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The 5 Sins of Email Marketing – Newsletter Ettiquette

I finally figured out how to use Aweber’s Blog Broadcast function! You would think I’d have mastered that ages ago, but documentation on most email services is a bit thin and I’ve been busy. Plus, Mercury was in retrograde, I couldn’t find my favorite pen, and my dog ate my homework. Ok?

After much badgering, a friend of mine who signed up for one of my free ebooks finally shamed me into figuring out how to use the blog broadcast feature. Seems she’s never seen any of my blog posts because I don’t email them out to my list. Apparently, some people would rather not troll the internet for updates on their favorite blogs. Apparently, some people have lives.

So, I set up my broadcast to generate an email with the last 2 blog posts in it. I wrote an introduction paragraph to the email that said, and I quote:

If you would rather not get the newsletter, I’d appreciate it if you clicked on that Un-Subscribe link there at the top. You will immediately be taken off the mailing list, no questions asked. You won’t get some needy email from me begging you to change your mind. I understand how inboxes can fill up and I’ll just assume you are getting your Pint Sized Sites fix by reading the blog or on Facebook.

Allissa Haines was so tickled about that, she posted it on Facebook. It took me a good 20 minutes to understand why she bothered, but then it hit me: some people get freaked out when you unsubscribe from their email list. Oh, you’ve gotten that message from someone, haven’t you? The one that pleads with you not to leave the list. The one that begs you to come back as soon as you’ve come to your senses.

That’s not pretty. It’s kind of creepy, actually. But it’s not the worst email sin out there. So, in no particular order, here are the top 5 sins of bad email marketing.

1 – Misleading subject lines

If your subject line is “Free puppies – get yours now” and your email doesn’t mention puppies or offer them for free, your readers are going to feel bamboozled. It’s a word, look it up. Email marketing is like all marketing; it’s built on trust between the brand (you) and the audience (your clients). Bamboozling people destroys that trust.

2 – Pestering people after they’ve unsubscribed

People opt out of your newsletter for any number of reasons. My last mailing actually saw two people send me a reason for opting out. One stated that the reader had changed careers, so my newsletter was no longer useful. The second was one word: “Cancer”.

It’s not a personal insult to you if someone unsubscribes. Quit acting like a needy, whiny baby about it. They have their reasons and, I’m sorry to bruise your tender ego, but it’s probably not about you.

I’ve unsubscribed and A) gotten the pleading “Please reconsider” email and B) continued getting the newsletter anyway. You probably have, too.

The only exception I make to this is when someone emails me that they want to unsubscribe. I will delete them from the list and send them an email stating that they are removed, thanking them for their time, stating they can be assured that they will never get another email from me, and wishing them the very best in their future endeavors.

3 – Using bcc to send out your emails

Because sometimes, you forget and put them all in the cc list. Yes, I’ve gotten more than one CE provider’s entire email list of past students because they were too cheap to bother with MailChimp or Aweber. MailChimp is practically, if not really, free for small mailing lists.

I always email the sender and thank them for the free email list and express how much help it will be in marketing my own CE classes. That’s guaranteed to get their attention. After they contact me in a panic, I explain that I wouldn’t actually do that, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that I’m now on 4 other email lists for providers I’m not interested in all because they were too stinking cheap to get a real email list service.

And that brings us to the next sin:

4 – Adding people to your email list without their permission

OMFG! What are these companies thinking? Like the 4 providers that actually added everyone on that cc list in #3, there are companies out there that will add you to their newsletters just because you’ve given them a business card.


If you’re like me and you do some in person networking, chamber groups, referral groups and the like, then you’ve had this happen. You meet someone, exchange cards, chat for a minute, and move on. The next day, you open your email and there it is: a newsletter from one of the people you met the day before. You didn’t ask for it, it just showed up. Usually full of graphics, fonts, colors, and photos.

Or, maybe you’ve done some work for someone, like maybe some web design. Next thing you know, you’re getting their WEEKLY newsletter.

