Let’s talk about marketing emails

Posted: August 8, 2017

I have to admit I’m conflicted about email marketing. I get why it’s considered a good thing for your business; it helps you stay in touch with the people who genuinely want to hear from you without having to shout to get some attention. Yet at the same time I often find myself wishing I didn’t get so damn many promotional emails every day. Nothing quite as annoying when expecting an important mail from a client only to get notified of yet another 20% sale on a coffee machine.

Please don’t add me to your list

Here are a couple of ‘fun’ examples I had the pleasure of finding in my mailbox. Note: I didn’t sign up for any of these.

  • An ad for a dating site, in French (not my native language) with a barely legible unsubscribe button that lead to a page in Italian (also not my native language) that had a comical UK flag at the top of the page. The mail also assumed I was a man.
  • Several mailings with deals to buy a forklift. I’m a web designer. I’m not sure if I need to explain this further.
  • Emails to buy real estate in Spain, no unsubscribe. I had to send them an email back stating in the subject that I wanted to unsubscribe. I still get their emails from time to time.

And this is only scratching the surface of the amount of marketing mails I get that have absolutely zero to do with my profession, interests or even location. One of my ‘favorites’ is a hypnotists newsletter that I can’t seem to unsubscribe from.

I’m not making this up.

I don’t know where to start. All of it is equally awful and hilarious.


Besides the spam

Now obviously I didn’t choose to receive any of the aforementioned silliness, so what about the mailings I did sign up for? Turns out there are some issues here too.

  • A lot of businesses seem to forget that I don’t always remember exactly who they are or where I signed up. Adding that piece of information to your email footer helps tremendously.

    Codepen demonstrates how easy and painless this is.

    Codepen demonstrates how easy and painless this is.

  • Unless your own name is also the name of your business, please make sure I can immediately see what company you represent. It’s confusing to think your received an email from a potential client only to find out it’s a newsletter after opening.
  • I get it, you sell a product so you send me a small catalog of images to peek my interest. But have you considered that there are quite a number of people who never get to see your images? Or have to download them before they show? Including text and links separately from your images makes sure your message isn’t lost.
  • How did you last check your email? Chances are you took out your smartphone or tablet. Yet, for some reason a lot of email templates are still made with a desktop only approach. It’s 2017, by now it’s only sensible to optimize for smaller screens.
  • Just a little thing but please don’t go nuts with emojii’s or Unicode characters: a lot of your contacts will only see nonsense.

I’m hoping you don’t want your subscribers or potential clients to go through a terrible experience when dealing with your company. So here are some things you should keep in mind.

What the bad guys do (so don’t do this):

  • Buy email addresses*. Even if it’s legal (in case of B2B address lists) it’s still a shitty thing to do. I DON’T care if some marketing guru says this works, it’s bad form.
  • Force anyone to take additional steps when unsubscribing. Don’t ask them to log in or type in their email address. Nope, none of that: just make sure it works automatically.
  • Rely on images as content. You have to expect that a number of contacts will not see them, no matter what. And no, they won’t click your ‘view in browser’ link. Use fall-back text, or better yet, just write text and treat images as an ‘extra’.
  • Think that all customers view emails on one type of device in one type of email program. They don’t.


What you will do from now on (yesss)

  • Make sure to add a clear unsubscribe link and contact info section. This is not a suggestion, it’s mandatory.
  • Talk to people as if they’re people. Shocking, I know. You’re sending a personal message so your copy should be tailored to that purpose. Most email marketing I receive is like a billboard add shoved in my mailbox.
  • While we’re on the subject: write an email, you know – with actual content. Don’t just remake your product folder in HTML. Images can be a nice extra but it really shouldn’t be your main message.
  • Add some information on where your contacts signed up for your list. This creates trust and helps remind your contacts that they are receiving emails they actually care about.
  • Test your mails before sending them. Click all links inside your mail to see where they lead.
  • For the multilingual crowd: make sure to also translate your screens, not just your email. Nothing says ‘sloppy’ quite like clicking a link and seeing a page in a language you don’t understand.
  • Use a responsive email template. It’s a no-brainer and easy as pie when you’re using mailing services such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor.


So now, go out there and send good marketing emails! Otherwise your mail will only arrive to one destination: the spam folder. And let’s face it, it’s already pretty crowded there.


*Please note that there’s nothing wrong with cold emailing businesses as long as you take out the time to send them a custom written letter. Consider it akin to writing a cover letter when applying for a job. You also wouldn’t copy/paste the same message to all the companies you’re applying for. (You wouldn’t, right?)