great example of a truly helpful email.

3. A lack of focus

Too often you’ll see email marketing campaigns with scores of images or tens of calls to actions. Everything is clickable, everything seems enticing and yet nothing draws you in.

If you’re looking to maximise your conversions a good email marketing campaign will have a single, strong call to action.

Take this example from one of Geckoboard’s welcome emails. Check out that massive green button: that’s it, it’s the only call to action and it’s one you can’t miss.


Another great example of a single call to action comes from New York and Company:


Without a clear call to action your message can get lost. Always remember that you want to make the conversion path as simple as possible for your customers. You don’t want to make them think: you want to keep it simple.

If you are sending a series of emails, such as an educational email course then ensuring that you cross-reference the emails in your sequence can really help drive customers toward a specific goal.

Take this example from GetResponse:


GetResponse start each subject with “Part X” ensuring that you understand the campaigns are a part of their educational welcome series and helping create continuity. Each campaign also has a singular call to action (generally to get you to log back into the product).

By ensuring the emails are all ‘in sync’ with you a singular focus, you can really enhance the power of your email series.

4. Overuse of images

HTML campaigns look great. Well, they can look great. Over 60% of customers say they regularly disable images, or have them disabled by default.

That’s a huge portion of customers. There are lots of unique ways to use HTML email templates that can help increase your conversions but it’s easy to forget and start sending emails that look like this:


When you are using HTML templates you should consider their design with images disabled. This is the best example we’ve seen recently, from 500px:


Short of having a simple design that can be treated for situations where images are disabled you should definitely make use of ALT tags that are clear and descriptive. This can turn a completely useless HTML template into something that customers can at least grasp and, ideally, interact with. Here’s an example from Mr Porter:


ALT tags are easy to add to your images, here’s an example of the HTML code you should use:

<img src=”https://domain.com/image.png” alt=”Click me!”/>

Another trick of the trade is to use HTML buttons rather than a PNG or JPG images for your call to action. This is brilliant as you can use HTML tables to create a great-looking button that works in 99% of email clients and will always show, regardless of whether images are enabled or disabled. Here’s an example of a HTML button in an email from Dunked:


You can grab some code to implement a HTML button of your own here: https://bit.ly/html-email-button.

You should also consider sending personal, plain-text emails. These can be equally as powerful (if not more so) than a HTML email and using plain text will often force you to be succinct and targeted with your copy and calls to action.

Create an A/B test and find out what works best for you!

5. No segmentation

Too many businesses send the same email to every customer. Segmentation is a no-brainer way to increase your email conversions.

It’s easier than ever to collect information about your customers and their actions so you should always try and capture this data and put it to good use.

When it comes to tracking your customers’ attributes and behaviour, you could start with something as simple as collecting the gender of your customers as soon as they sign up for your newsletter, like ASOS:


…or it could be something more complex, such as observing the products your customers have viewed or purchased, like AMAZON:


Either way, tracking what your customers are doing allows you to personalise and target your campaigns. If you’re just getting started, some tips for tackling segmentation are:

  • Get basic information as simply and quickly as possible, usually as part of your sign up or subscription process: think gender, business name, domain, business size, whatever basic attributes apply.
  • Glean as much as you can automatically: think IP addresses, city and country, the last time they visited your site, how often they’ve visited, etc.
  • Track every step in your funnel from landing page to conversion: what products they viewed, features they used, how much they’ve spent, their subscription plan, how many times they’ve completed checkout.

Using this information in even the most basic ways will help you increase your conversions:

  • Split your lists by the most prominent attribute at the very least. This could be gender for a clothing store, sport for sports store or business size for a SaaS provider.
  • Be cognisant of different countries. It’s not summer in NYC when it’s Summer in Cape Town. Father’s Day falls on a different day in the US than it does in Australia. Bear this in mind as there is no point sending a totally irrelevant email to a large portion of your list. Language is also a no-brainer.
  • Automatically trigger emails off each core step in your funnel. Learn which step in your funnel has the largest drop-off and start with that: send an email 24 hours after your customers abandon this step and encourage them to move down the funnel. Your email might contain a simple reminder, an offer of help, by answering their questions or giving them a discount.

If you want to get right into segmentation, Amazon provides some great lessons as do these other, top five market-leading companies. These guys know how to use email to drive conversions!

What’s next

Here’s what to do next:

  1. Leave a comment telling me what you think about these five tips. Do you agree or disagree with any of them?
  2. If you want more detailed, free email marketing tips and tricks on how to find great email copy, where to begin with email templates and a bunch of examples of quality calls to action, get our course on email marketing. It’s seven emails over 30 days and you can unsubscribe at any time. Check it out!

See you in the comments!

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