From time to time I’ll pull a message from my inbox and do a walk-through of its pros and cons. These gentle critiques are intended to educate; I hope that the companies mentioned as well as readers will keep that top of mind. 

I received this email on January 3 from a long-time industry acquaintance we’ll call “Fred.” Fred is one of those people you see once or twice a year at conferences. You know what I mean, someone you’re friendly with but you’re not necessarily friends. The first thing about this email that struck me is that I haven’t received anything from him in a long time. I opened the email to find out it’s been at least FIVE YEARS…

Here’s the full text of the email — take your own notes on what’s effective and what might be changed to make it more effective, then scroll down to see my thoughts on same. 

Here’s my gentle critique:

I am happy that Fred shares it’s been five years since his last email (above) but in the email world absence does not make the heart grow fonder. While it’s admirable for him to give lip service to this he isn’t addressing the problem. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t let your email communication lapse for this long.

  • It is risky to send an email to people after waiting five years. If the reader doesn’t remember you or your brand they may report it as spam.
  • A lot can happen in 5 years; people abandon email addresses all the time. Yahoo and other ISPs often turn email addresses that aren’t actively used into honey pots, a form of spam trap. Get caught sending to honey pots and you may be blacklisted.
  • Even if the address hasn’t been turned into a honey pot, there’s another reason not to assume an email address that you haven’t sent to in 5 years is still valid. In the business world, people leave jobs and, after a period of time, new people are often assigned these email address.

Let’s say the writer was intending to send the email to Michelle Miller, VP of Marketing, but she’s left and Mark Miller, Junior Accountant, has joined the company. Mark now has Michelle’s email address, Now Mark receives the relevant, targeted marketing email instead of Michelle but, since he’s never met Fred (and has zero interest in anything marketing related), he may report it as spam.

  • There’s also an opportunity cost to not speaking to your email network for five years. Email communications are a relationship. While there are some close relationships which can withstand a 5 year lapse in communication, most cannot. Fred’s lost any value that could have been acquired during these years and he’s eroded his relationship with all but the most dedicated members of this list going forward.

The five year silence is a big lost opportunity, but before we talk about what else he could have done better let’s talk about a few things that he did well.

1. Concise From Line: This is a critical part of an email marketing message because it helps determine whether a recipient will open your message now, later or never. Recognition is critical here and Fred does a good job of it – he includes his name and relays that he is an author.

2. Conversational Tone: Fred’s email has a pleasant, conversational tone that is engaging to read. This sounds basic but look at the emails in your inbox – how many of them are this readable? This is one of the most overlooked but important aspects of successful online writing.

3. Short Paragraphs: He uses short paragraphs, which also add to readability. My rule is 5-1/4 lines or less (not sentences, but line) per paragraph, which I learned from a study many years ago. Unfortunately, he loses the benefit of this by not including a blank line between each, which makes even these short paragraphs difficult to read.

4. Friendly Opt-out Message: There is a friendly opt-out (above) – but one that, as I read it again, strikes me as almost cloying and sad. I really want to like the guy because he seems so darn nice. I mean he is trying, right? But he’s so nice about this that it’s almost like a guilt trip if you do opt-out. But alas I opted out… quite possibly for the second time (more on that below).

Okay, now it’s time to discuss how this email message might be improved.

1. Use Descriptive Subject Lines While the subject line “A scintillating start” (above) is intriguing and cute it doesn’t provide any value to the reader. I get that it’s a reference to the award the sender just won, but why should someone spent the time to open and read this email? Using vague subject lines like this may work once, but over and over again they lose power.

2. Make Your Preview Pane View Engaging
The preview pane view is what’s at the top of your email, which will be seen in the preview pane that many email clients offer. With this email, there is not a lot in the preview pane view; it didn’t make me want to continue reading to find out what he was trying to tell me.

3. What’s in it For the Reader?
As a general rule you want your email newsletter to be at least 60% editorial or non-promotional, meaning that the reader gets value without a purchase. I analyzed the email to see how many sentences communicated a value for the reader without purchase. The result? Only two sentences met this criteria (and I am being kind here) – that’s only 2 sentences out of 40, or 5%. The paragraph with these sentences appears below.

The two sentences I identified as providing value without a purchase contain practical advice for an aspiring author, but not for the general reader (since it doesn’t seem like his audience is made up of aspiring writers).The rest of the email is all about the writer: his books, his alma mater, why he needs to brag. In fact, the writer used the word combo “me” and my’” eight times.

4. Use a Clear Call to Action
At first read I wasn’t sure what the writer wanted me to do. In the fourth sentence he mentions a novel so I assume he is wanting readers to buy his book, but it hasn’t been published yet. There really is no clear call to action here that I can find.

The main subject of the email is to communicate that his not yet published book has received an award for the best opening pages. He does mention in passing that if the reader doesn’t have a copy of his other book they can purchase it on his website, but this call-to-action is buried and doesn’t rise to a primary call-to-action status.

5. Get an Explicit Opt-in and Honor Unsubscribes
I know that I never opted-in to receive email from Fred; he is sending to an address that appears on my business card but which I never use to opt-in to anything. It appears that Fred grew his list by personally collecting business cards at industry conferences. While it can be tempting to add people to your email list without their permission, you increase your risk of spam complaints by doing this.

You shouldn’t assume that everyone you meet wants to be added to your email list. There are many ways (search this blog for ideas!) to grow your email list that are opt-in — and you are likely to see higher open, click and response rates when you go opt-in.

One more thing… I am pretty sure that I unsubscribed from this list in the past. I couldn’t swear to it, I may be mistaken, but I think I did.So how would I be back on the list if I unsubscribed previously?

I’ve seen this happen, more than once, when organizations change email service providers (ESPs). They download their subscriber lists and port them over to the new ESP – but they don’t know to also pull the suppression lists associated with each subscriber list. This is a serious problem when can cause spam complaints and blacklisting – it also puts the sender in violation of the U.S. CAN-SPAM act.

I hope you found these tips practical. If so please share them! It is my hope these tips will provide some insight to make your 2017 email marketing campaigns the best ever!


Email marketing is still a thriving industry, but marketers must learn how to use it properly in order to get the most out of it. Don’t let these common email marketing mistakes turn your audience away. Craft the perfect email pitch with a few effective countermeasures!

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