Email Marketing

Emails suck. Ours don’t.

That’s one of the first things you read when you visit our humble little corner of the internet.

It’s no secret email is the dividing line for content creators and communications pros of all kind. 

One side of the fence is screaming, “Email is dead! Opt-ins don’t work! Stop while you’re still ahead!”

While the other side yells back, “Are you crazy? Give everything away for free! Email is everything! Responsible communications pros collect email addresses.” 

It’s endless.

Most email is designed to drive traffic, and let’s be real: a lot of experts might say email is dead, but I guarantee there’s still a newsletter opt-in somewhere on their site.

I’m planted firmly on Team Email Is Not Dead and you couldn’t convince me otherwise because I have the data to prove it.

It’s convenient, it’s useful, and it gives us the chance to get in front of potential clients with a few clicks of a mouse.


(There’s always a but, right?)

All email marketing is not created equal.

A lot of them do suck. Today we’re going to talk about what makes for great email marketing.

Knock Your Emails Out of the Park

Though I’m not an email optimization specialist or email marketing expert, I certainly have sent my share of emails over the years, made lots of mistakes, and know what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve even sent emails that people have responded to by saying, “Can you write my emails for me?”

While that always makes me feel good—and is a great indication that our emails work—it’s not something we offer.

Instead, I can give you some best practices we’ve engaged and all of the mistakes to avoid. 

Let’s go over a few tips to help you knock your emails out of the park.

Email Marketing Best Practices

The subject line is the first thing you see when you receive an email.

A compelling and personalized subject line is going to get much more attention than a generic one that could have been sent to anyone else on planet earth.

I almost hate to give you this tip because now everyone on earth will use it and it will become less effective, but…are you more likely to answer an email with your name in the subject line?

I’ll wait.

I’m going to assume you said yes. Of course you are.

The most magical word ever to be uttered is…our own name.

That’s why, when our name is in the subject line, it makes us feel pretty darn special.

If you have someone’s name, use it. If it makes sense to use it in the subject line, do that, too.

Just don’t make it weird.

If it doesn’t flow naturally or if you sound like a robot when you read it, stick to using their name only in the email.

The Content of the Message

Now to the actual content of the message.

You’re not going to like it when I tell you how it should be handled because it’s not something you can control.

And, if you’re anything like me, you like to control all aspects of your communication. 

What will get someone’s attention, outside of their name, is when you email about something they’re interested in.

It helps them take action immediately, which is what you want.

If you can catch the recipient in exactly the right moment AND hit a sweet spot, the odds will definitely be in your favor. 

The bad news is you can’t control whether it’s exactly the right time or if you’ve hit their sweet spot.

The right message to the right person at the right time is a tricky combination.

You can send the best email ever written.

It’s fun, it’s conversational, and it involves one of the most interesting topics in the world.

You just know it’s going to have all the clickthroughs. 

But then the person you send it to is worried about a dentist appointment or maybe they’re flustered because they were late to work or they left their laptop at home and had to go back to get it and *whoosh*!

Deleted without a second thought.

As an aside, this is why email marketing combined with the other media types in the PESO model is so important.

We are preferential to paid media that moves to some of our owned media that moves to email marketing.

THAT is when you can start to control how this all happens.

But that’s a different topic for a different day.

It’s Not Personal…I Promise

No matter what, a lot of your emails aren’t going to be opened or read.

It’s best to accept this now, and most importantly, don’t stress out about it.

You are definitely not alone in this.

You can’t focus on the people who don’t open your emails.

It’s not personal.

It’s the sheer number of emails everyone gets every day.

Combine that with everyone’s busy schedules and personal lives, throw in a really aggressive spam filter… and you see where I’m going with this.

Focus On Clear Calls-to-Action

Focus on what you can control and that, my friends, is a perfect lead-in to the next email marketing tip: clarity.

If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: your CTAs have to be clear and simple for them to be effective.

People are easily overwhelmed and giving them too many choices—or putting too much content in the email—is just as bad as if you don’t give them single way to take action.

