4 Email Marketing Mistakes that Make Your Members Hit 'Unsubscribe'


We’re pretty big fans of email marketing here at WordStream, and over the past year or so we’ve been sharing all our best advice on creating effective email marketing campaigns, including tips on:

But it’s not enough just to build up a big list. You also need to take steps to ensure you aren’t pissing your readers off, causing them to unsubscribe forthwith.

unsubscribe from marketing email

It’s not you, it’s me. No wait – it’s you.

One of the most common causes of email unsubscribes is email volume/frequency – people may have signed up for your list expecting an email every week or so, and be unpleasantly surprised to see new messages from you in their inbox every day.

reasons for email unsubscribes

via Marketing Charts

But here are a few less obvious email marketing mistakes you could be making that turn subscribers off.

Email Marketing Mistake #1: Over-Personalization

I’m on the verge of unsubscribing from Etsy’s emails (which I used to love!). Why? Because they have become over-personalized or, perhaps I should say, poorly personalized.

Here’s what I mean: Despite a varied purchase history over the course of several years, all my Etsy emails from the past several months have been full of promos for the same seller – thanks to one item I purchased from that seller as a gift.

The emails used to surface all kinds of cool stuff that I probably wouldn’t have gone searching for on my own – jewelry, bags, funky household doo-dads, etc. Now they’re full of engraved spoons:

email marketing over-personalization

I am so sick of seeing these spoons! And I’m highly unlikely to ever buy another one. Meanwhile, Etsy is missing the opportunity to show me other items and shops that might actually spur me to purchase.

How to fix the mistake

If your emails are set up to show similar items after a subscriber makes a purchase, put some kind of cap on the amount of time that they continue to see that same type of item. Or consider not showing them the same types of item at all – for example, if someone buys a fancy digital camera, they’re unlikely to buy another one anytime soon (but they might be interested in camera accessories, like a case or filters).

Email Marketing Mistake #2: The Brand Who Cried Wolf

One of the best ways to get people to open your email is to create a sense of urgency. For example, if you’re running a short-term sale or special offer, let people know that it’s their last day to save 40% or get free shipping.

Here’s what not to do: Don’t create a completely false sense of urgency and then proceed to keep playing the urgency card again and again, week after week.

email marketing subject line mistakes

J. Crew is particularly guilty of this email crime. They are literally always running a sale – some individual code might expire, but another one is bound to pop up in my inbox tomorrow. So the urgency feels like a big fat lie and I no longer pay any attention to it.

How to fix the mistake

If you do have sales running all of the time, maybe make that part of your brand’s value proposition, instead of pretending that your sales are rare and special events.

Email Marketing Mistake #3: Phony Sincerity

Speaking of lies and deceptions, let’s talk sincerity.

There will come a time – if it hasn’t happened already – that your business makes a mistake and you have to apologize for it. When that time comes, take responsibility for your actions and do what you can to correct them.

email mistakes

But don’t lay it on so thick that your readers can smell the insincerity from across three time zones. Don’t use it as an underhanded opportunity for self-promotion. And definitely don’t make excuses, blame one person at your company, or invent an irrelevant sob story, as in this over-the-top “heartfelt” example:

email marketing apology tips


How to fix the mistake

If you have to send a one-off apology email, keep it simple and direct. Correct the mistake and move on.

Email Marketing Mistake #4: Your Unsubscribe Process Is Broken

Having no unsubscribe button at all is illegal. But assuming you do have one, make sure it actually works! Users shouldn’t have to take multiple steps or re-enter their email address, and the unsubscribe shouldn’t take weeks to go into effect.

You may think that if people want off your list, they’re of no value to your business anymore and it doesn’t matter how you treat them. But remember, just because people don’t want to receive your emails, that doesn’t mean they’re done with your brand completely or won’t continue to shop with you. So it’s best to keep the unsubscribe process simple, clean, and effective so they leave the email list without a bad taste in their mouths. They’ll be much more likely to interact with your brand again in the future.

In fact, if you keep it real classy, you might even be able to prevent them from leaving. My colleague Meg actually decided not to unsubscribe from a Fab email list due this clever messaging on their unsubscribe page:

unsunscribe mistakes

How to fix the mistake

Look for an email marketing provider that offers a simple one-click unsubscribe process, then test it to make sure it works. Consider a customized unsubscribe page that lets your soon-to-be-former subscriber know that you value their readership.

What’s the worst email marketing mistake you’ve made or seen?


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Megan Marrs
Jan 20, 2015

What do you mean Elisa, you don't want 10 personalized spoons? ;)

Emailing customers is tough these days. I for one get probably 20+ emails a day from a wide variety of brands and businesses (thank you Gmail promotions tab). It feels claustrophobic, and I think a lot of users end up going on unsubscribe binges, especially when they see a company bugging them constantly with those fake urgency threats you talk about. Less is more!

P.S. That sob story email is really excruciatingly awkward... I also think it may be illegal to reveal the prescription medication an employee is on. Especially in a massive email.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 20, 2015

OMG, right? When I got to the medication part my jaw fell open.

Jan 20, 2015

Lots of great points made in this blog post. I would say #3 and #4 are super critical. Looking phony is the worst. But not being able to leave is even worse!

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 20, 2015

Yeah sometimes "unsubscribe" buttons feel like the buttons at crosswalks -- you press them but nothing happens.

James Hughes
Jan 22, 2015

Hey Elisa!
Really enjoyed your post. Quite an eye-opener to the mistakes even an established online marketer can make. I will constantly be referring to your guidelines.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 22, 2015

Thanks James!

Jon Green
Jan 23, 2015

"Having no unsubscribe button at all is illegal."

In which jurisdiction? The US? The UK? Tajikistan? The Seceded Lunar Colonies?

Another mistake made by emailers (and *cough* others) is to forget they're addressing a global audience... :)

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 23, 2015

It's illegal in North America, where the vast majority of our readers reside. Sorry if you felt excluded :)

Jan 25, 2015

oh' this wonderful article and Thank you for the guidelines. it's very useful for me.Thanks for sharing this helpful information.

Eric Galuppo
Feb 04, 2015

I would like to add this tip even though its a bit similar to mistake #3.

Make your email short and personal because a short personal text based email will outperform fancy newsletters that appear commercial in nature.

Apr 09, 2015

It's weird to see marketers make such simple, dumb mistakes - you work so hard to get subscribers and then you bombard them or send them mails that practically beg them to unsubscribe....

Jul 16, 2015

what a brilliant article! I'm so glad that I found it! :-)
I'm using GetResponse email marketing platform and I always remember to create good quality content and personalized newsletters- that's the key to success!

Mar 10, 2016

Completely agree with these email marketing mistakes.

I also feel that these are the most common mistakes which most of the email marketers make. Sending emails with boring subject is very much common mistake.

I never open any email which don't attract my eyes. I always ignore or delete such emails instantly.

Email marketers should understand that nobody wants to waste their time in reading boring emails. If you really want to convert them then you must have to send emails with having eye catchy, attractive and promising subject line. Because It is the only line which readers read first.

So taking care of it can improve your skills.

I am glad that you have listed all the major email marketing mistakes here so that we can learn them and can avoid them. Thanks for sharing it with us. :D

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