There are two dangers with doing this. The first, you make people angry and damage any goodwill you might have built up in the initial meeting. The second, all the people that receive this unwanted email mark it as spam, which gets reported to your email sender, and you eventually get your email added to the giant list of spam addresses. So none of your emails ever make it through spam filters.

5 – Making the unsubscribe link super tiny and hard to find

If your entire retention strategy consists of making it hard to unsubscribe, you need a new strategy. In dating, this is the equivalent of not answering the phone so your boyfriend can’t break up with you. It works about as well, too. This goes back to that needy behavior of begging people to not leave you. If they want to stay, making the unsubscribe link the biggest, brightest, boldest thing in the email will not convince them to opt out.

Mine, by the way, is at the very top of the newsletter, in large, bold font. It’s also repeated at the bottom of the email. If someone wants off the list, I want to make it easy. I don’t want to spend time marketing to someone who isn’t interested. It doesn’t help either of us.

6 – Not having any way for people to unsubscribe

Consider this a bonus. Consider this to be the biggest sin.

That weekly email I get from a former customer? There’s no unsubscribe link on it. There’s not even a mention of “let us know if you’d like off this list.” Given the choice between clicking a link or sending you an email begging you to quit sending me your stuff? I’d prefer the link, thank you very much. Requiring someone to send you an email gives off that needy, desperate vibe that makes you look unprofessional and a bit stalkerish.

I want you to send out regular email newsletters

It’s a terrific way to keep in touch with your clients, to offer them specials, to increase your repeat bookings. Used properly, it’s an incredibly effective way to market your practice or clinic. Just don’t commit any of these sins or we might have to have a “chat”, if you know what I mean.

What other email marketing sins have you seen? Share them with me in the comments below!

9 Responses to The 5 Sins of Email Marketing – Newsletter Ettiquette

  1. A couple of years ago, I received an e-mail from a real-life friend whose services I was using, and it was not BCC. I saw everyone on her list. I sent her a polite email telling her about BCC, and her response was that she WANTED everyone to see everyone else who was on her list. We passed a couple of emails back and forth over it, with her insisting she was right, and me insisting I was right. Then, without mentioning her name or business, I threw it out there on FB to ask the question what people thought about that. Of course everyone was against sending out group emails without using BCC. I copied all the FB responses and sent them to her, and she has rarely spoken to me again. She quit patronizing my business over it. She let me know how miserable I made her feel, etc….and remember, I said I did not reveal her name or the name of her business at any time. Some people just don’t get it.

    • Oh dear! What a shame to lose a friend over something like this.

      While she might have been fine sharing, and perhaps she thought she was helping people get connected, but it doesn’t work in bulk. Sharing and connecting are best done on individual basis. It’s also not personal. I just don’t want my email shared with a lot of people, and I’m sure many other on her list didn’t either. Again, if she had wanted to make some introductions, it would have been best to just do that between individuals.

  2. And then again, sometimes you just never know. We’ve had people who subscribed to out Teachers Aide Newsletter and have been openning and clicking on a regular basis. Then for whatever reason, they decide to unsubscribe. While that is fine, some have reported it as spam. We have a very obvious “unsubscribe” button (we use MailChimp). At first I was offended by that, but then realized they probably didn’t understand how to unsubscribe. Still, it’s not a good thing when you work through an email service.

    • I get one of those every now and then. I read an article from a Very Famous Blogger who created an unsubscribe button that was as wide as the email and in flourescent colors with enormous letters saying “Click here to unsubscribe”. He still had people who emailed him asking to be taken off the list and people reporting it as spam. The Einstein quote applies to some of the email recipients, too.

  3. I have had the pleasure of being part of number 4 in your list, I was a member of a local ladies networking group when I first set up my business, and I am now on so many mailing lists because I gave out my business cards.

    Great list, I will make sure I am not a sinner 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing these, these all seem like cardinal rules! Not just sins but I think some people want the shorter route to success, while burning bridges with potential clients.

    • Chloe – thanks for your comment. You’re right, it seems like they are just trying to take a big shortcut, but it seems to just backfire on them.

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