The Dos And Don’ts Of Email Marketing Automation

by Dave Chaffey last updated on

Marketing Automation is rapidly transitioning from cutting edge new technology to an absolute “must have'” for all businesses. Whether you work for a B2C company wanting to send reminders to convert site visitors interested in your products or a B2B company who needs to nurture leads along a complicated buyer journey, marketing automation is one of the most effective tools for converting prospects.

When we look at the opportunities of marketing automation, rest assured that some of the techniques will be very familiar since they build on the ongoing power of email marketing. Email automation is actually 90% of what we’re talking about when we refer to marketing automation.

Getting email marketing automation right isn’t easy, but it does offer the prospect of fantastic results. The automation aspect opens up opportunities you could never dream of without automation software, such as sending personalized emails to lists of thousands of people or triggered offers based on what people have displayed interest in on your site.

For those just getting started with email marketing automation, or those already engaged in it but seeking to further optimize their efforts, here are some key dos and don’ts to keep you on the right track and stop you from making any big mistakes that could really dent that all-important ROI.

If you want to explore this topic further, here are two additional readings we highly recommend:


Personalize and segment

Good personalization is like the difference between getting a standard direct mail flyer shoved through your door or a handwritten note penned in fountain pen. One will often go straight in the bin, the other is much more likely to gain attention and so to get read.

Triggered alerts based on cart abandonment are a common approach, but could you consider going one better? Making use of personalization in the subject line is a great way to boost opens, whilst personalized recommendations of content a user might be interested in based on content previously viewed are a great way to keep people coming back. See this example from Wedding Wire of a witty use of email personalization in a subject line:

Wedding Wire

As well as personalizing automated emails, it’s important to try to segment your lists to avoid bombarding prospects with too many emails, some of which may not be relevant.

Segmenting users based on country / time zone is a good idea, as you may have offers that only apply to certain regions. If you’re an eCommerce store that is going to offer a 20% summer sale to people globally, that doesn’t mean you should send the same email to everyone.

Think about it, if you are US based, your ‘summer sale’ email sent out globally will actually be sent in mid-winter to people in Australia or Argentina. If you have those areas segmented then your copy can more accurately reflect their experiences.

Segmenting should ideally also be done on other criteria, such as sending different emails to regular loyal customers who are clearly interested and to those who have shown some interest but never converted. The two groups interact with your business very differently, so it makes little sense to treat them the same when it comes to email strategy.

Send from a real person

This isn’t always a must. Sometimes it makes sense to send an email from an info@[Business Name] address or a support@[Business Name] address. However, it usually leads to higher open and click through rates if you can configure your email automation system to send emails from someone in your organization. Ideally this person will be a known quantity, like a CEO or similar. However even if not, it can still provide a feel that there is a human on the other end and thus slightly boost email effectiveness.

For example this email from Powtoon’s CEO has a friendly and personal feel because it seemingly comes from him. It probably wasn’t even written by him, and there is no doubt the same email goes to thousands of people. But it just makes it that bit more human nonetheless.


Test, test, test. Then measure.

This point is absolutely crucial. We’re always testing here at SmartInsights, and with literally several thousand different pages there are plenty of different aspects to A/B test. Because we get roughly 6 million visitors a year nudging that conversion rate up just a tiniest bit by testing to discover a slightly more effective way of phrasing a call to action can make an enormous amount of difference.

We like to think of ourselves as marketing experts, hopefully with good reason. But I’ll let you all in on a little secret when it comes to our A/B testing. We have ideas al the time for ways to improve the site, so we implement them and then run an A/B test. You’d think given our years of combined marketing expertise we’d be able to know which would do well. The truth is on average about 1/3rd of A/B tests make a positive difference to conversion rate, 1/3rd make a negative difference, and 1/3rd make no noticeable difference at all. And we never know which one will do what. So all that marketing expertise is no match for a good bit of testing.

