Part 1 of this blog series analyzed data to illustrate why consumers and marketers love email.

The key takeaway?
People check emails all of the time and everywhere, even in the bathroom (guilty), pushing brands to double down on the #1 channel in terms of ROI.

Today, we’ll look into the most hated email fails and the 4 steps you can take to avoid them.

A special thanks to Michael Barber for the insightful email workshop he held at PDX Digital Summit. Many of the examples below are drawn from his presentation.


Why We Hate Email (and How To Fix It)

  • 1

    We are drowning in SPAM

According to SpamLaws.com a whopping 45% of all email is SPAM!

Aside from being annoying, SPAM email costs companies time and money due to productivity loss and technical expenses.

The Radicati Group found that businesses worldwide lost $20.5 Billion from SPAM email in 2012 alone:


But there’s hope!

As the tech around email rapidly evolves and email clients follow Gmail’s lead in adopting AI, your inbox is getting smarter.

You can instantly unsubscribe and mark emails as Spam:

Reputation data can make it harder for irrelevant emails to land in your inbox (or intended folder):

Governments worldwide are increasing Anti-SPAM regulations and penalties:

This 2016 Litmus chart excludes the latest GDPR laws penalizing offenders up to €20 million or 4% of the annual global turnover (whichever is higher). Yikes!


So, why is this good?

Innovation and stricter laws are pushing email marketers to up their game and craft more compelling, relevant, and timely campaigns. Those who refuse to change…won’t be around much longer.


  • 2

    We (mostly) fail at email

Making mistakes is okay. We all do it.

But we must learn from the past and end these awful (and way too familiar) email fails:

Confusing subject lines


Props for segmenting your list πŸ™‚


Columns + tables = sad

Please don’t make us pinch and zoom:


Lack of testing

Testing. It takes time. It’s hard. It’s important.


Shopping cart abandonment. We know you’re watching, don’t be creepy:


Go ahead and unsubscribe, if you can…

Link please!

Who wrote this?

  • 3

    We can do better (here is how)

Step 1: Deliver

If your email doesn’t reach the inbox, nothing else matters!

This infographic by eMarketeer provides a good high-level overview of the 3 most prominent authentication methods: SPF, DKIM & DMARC:

Work with your IT team to prioritize email authentication. Sender Score is a great tool to help you gauge and improve your sender reputation.

Step 2: Hook

Congrats! Your email made it to the inbox, and its only job now is to get your reader to lean in and open.

Sender name

Trusting the email sender is the #1 determinant of whether your email will be opened or ignored.

I encourage you to test which combination appeals most to your subscribers. I found the following works great for me and most of my clients: [First Name] at or from [Brand Name].

Keep in mind that web clients have different character limits for displaying the from address, with some maxing out at only 14 characters.


Subject lines

Although I prefer using short subject lines, Phrasee analyzed 750+ billion emails to determine that subject line length accounts for only 0.1% of email open rate variance:

Subject line size may not matter much, but the sentiment, word choice, and sophistication do.

Sentiment is the feeling(s) a message arouses within the reader. To write winning subject lines, focus on eliciting these 5 key sentiments:

Word choice matters and can significantly increase or decrease your open rates (see the full list):

Sophistication can also have a big impact on your open rates. When in doubt, keep it simple:

Your subject lines (and email copy) will be perceived differently by different people. The more you can segment your audience and understand how they communicate, the better your emails will perform.

Continuous testing + learning = success. Test one thing at a time and focus on what moves the needle:


Preview text

The preview text remains mostly ignored by marketers. Don’t leave yours up to chance!

Keep it short, tie it back to the subject line and use this sweet hack:

Enter this string of code (‌ ) after your chosen preview text to add white space and stop email clients from displaying undesired text:

The results are awesome!

Step 3: Engage

Think mobile first and serve an experience consumable in 8 seconds or less.

Use single column “skinny” layouts

We are used to scrolling up and down:


Write compelling headlines (≀ 15 words)

Use fonts to help your content be scannable:


Got data? Use it!

Personalization goes a lot further than simply adding “First Name” and “Company” tokens, however, it’s a great place to start:

“Brands that personalize marketing emails experience 27% higher unique CTR and 11% higher open rates than those that do not.”
– Experian


Get interactive

95% of email clients support embedded CSS (last year was 65%), so get creative!

Live quizzes:



Remember to set your fallback images (thanks Outlook) and test how your emails render across different web clients and devices.


Step 4: Act

Guide your reader to take a clear next step: click, reply, forward?

KILL “Click here” & “Submit”

“Click here” doesn’t make sense:

  • It’s 2018, you know how to use buttons and links
  • You don’t click on mobile, you touch (please DO NOT change to “Touch here”)
  • It doesn’t provide you with any useful information

“Submit” it’s just so rude:


Use action words, spark curiosity and keep it short

Try this fun CTA generator!


Honorable mentions

1. Always use bulletproof buttons!

Using a CTA image is risky as your subscribers may never see your intended message:

2. Always set Alt Text (tag) in case your images do not display. See example above πŸ™‚

3. Design Big and with Contrast

Help the large thumbs of the world and make your CTA big and easy to tap. Apple suggests at least 44 X 44 points:

Use vibrant colors to create contrast and draw attention to your CTA:

4. Place your primary CTA “above the fold” or as high up in your email as possible:

Yup… I just wanted to show you I make a great guest.

5. How many links?

Most marketers have been told to include only one link in their emails.

I have found it’s all about context and your desired outcome.

My clients have had success sprinkling the same link (text & button) 2-3 times in a given email, as long as it drove the reader to the same destination.

What’s worked for you?

Let me know in the comments below.

Ready for part 3?

About Manu Grossi

Simplo Marketing | Founder

Ciao! I'm Manu. I enjoy helping businesses simplify marketing automation to accelerate growth. If you're looking to get the most out of your marketing automation investment - you're in the right place.