What's the WORST email marketing advice you ever received? - 22 experts share their story

I love doing expert roundups - I really do. It's always great to read what smart people have to say about a certain topic. One of the best roundup posts I read recently was "11 SaaS Leaders Share The Worst SaaS Advice They’ve Ever Heard" by Kate Harvey.

Every day there are dozens of roundups on "What's your BEST tip for X?" - which is cool, don't get me wrong. But it also gets old fast.

I love to read about other people's failures - not necessarily because I'm an evil person. Okay, maybe that's part of it.

No, what I love about it is, that people are super genuine when they talk about their failures, they are candid and you can learn a ton by avoiding the same mistakes.

So I shamelessly copied that idea (Thanks, Kate!) and asked experts:

What's the WORST email marketing advice you ever received?

Here are their insightful answers.

Rob Walling

To spend a bunch of time and/or money designing a fancy, highly-visual multi-column template. Unless you're in e-commerce, where visual really sells, it's so much more important to connect with your reader on a personal level, and you can do that with a simple "looks like plain text" email template.

Ariel Di Stefano

Don't resend the same email to those that didn't open it.

Why is it the worst advice ever?

There is no better long hanging fruit for email marketers that resending the campaign to the subscribers/customers that didn't open your email. Just wait 24/48hours, change the subject line and add a small note if you wish explaining why they should not miss this email.

Mike Taber

The worst email marketing advice I've ever seen is to use a long-form sales email with the thought being that it works on webpages. It doesn't.

What happens is that it comes across as a giant wall of text and people tend to tune out quickly because then the email looks like work. They didn't check their email to read a book. They checked it because they were between meetings or in line at a grocery store. You've given them work without asking and they're less likely to respond.

If you really want to send a long-form sales email to someone, write a blog post instead and then link to it from a super-short email. The blog post will be easier to reuse, you'll have better tracking statistics within the context of the browser and you can use images & good design to make it easy for a reader to consume. It's really hard to do any of that with the confines of an email client.

There are some exceptions but generally speaking, long-form sales emails should be avoided.

Michael Buckbee

That you absolutely need to be consistent in sending emails on a strict schedule. While that's nice, what is far more important is making sure that every single thing you send is useful and timely.

If you're able to teach someone something really useful, they'll be much more receptive to anything you have to say..

Jeff Bridges

"Cold email is dead"

If you are prospecting on your own and finding the correct decision maker and cleaning lists, this can be GOLD. Me and my partner did almost a million dollars in our first year with cold email as 90% of our revenue coming from cold email lists. Developing niched down websites and case studies are huge to closing cold outreach clients.

Kate Harvey

The worst email marketing advice I received is that long sales emails convert better than shorter ones. It's a bit ridiculous to concentrate on email length as an absolute. Instead, your focus should be on creating compelling email content that speaks directly to the pain points your product/service solves. Experiment with your email marketing to determine whether long or short emails convert best for your specific audience. And don't stop there! You can A/B test copy, email length, subject lines, call to actions, and more.

Carissa Lintao

"Email marketing is dead."

No, it's not dead. People don't want to read your emails because they provide 0 value. No one cares about your "awesome" webinar or new ebook.

Send emails that provide actual value, and people will open them. It's crazy, I know. But it just might work for you.

Jane Portman

Great question! It's hard to think of truly bad advice — most recommendations give you the right direction. The biggest problem is that they're too broad and generic.

I specifically dislike email marketing "tricks" when emails pretend to be something they are not. "Sent from my iPhone" founder emails, and other deceptive practices. My rule #1 is to be open about all automated emails (while still using personal, informal language).

Justin Jackson

"Don't send more than once a week."

Turns out, you can send a lot more email than you think. I know people that send a daily email, and have amazing engagement.

During a product launch, I'll send 1-2 emails per day for 3-7 days. Without fail, I'll earn 30% of my revenue from the last email I send.

Mario Peshev

"Always aim for the highest email open rates."

Zealously tricking your readers to open your emails would do you a great disservice if you start implementing each and every 101 marketing and sales tactic for your subject line. Plenty of online marketers "cross the line" by writing scandalous subject titles, using intense scarcity for their customers, or tricking them into opening an email at all costs.

There is a certain level of trust you need to build with your readers. Don't go for subject lines such as "ATTENTION!!", "Your account has been compromised", "I wish I was dead" or anything that may as well cause a heart attack to your readers.

I see more and more marketers applying these techniques and receiving waves of unsubscribers by infuriated readers who feel betrayed or scared to death by a marketing trick. Don't risk your reputation for the sake of 2% higher email open rates.

Victor Purolnik

To write every email individually. I'd rather choose my target audience so narrowly, that a template reads like personally written to them. I have a well-defined funnel, and I send only slightly modified templates to everybody and people are loving those messages.

