7 Groan-Inducing Email Marketing Etiquette Faux Pas (and How to Avoid Them)

Etiquette mistakes can haunt you for months.

You called someone by the wrong name.

Or you burst into the conference room you thought you had booked… interrupting a bunch of C-level execs discussing confidential data.

Or you tried to give someone a compliment that just didn’t come out right.

Email marketing etiquette missteps may feel a little less embarrassing than these real-life blunders—at least you don’t have to face the people who saw you mess up.

But in a way, they’re riskier. Because you may never know you’re making an etiquette error at all.

And by the time you realize, you may have driven away a significant percentage of your email list.

That’s why today I’m going to highlight a few things you shouldn’t do as part of email marketing automation. Avoid these etiquette breaches to ensure that you keep subscribers engaged with your content and interested in purchasing your products.

This is an area where it really pays to sit down and examine your email marketing setup to root out any faux pas you’ve overlooked.

1. Emailing Without Permission

The faux pas: not asking subscribers for permission

The fix: Create a lead capture form.

It’s a Saturday afternoon. You and your family are sitting on the sofa watching House of Cards.

The plot twist is about to happen and, out of nowhere, someone knocks on your door. You’re not expecting any visitors. But you open the door. And guess who it is?

A salesman soliciting you to buy lawn care services. *Eye roll*

You didn’t ask him to stop by your house. You haven’t even met this person before.

However, he felt the need to interrupt your family time to tell you about his business. You’re annoyed and probably will never buy his services.

That’s the same frustrated feeling that email subscribers get when you don’t ask them for permission before adding them to your email list. They’re upset that you interrupted their day with content they never requested.

In email marketing, it’s important that all businesses ask their website visitors for permission to add them to an email list. It saves your target audience the emotional hassle, and you won’t get booted from your email service provider as a spammer.

Lead capture forms are one of the best ways to earn high-quality leads.

In Drip you can create an opt-in widget to display on your site. When a visitor signs up for your lead magnet, you’ll have the flexibility to automate actions, like subscribing the lead to a marketing campaign or starting them down a particular workflow.

If you’re seeking more powerful features, Leadpages enables businesses to convert visitors into leads with two-step opt-in forms called Leadboxes. You can add these forms anywhere on your website, asking visitors for their names and email addresses. In this case, you begin the consumer relationship on a good note—asking for permission. Below is a Leadbox in action.

Check out this article to learn more about Leadboxes and how you can start growing your list today.

2. Emailing More Often than Subscribers Bargained For

The faux pas: sending subscribers too many emails at once

The fix: Add time delays in your campaigns and workflows.

When you were a kid, you probably made a pinky promise.

You swore to your best friends that you would keep a secret or do something they asked you to do. If you broke the pinky promise, your friend would lose trust in you.

Email marketing is a similar situation. When subscribers sign up to your mailing list, you’re making a promise to give them what they asked for. It may be that five-day email course about the latest trends in healthy eating or that free ebook about how to produce the best podcast shows.

When you break that promise and start bombarding subscribers with more emails than they bargained for, you may annoy them (and lose their trust).

The first solution is to build your campaigns with a sufficient amount of time between each email. A major email marketing etiquette mistake is to deliver an email every day (unless you specifically offered a daily newsletter).

Instead, think about your subscribers’ behaviors. How much time do they really need to digest your content? The example below is a product demo campaign showing various time delays between each email.

In some instances, you want to set up delays in your workflows to deliver your content. If a subscriber signs up for an ebook, you want to send them the lead magnet immediately.

However, you don’t want to start your welcome campaign at the same time. With Drip, you can add delays between your one-off emails and campaigns. Here’s what that might look like…

Remember to give your audience what they asked for. But just as important, avoid flooding them with too many emails.

3. Including Unhappy Customers in Your Marketing Email List

The faux pas: emailing unhappy customers your marketing emails

The fix: Segment unhappy customers and send them through a resolution workflow.

It happens.

Not every customer will enjoy every moment of their experience. They might have complaints about your product or negative feedback about a specific support interaction.

So the last thing you want to do is fuel their frustrations with an unrelated email.

Sarah Nelson, customer service manager at Staylisted, told me she has made a few mistakes as a newbie to email marketing. One time, Sarah used her company’s CRM to email all 3,980 past and current clients, including a few dissatisfied customers.

Since then, she’s learned from this email marketing etiquette faux pas, she says: “I segment my email lists into smaller groups. Not only does this keep the entire campaign from being jammed up, but it also allows me to monitor the analytics better.”

Segmentation is an effective way to send the right message to the right audience. In Drip you can segment your audience based on tags, email activity, and lead scores. It’s also possible to automate the entire process with rules.

Let’s say you process all customer complaints via a specific form. You can automatically segment those unhappy customers with a rule. Once the customer submits the form, you apply a tag.  

Adjust your own rule to act on the signals that indicate a customer is unhappy in your own business—perhaps a lack of engagement with your product or a certain number of Zendesk tickets (which you can record in Drip via Zapier). Then, you can automatically remove unhappy customers from marketing workflows and send them through a particular workflow to resolve the issue.

4. Ignoring What Subscribers Have Told You (Outright or Through Their Actions)

The faux pas: disregarding the actions of your subscribers

The fix: Segment subscribers to customize the email experience.

