The 6 Most Common Small Business Email Marketing Mistakes
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Small Business

The 6 Most Common Small Business Email Marketing Mistakes

Research shows email is 40x more effective than social media, and marketer Ryan Holiday argues that email lists are the most important marketing asset. But why doesn't everyone get the return they deserve?

This article was written by Shay Howe, the VP of Marketing and Design at ActiveCampaign, a Salesforce partner.

Did you know email is one of the most effective marketing channels for small businesses? It returns $38 for every dollar spent, according to the Direct Marketing AssociationResearch shows email is 40x more effective than social media, and marketer Ryan Holiday argues that email lists are the most important marketing asset. The numbers sound impressive, but we also know that most small businesses are probably not getting back $38 for every dollar spent on email. Why? 

They are (probably) making these six email marketing mistakes. 

1. Summaries or clever puns in email subject lines

If only 10% of people open your emails, you’re barely reaching any of the people on your email list. A great subject line can skyrocket open rates, but most subject lines have one of these two problems:

  • Summarizing the contents of the email (which doesn’t entice people to open)
  • Using clever puns or jokes (which doesn’t give people a reason to open)

A subject line is similar to a newspaper headline. As famed ad-man David Ogilvy says, double meanings, puns, and other obscurities are counter-productive in a headline. Since your headline is competing with so many others, get to the point and say what you want to say.

One of the best ways to write great subject lines is to use the “information gap” theory coined by behavioral economist George Loewenstein. He named five ways you can make someone curious:

  1. Ask a curiosity-inducing question
  2. Start a story, but don’t finish it
  3. Be unexpected
  4. Imply you have information the reader doesn’t
  5. Imply the reader has information, but they’ve forgotten it

When you sit down to write subject lines, start with your topic. Then ask yourself:

  • “How can I make this a question?” 
  • “Can I make this the beginning of a story?”
  • “How can I be unexpected?”

Your subject lines will improve, and your open rates will go up. 

2. Weak (or no) preheader text

Preheader text is the small snippet of text that appears right after your subject line. In most emails, it looks like a second email subject line or a subhead. 

If you don’t consciously choose your preheader, most email platforms will pull the text from the beginning of your email. Sometimes that’s ok. Other times the first text is something like “view in browser” — or worse, “unsubscribe.” 

Some email platforms, like ActiveCampaign, make it easy to change your preheader text without needing any HTML or CSS. Take a moment to update your preheader text, and you should see email open rates go up.

Example of preheader text in a workflow window

3. Inconsistent email outreach

Do you email your list consistently? Whenever you get the time? Or only when you have something to sell?

A lot of small businesses send emails at irregular times. When you have a lot to do, putting out a weekly email is a chore. But it’s important to be consistent.

If you don’t send consistently, the emails you send will get worse results for three reasons:

  • People won’t recognize your name in their inbox (so they might unsubscribe)
  • You won’t have the chance to build trust
  • You’ll come across as only wanting to sell

Committing to an email schedule is a simple way to stay top-of-mind.

4. Not testing your emails

If you don’t test emails, you’re missing the opportunity to get more eyes on your marketing.

graphic that compares email samples and includes open rate stats

In most email platforms, you can run an A/B test just by writing a second subject line and clicking a few buttons. Each email could get 25% more opens in just a few extra minutes.

5. Confusing email copy and design

Research shows that people spend under a minute reading email newsletters. Very few people read their email newsletters word-by-word, preferring to scan instead. Because of this, your emails need to be crystal clear.

Direct response copywriters follow the Rule of One. Every message focuses on one clear idea. What does that mean for your emails?

  • Focus on one primary call to action
  • Make your value proposition clear from the start
  • Keep your design easy to understand

The more noise you put in an email, the harder it is to understand.

6. Not using email automation

If you only send one-off newsletters, you’re missing huge time- (and business-) savings.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, automated email campaigns account for 21% of email marketing revenue. Automation can help you send emails at the right moment – and save you time writing the emails that come up over and over again. What are some common ways to use email automation?

  • Welcome a new lead to your email list (send them more information about your organization and move them closer to becoming a customer)
  • Welcome a new customer after a purchase (help them make the most of their purchase, and add opportunities to upsell and cross-sell)
  • Reach out to customers that show “purchase intent,” so you can push for the sale at the perfect moment
illustration of an example email automation workflow

You can’t be everywhere at once, and automating email marketing helps you reach out at the moment people are most likely to buy from you.

Want to get the best results from your email marketing (and reach that 38:1 ROI)? Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll be on your way to email marketing success.

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