Cassandra Schwartz

"Send as little emails as possible, you don't want people to think you're spamming them."

Well, it turns out people like emails, when the content is relevant. Instead of worrying about being too frequent, let your audience choose their frequency. Upon signing up for your email list let them pick what works for them. Consider that the average open rate is 25%, and many companies don't experience a change in open rates from daily to weekly to monthly email cadences. Test the frequency and find what works for your customers and organization.

Brandon Schaefer

The worst advice I received was to send out daily emails.

People don't want to hear from me everyday. They want to hear from me when I have something compelling to share, and it's impossible for me to have something amazing to share daily. By throttling back how often I sent emails, I stopped flooding email inboxes with junk information, and when I did decide to send an email, the engagement was outstanding.

Vanhishikha Bhargava

That marketing automation will solve all your email marketing challenges.

While marketing is a great technique to implement email nurturing campaigns, it doesn’t solve every aspect of it and still requires marketers to keep a close tab on customer engagement.

For example, if you’re not getting any new leads into your marketing automation pipeline, you’ll automatically have a problem with the nurturing workflow. Simply put, a segment of your audience might continue to remain engaged with your brand, but there will certainly be those who will remain stuck at a point in the funnel.

Without fresh contacts, your nurturing flow will remain inefficient. So marketing automation actually doesn’t solve the need for a sustainable incoming volume of leads.

You need to consistently find channels to communicate with your subscribers or offer them to opt in for your updates with simpler solutions like web push notifications, which can of course be automated as well.

Alex Yumashev

The worst advice would be "exit popups" for email signups. You know, those huge email-signup forms popping up when you're about to leave someone's website. Or - email signup forms popping up after 5 seconds of reading a post. We AB-tested this, and the results are absolutely horrible.

It's a "lose-lose" case. If your content sucks - the stupid popups don't help. If your content rocks - you don't even need the popups. Focus on making great products and content.

It's amazing how fast "inbound marketing" has turned into the same old "interruption marketing" (which is what popups essentially are - interruption marketing).

Benedikt Deicke

The worst advice I got, was to automate things.

It's not inherently bad advice, but horrible when you don't have your target audience and messaging figured out yet. When automation is done badly, it shows and your email marketing campaigns become ineffective. Instead of automating things early on, I do things manually until I have a solid grasp on the processes and messaging.

Stephen Kellett

Two things, from the same people:

#1 That spam is OK

#2 That the "professionally designed" HTML email template and CSS was a good design when visually it was utterly useless if you wanted any background colour other than white (because you could see white lines everywhere). It was amateur nonsense being pushed as worthwhile by people who should have known better. If you can see something is bullshit, believe your eyes not the people you are talking to.

Ariel Lanis

"Comparing two email platforms is easy: see if there is any difference in the OPEN rate. After you send the campaign from both platforms you'll know who is the best email platform".

Choosing the right email platform has a few important elements besides delivery to inbox: Does the platform help me overcome my most important marketing needs? Is the platform intuitive to use? How is the support and is it personal? Is it cost effective?

BTW, email open rate can change between platforms, due to the fact that the pixel that counts the actual 'open' can be on top or bottom of the HTML, so it may not always count. Also, some ESP's show total opens and not unique opens. Bottom line- compare the click rate or 'click to open' rate, no one can fool you there.

Jeff de Wijs

The worst email marketing advice I ever got was to just sent the same email to everyone at the same time. Segmenting would not be worth the time.

I couldn't disagree more. This old batch-and-blast approach hurts your email marketing efforts in the long run. Your subscribers become disengaged and even with a good list building strategy, it will lead to a diminishing email ROI. Customers behave differently and have different preferences, so your communications towards them should reflect that.

You will receive lots of data when customers engage with you and you will convert a lot more of them quicker by using this data in your email marketing campaigns.

Scott Nixon

Marketing automation has most marketers assuming that drip email sequences will work for every audience. You need to test that assumption, and not assume it's going to work.

We sell to consumers and the vast majority don't want to learn. My best hypothesis is that they want to be entertained. So if you can entertain them and not ask for too much of their time you are likely to create a good sequence.

Remember all advice is autobiographical and usually based on that person's experience.

Robin Warren

"You're sending TOO MANY emails!"

I get this or a variant on it probably about as often as I get people complimenting me on my onboarding emails. The latter group quite frequently then follow up saying they are signing up or maybe asking about for some feature which is currently high on my priorities from my other best customers. The former group normally follow up with an email saying "Wait, it costs money! What is this! You're a bad man! You should make a free version with all the features I want and then charge for some other stuff I don't use!" or something like that. I prefer to listen to the people who want to give me money to solve their problems:)

My onboarding currently consists of emails once a day for the first week of the trial. Some of these don't get sent if they have taken certain actions. Others are more educational and go to everyone. They will also receive an email once the first dashboard they create has completed loading and a welcome email shortly after signing up.