Ever meet someone who latched onto one particular fact about you… even though it wasn’t true?

Maybe you mentioned once that you were from Illinois, and now this person tries to talk Iowa sports to you every chance they get. Or they keep asking how the kids are doing, which would be fine if you had any.

You might correct them or just roll your eyes and roll with it, but either way you think to yourself: wow, this person just isn’t paying attention to me.

As an email marketer, you never want to inspire that reaction. But if you’re not careful, it can happen to you. For instance…

  • Someone fills out a form to learn about career opportunities, but you include them in your sales campaigns.
  • Someone takes a survey that gives you detailed information about the content they’d like to read—but even though you use that info to improve your general blog strategy, you never use their answers to change the content you send that person.
  • Someone signs up for a webinar aimed at total beginners in your field, but later you send them an email campaign about your intensive course for experts.

The big-picture solution is simple: for any piece of data you collect or action you record, think about how it should change the emails you send.

Drip lets you set specific conditions to include (or exclude) subscribers from your broadcasts or campaigns. Then, you can send customized messages to your email list.

Want to deliver a one-off email with your free ebook Home Buying 101? Just filter the subscribers who opened your recent email about how to buy a home.

Or if subscribers visit your pricing page four times in two days, you can send them a limited-time discount to persuade them to purchase right now. You want the actions of your subscribers to determine your next interaction.

5. Holding Subscribers Hostage

The faux pas: not including an unsubscribe link in your emails

The fix: Set up a default footer that automatically adds the visible unsubscribe link.

It can be hard to let go.

You want all your subscribers to stay on your list forever.

But that’s not a likely scenario.

Plus, it isn’t beneficial for your business. You don’t want people on your list who aren’t interested in your services and want to stop hearing from you. It’s better to sell to 100 qualified leads than 1,000 disinterested subscribers.

So all your emails should include a visible unsubscribe link; if not, you may receive an unwanted backlash from your audience. By not following this email marketing etiquette rule, you’re technically in violation of the law. (Read our Ultimate Email Deliverability Guide here.)

Lauren Fleming, online content manager at American Freight Furniture, told me, “Previously, we didn’t include a clear unsubscribe link at the end of our email.” As a result, her business received several emails and phone calls from people who wanted to unsubscribe.

If you use Drip, you don’t have to stress about subscribers not finding the unsubscribe link. We’ve set up a default footer to add this information automatically. If you want to customize it to fit your email design, that’s an option, too.

Instead of waiting for uninterested subscribers to say goodbye, you can even clean or prune your list now. Check out this article to learn how to clean up your email list (and improve your email marketing ROI in the process).

6. Botching Your Personalization Attempts

The faux pas: making simple mistakes when customizing emails

The fix: Use Liquid code to avoid personalization mishaps

With email personalization, you can build better relationships with your customers. But if you don’t do it carefully, you can end up hurting the relationship more than helping it.

Subscribers cringe when they receive an email starting with “Hi FIRSTNAME!”. Even worse, your high-quality leads may ignore the rest of your message.

Drips lets you use Liquid code to insert custom fields directly into your emails. To add a person’s name, you would include: {{ subscriber.name }}

In some cases, you won’t have every subscriber’s name. Rather than leave it blank, you can use a default filter for these subscribers.

Then, you would enter:

Hello, {{ subscriber.name | default: “friend” }}!

… a subscriber with a “name” field set to “Sally” will see this:

Hello, Sally!

… and a subscriber whose name you don’t know will see this:

Hello, friend!

Are you uncertain about whether you’re entering the Liquid tags correctly? No worries. Drip offers a preview option for you to see the exact email as a specific subscriber before you send it.

Review this article for more email personalization tricks to increase your engagement.

7. Only Reaching Out When You Have Something to Sell

The faux pas: only sending emails to sell your products

The fix: Email high-quality content to your subscribers.

Some businesses take the greedy approach to marketing. They talk about how great their products are in every interaction with their audience.

I can recall getting an email every single day (weekends, too) from a major brand persuading me to purchase their products.

They never tried to learn more about me or find out my real interests. Rather, they just told me about their sales and new product lines. It was annoying.

The relationships with your subscribers aren’t all about you. You wouldn’t ask your best friend for $20 every day, so don’t practice that bad habit with your customers.

Offer quality content that educates your subscribers between promotional emails. Not only will high-quality content help solve your customers’ problems, it will also build trust and establish your company as a go-to resource.

If you’re already producing a blog or educational content, this should be easy: send your best content to relevant subscribers. But if not, consider sending occasional helpful tips right in the body of the email. For instance, a financial advisor could send out a short article about the differences between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA.

You also want to entertain your subscribers to grab their attention. So try telling a story coupled with your helpful advice.

Below is an email from best-selling author Jeff Goins. He shares his perspective on an FAQ from his audience and then offers a free resource where I can learn more.

You don’t have to directly sell to your subscribers in all your emails. As with any relationship, you must give a little to build trust.

Mind Your Email Marketing Manners

Did you identify any potential etiquette mistakes in your own marketing? It might not feel great, but it means you’re halfway there.

You can correct these mistakes today and build better email campaigns that boost your revenue.

Now, go create a flawless email marketing campaign.

What email marketing etiquette mistakes irritate you the most? Tell us in the comments.