You should never implement a change and not test it, no matter how sure you are it will make a positive effect. Test every aspect you can, keep tweaking and slowly but surely you’ll get the open and click through rate nudging ever upwards.

One final point: don’t get so hung up on testing you forget to measure. A/B testing evolves a test of 1 email against another via measuring things like clicks, opens or tracking links to see which lead to conversion.

But measuring is bigger than just testing. Measuring the overall click rate and open rate of each email, even when your not conducting any A/B tests is still important to make sure you are aware of any sudden drops so you can put in place steps to turn it around. If you find your open rate suddenly fall off a cliff it may be that you’ve been getting hit with spam penalties, and you can then put in place steps to address this. But if you aren’t measuring then you’ll be blithely unaware and thus the problem will only get worse.

Selective opt outs

This is a simple feature and a real “must do” if you send emails in any significant volume. Your emails will of course feature an unsubscribe button (all reputable email platforms should mandate this, otherwise you will be breaking the law). However if you send a weekly newsletter, sales offers and personalised content recommendations, just having an unsubscribe button isn’t doing you any favours. Some customers might only want discount offers and be uninterested in the weekly newsletters, whilst others might love reading your newsletter but not want to be bombarded with offers. The way forward is a preference center so your subscribers can choose the types of emails they’ll get. If you don’t implement this you risk people either unsubscribing from all emails when they’d be fine with receiving some, or being marked as spam. One is bad, the other worse. You can avoid both.

Be useful

Our final “Do” is simple yet often tricky to achieve: “Be useful”. Email automation is a powerful tool for converting your customers and thus significantly boosting profits. There is no doubt that it’s useful for you, but you have think about how you can make your emails useful to your customers. This is an example from the Detroit Pistons where they keep their fans informed via an email which displays the score, updated in real time. Think about how you could achieve something similarly useful for your customers. If you can be useful, your customers will actively want to see your emails and thus your open and click rates will shoot up.

Detroit Pistons


Use “No Reply”

Ever got an email from “”? You’ve probably had plenty. Chances are your customers aren’t going to be replying to your marketing emails anyway, but sending from a “noreply” email address just seems over-automated and so impersonal.  It makes it seem like the company doesn’t value its customers. So stop doing it! It’s an easy change to make, and will make your customers feel like you actually want to engage with them rather than not valuing them.


This point is obvious, but make sure you have business rules in place to prevent any one customer bombarded with emails. For example if you have a triggered sequence which engages when a customer lands on a certain type of page, make sure if a customer landed on all 6 of the pages which trigger different nurturing sequences, they don’t get hit with emails from all 6 of the different sequences each day! It’s an obvious point, but if you end up sending multiple emails per day it’s going to start annoying your customers and you’re going to see unsubscribes tick up.

Make the unsubscribe button hard to find

I shouldn’t have to say this really, since it’s an obvious email marketing 101. But make sure the unsubscribe process is easy. It’s not only because there are legal reasons why you can’t do certain things to make the unsubscribe process difficult. It’s because if they can’t unsubscribe they’ll just mark it as spam instead, and this will negatively affect your delivery and open rates across the board.

Send without testing

Another obvious point, but realising a mistake in an email campaign once it’s been sent is always embarrassing. You may be the most careful copy editor ever, but a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th pair of eyes is always useful, so make sure to test the email sequence extensively and send to a fair number of people internally first to check all elements work before launching an automated email campaign.

Send without checking mobile viewability

Testing on a desktop will happen naturally, but you’ll also need to check how emails display on a range of mobile devices. There are certain software providers which grant this option, so make sure to utilize one! Mobile optimization is no longer an additional “nice to have”, given that over half of email opens are now taking place on mobile devices it’s an absolute must. You’d never send an email without checking how it displays on desktop, so why send without checking how it appears on mobile?

I hope you find these email automation dos and don’ts useful. A final quick pointer: It’s hard to implement some of the dos, but easy to avoid the don’ts. So if you find yourself guilty of any of them, that’s where to start!

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