Jeandre Gerber

Whether you're starting off with digital marketing or you have been at it for years, you're always searching for the next "BIG THING" to help put you over the edge within your marketing endeavors.

As we all know, there are a few staple strategies in place we use continually and one of the cornerstones of a good online marketing strategy is "emailing".

However, doing email marketing effectively is where it gets tricky. The first problem every single marketer has when they start off is, "How to get people into my list".

There is no quick answer to this, it requires investing time, energy and sometimes money to make your list relevant and with a high conversion rate. So we create landing pages, offer bribe gifts, special offers and add our calls-to-actions everywhere just to have people give us their emails and potentially convert them to customers.

This is all fine and dandy, however, let me talk to you now about 'What you're not supposed to do".

The following experience happened to me a few years back. I was no longer "green" when it comes to marketing and have had a firm understanding of the "inbound methodology" in relation to list building for years.

But as mentioned, us marketers always look for a loophole here or a hidden tactic there to advance our marketing efforts. So a client of mine tells me he wants to build an email list. I told him the process and instructed him that to build a value-list it will take time, effort and consistency.

He would have none of it. He wanted to get a large list quickly and make money even quicker. He also told me that he had some "secret weapons" we can use to achieve our goals in less time.

What were the secret weapons you ask?

  1. Over 10k connections on LinkedIn
  2. Purchased lists with over 40k people in it.

"Just email them" he said, "We can set up automated messages and just get the word out there. Even if 5% converts we make money".

An uneasy feeling sat in the pit of my stomach, I knew that this was not really "ethical" however the client insisted and told me he spoke to some 'other marketer' about this tactic and that it's fine.

Reluctantly I went along with it, and even acquired software that would send the emails via a proxy server in order to avoid the actual domain of the site to be blacklisted.

I configured the lists, set up the automated emails, linked them to squeeze pages, and clicked "send".

At first, it didn't seem so bad. The emails were being opened making me think that people were reading them. I thought to myself, "If this works...I'm so doing it myself."

It wasn't too long after that thought that reality came in through the door and slapped me in the face with a wet fish. The bounce rates of the emails started shooting up, then delivery rates started falling, fewer people opened the emails and eventually I knew that something was amiss.

I tried sending a test mail to one of my email aliases and when I saw that the email never hit my inbox, I checked the spam folder and lo' and behold...there it was.

I sub-sequentially tried to email my alias directly using the client's email address and....SPAM!

It's one of those "Oh Shit!" moments within digital marketing when you realize your client's site might be black listed. I started searching whether the domain was indeed black listed and as suspected, it was black listed on roughly 12 different servers.

If you've ever been black listed, you know it can seriously affect your deliver-ability rates. But is there anything you can do to remove the domain from the black listed servers?

Fortunately there was. It's not easy though.

You have to search for the individual black listed server, make a request to remove it, pray to the digital gods for mercy and hope that it will work.

After roughly 2 months of me going to each server, at times having to physically talk to people and explain to them the "Mishap" through a white lie, I managed to get the site only black listed on one server.

It ended up costing the client a few thousand dollars to get his domain clean again, not to mention the expense of the bought lists.

Out of the nearly 100k emails we had, less than a thousand opened the emails and only 3-5 people actually came back to us with inquiries.

And so my lesson was learned and I understood that no matter how appealing a "list of 10k business people" might seem to you at the moment, it's always best to "build a list" ethically as opposed to having to run into the digital wasteland of removing your domain from a black listed server.

Oh, and before I forget. If any one of the people within the list of 100k people decided to get nasty, they would have had a legal right to sue my client due to anti-spam laws...which is a real thing.

IF litigation was involved, the 'offending party' pays per 'instance', meaning if the court decides that you owe $10,000 in retributions to the affected parties...you'd pay for ALL AFFECTED PARTIES. You do the math.

So what's the moral of the story?

There's no cutting corners within digital marketing. Don't buy lists, build them and never listen to your clients when it comes to doing what you do. You're the marketer....not them!

And that was the worst email marketing advice I have ever received.

And you know what they say...."If at first you don't succeed, burn all evidence you ever tried..."

Thanks for sticking by and reading this personal account of horrible decisions...I hope at least you learned 'what not to do' by reading this experience.

Keep it real people, and keep on trucking!

Learn better email marketing

Sign up for the mailing list to receive
  • more ideas like this one
  • the lead generation chapter
  • a special discount

You'll receive the email course and following that you'll receive emails containing great content and/or promotions of interest to you about once per week. You can unsubscribe at any time. We'll keep personal data according to our Privacy Policy