Click here, read this, schedule this, respond here, join up. It’s too much.

Nobody wants that many choices in an email.


The same goes for if you try to be coy or clever.

Nobody wants to be click-baited either.

Simple, to the point CTAs are ideal and it makes it easier for everyone involved.

You’re not stuck trying to think of clever or fun ways to tell people what to do and the customer doesn’t have to wade through a million options to get to the deal.

Do you want people to read more information? Tell them.

Are you showcasing a video? Let them know so they can watch after work.

Do you want a reply? Ask them.

It’s really that simple.

Keep it short, simple, and direct.

Now that we’ve hit all the hot points of how to make your emails better, let’s talk about mistakes we all make.

The things that move them directly into the trash.

Mistakes that Ruin Your Emails

At some point, you’re going to make one of these mistakes.

I know I have, which is how I know to steer you away from them.

Of course, you don’t want to make these mistakes—and I’ll do my best to help you avoid them—but it’s not the end of the world if you do.

We’re all human, after all.

With the increase of automated email functions, one of the best is the ability to personalize each and every email you send with the intended person’s name in the greeting.

You choose how you want to address them and the software does the rest.

Voila! Personalized emails for everyone!

But do you know how easy it is to forget that one simple step?

Pretty freakin’ easy.

Or, not that I know anything about this, how easy it is to forget a simple symbol at the start and the end so it ends up saying Dear First Name instead of addressing them by their first name?

That one little mishap turns your email from personal and engaging to the immediate realization that a robot helped you send this email and they suddenly hate you and email and all the things.

I did that once and got the rudest email back, as if I meant to do it and I had personally criticized this woman.

And I’m sure you’ve seen people on Facebook who post examples of said emails and talk about how bad it is.

Yes, it’s bad. Yes, it’s a mistake. And yes, we are all human. It happens. 

Lack of Editing

Next up on the list of mistakes that can ruin a perfectly good email is lack of editing, broken links, and bad formatting.

When all of these things are working, not many people pay attention to them, but you mess up one link or misspell one word, I promise you will hear about.

Probably from multiple people.

And while people are responding, it’s not really what we had in mind when it comes to engagement.

It also makes you want to yell, “I KNOW! Thank you for telling me, but I FREAKING KNOW!”

Again, not speaking from experience or anything. 

This is why test emails are essential.

For the love of all things holy, send a test email.

Send one to yourself.

Send one to another person on your team or your mom or a friend.

Just send it to someone else.

You want to see for yourself how the email looks before it goes out.

Click on all of the links.

Read the content out loud (you’ll be amazed what you catch when you do this).

And then have someone else do the same.

Too. Much. Copy.

One mistake almost everyone makes is they stuff the email full of copy and it’s just too much.

If your email content rivals the length of War and Peace, I promise people won’t read them.

They might save them for later, thinking they’ll get to them eventually.

They never do.

Then they delete them one weekend when they’re clearing out their inbox. 

Keep your emails short and to the point.

If you need to have more content, write a blog post or put the information on a landing page on your website and link to it in your email.

Do not, I repeat, do not put all of the content in the email.

Give them just enough information to take action—and no more.

Hitting the Wrong Tone

Finally, one of the mistakes is when you hit the wrong tone.

Know your audience.

Not everyone has the same sense of humor.

Or appreciates a super casual tone.

Or loves emojis in emails (though I’m starting to come around on that).

What worked in your last email campaign with prospects doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect for your list.

The tone of the different audiences can vary in big ways.

As you start to create email content for your various audiences, build brand personas for each.

Give them names.

Dress them in clothes.

Know what they like and don’t like.

Keep them in mind as you develop your content.

You will never please everyone in your audience but by keeping these few tips in mind—and avoiding the mistakes—you’ll deliver emails that create action…and don’t suck.

You’re Up!

And now it’s your turn…but not before I plug our own email!

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What are some of your email marketing best practices and mistakes?

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Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich