DMF 2011 | 7 Email Marketing Mistakes I Made & How to Avoid Them

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Feb 3, 2011
More Articles by Kaitlyn

The first session I’m attending today at Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Forum is “7 Email Marketing Mistakes I Made & How to Avoid Them.”  DJ Waldow of Blue Sky Factory is presenting.  (Due to the weather, Giovanni Gallucci is unable to make it this morning…)

Email is not my primary area of expertise, so I’m very  interested to see what others have learned through the experience of email marketing.

Mistake #1: Purchasing an email list. When is it ok to buy an email list?  The short answer, according to DJ, is never. Of course, there are exceptions – but most of the time, lists are not scrubbed and contain people who have not opted in.  This might get you black-listed.  The recommendation is to try to grow a list organically.

Mistake #2: Sending to an old email list. If you have an old  list of contacts (for example- people who attended a presentation of yours years ago), what are the risks of reaching out to those people again?  Keep in mind that these contacts haven’t heard from you in a while; they may not recognize you and might mark you as spam.  A rule of thumb from DJ is that beyond 6-9 months, your likelihood of getting contacts to remember you dramatically declines.  (On a related note, make sure you send a welcome email to every new contact as soon as you can.)  Contacts will also have likely changed their email addresses over time, so those messages will either go unopened or will bounce.

Mistake #3: Sending emails with inconsistent branding. It seems like this would present the biggest problem for big organizations with multiple departments.  Universities are a prime example.  Be sure to keep the same logo across the email, landing page, and website.  Similarly, try to keep the same navigation and header on the email as on the website.  Templates are great for managing the email communications of different departments.

Mistake #4: Dumping email addresses from business cards onto your list. There were no brave souls in this audience who cared to share their experiences with what happened after employing this technique after trade shows and conferences.  Presumably, the result wasn’t good.  Now, there is nothing wrong with sending a personal follow-up email after collecting a business card and giving your new contact the opportunity to opt into a list.  You can also use email marketing tools to add a new contact to your list on the spot and personalize a welcome message.

Mistake #5: Employing a “batch & blast” or “spray & pray” strategy. What is a “spray and pray” strategy?  It’s blasting the same exact email message to everyone on your list- without segmenting.  Sometimes it can work, but usually segmentation gives a much better result.  Consider asking users who sign up for your email to fill out preferences; they can set their preferences and specific areas of interest.  This makes email communications more relevant- always a good thing.

Mistake #6: Not understanding why you are doing email marketing. Know your goal!  What’s your call-to-action?  What do you want people to do?  Often, email communications are loaded with information and multiple CTAs.  To me, this sounds a lot like the principle behind landing page conversion rate optimization.  Try to keep things as simple and focused as possible.  Everything you include in your email should be consistent with the intended effect you want to have on people.

Mistake #7: Sending emails sporadically (no consistency). Irregularity is a problem in email marketing, because people forget about you after a while.  What can you do to combat this irregularity? Create an editorial calendar to keep your team on track for pushing out email.  But also, re-imagine content.  (This is a technique we recommend for SEO as well).  If you have a blog, you have articles you can include in an email.  If you have special events coming up, you can promote them through emails.  Be as creative as you can about re-purposing existing content.

Share this article

Facebook Icon Twitter Icon LinkedIn Icon Google Plus Icon Pinterest Icon

Subscribe today!

Join over 4,000 marketers who receive actionable digital marketing insights.


Blog Search

  • Thanks for the recap. Regarding mistake number seven, sending emails sporadically, I think we need to differentiate between sporadically and inconsistently. In other words, I don’t think it’s a mistake if your emails don’t get distributed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at exactly three o’clock. I do agree that it’s a mistake to send a few emails this months and the next batch seven months later.

    — Mike from

    • Thanks for your comments, Mike. Yes- I definitely agree that you shouldn’t let too much time go by without reaching out to your email list. I’ve been on the consumer side of this issue too many times. I get an email, don’t recognize the sender, then realize it’s something I signed up for eons ago. Definitely a mistake.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention DMF 2011: 7 Email Marketing Mistakes I Made & How to Avoid Them | Search Marketing Sage --

  • Everytime I read one of those “best practice” summaries about email marketing I always hear that old canard about “don’t buy a list.” How, then, do these experts advise business start-ups to quickly grow a list? I’ve got news for you: if you’re a small business start-up with no mailing list, you can have the best content in the world and use the best online marketing seduction ideas out there to get folks to sign up on your list but your list is still unlikely to grow by more than a few names/week.

    Seriously, I think most of these folks saying these things either work for exceedingly well-funded start-ups or established, larger businesses. There ARE good list vendors out there and — to clear up a misconception — most folks will only RENT their lists to you. They then do the blast for you, which means that “getting blacklisted” is not going to happen to the actual business renting the list. The trick then, since you’re only renting the list, is to drive visitors from the blast to a landing page with a new subscriber sign-up.

    Buying from a reputable vendor and using this method is one of the few ways — short of some sort of incredibly lucky viral accident — that businesses can quickly grow their email marketing list.

    • Hi Dave- I wish you could have been at the session in person to pose this point of view! There were actually a few voices there which echoed your opinion. And the speaker acknowledged that there are always exceptions to the rule. One attendee in particular had seen significant success through selective buying of lists, and he emphasized the importance of trying to find lists that are as targeted as possible. And I really like your idea of driving traffic from those initial email blasts to a landing page asking them to opt in for more content. Thanks for making that point.

  • First off, thanks so much for attending and recapping the talk, Kaitlyn. I really wish Giovanni could have been there as this was *his* talk, with me filling in the back story! Oh well.

    Mike: Excellent point. You are 100% correct. I like your word choice much better!

    Dave: Ha! Well said. I agree that growing a list organically can be a challenge. My colleagues and I wrote an eBook last year that lists 50 ways to grow your list. You can grab it from here: (Note: If you don’t want to fill out all of the information, please email me – djwaldow AT – and I’ll send you a direct link to the eBook PDF). Also, you are correct that buying a list and renting a list are very different and often confused. I addressed that a bit in my talk. Finally, as Kaitlyn said in her Feb 7 comment, I also wish you could have been there live. One gentleman in particular was adamant about list buying working for him. He was, in my opinion, the exception – mostly because he was very very careful with how he scrubbed the list and emailed to it.

    Happy to keep the conversation going! Thanks again, Kaitlyn. You are a fast typer and a good listener.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    • Thanks for the follow-up on those points, DJ. I thought you gave a really engaging talk- and I’ll definitely be checking out those tips for growing a list organically!