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10 Email Marketing Myths Killing Your ROI

8 min

Chances are … you’ve seen the stats:

  • Email has the highest return on investment (ROI) of all marketing channels.
  • Email generates 40 times more customers than social media.
  • Email yields a 17% higher purchase value per order than social platforms.
  • Email is used by over 90% of all US consumers on a daily basis.

Sadly, what you may not have seen … are the results.

Naturally, this disconnect makes you wonder, “Why — despite those uplifting stats — aren’t I reaping the rich rewards of email marketing?” And honestly, wonder is too polite a word. In fact, your frustration may lead you down the dangerous path of believing so-called “gurus” who claim that email marketing is – gasp – dead.

What you don’t realize is this: while a lot of the tips you’re being fed are immensely useful, an equal number of them are myths – insidious myths that are hurting your chances of success.

To clear up the truth from the lies, here are 10 email marketing myths that could be killing your ROI.

1. You need a big list to make a big impact.

When it comes to your number of subscribers, bigger is always touted as better. This leads to what I like to call “list envy,” but it also leads many businesses into the fruitless game of aiming all their efforts at collecting sign-ups.

Obsessing over or constantly comparing list size prevents you from serving the people who matter most: your existing customers and fans. After all, those are the people who won’t just become your brand evangelists, they’re also the folks who represent your best chance and generating long-term profits.

Also, let’s be honest: how many of those 50,000 subscribers are active loyalists? A small percentage, most likely. But a small, active list is far more valuable than a giant list of disengaged subscribers.

Instead of getting disheartened, focus on serving each one of those 1,000 subscribers with humility, heart, and honest affection. To figure out who these people are, start segmenting your email list.

Read more: Email marketing tips for small business

2. Open rates are the most important metric.

Messages that don’t get opened, don’t get read. This self-evident truth is why open rates are widely regarded as the metric that makes or breaks an email marketing campaign.

But an extreme focus on open rates will draw you away from the purpose of email marketing: to get your subscribers to take action.

In other words, what you write inside your email should be just as alluring as your subject lines or preheaders. You want to fascinate your subscribers enough to take the next step – be it downloading your ebook, buying your course, or offering feedback.

Monitoring click-through rates and ultimate conversion rates are far more central to email marketing success that mere opens.

And don’t forget that a quality email marketing campaign can do so much more than just drive additional conversions.

Read more:

5 Dead Marketers To Bring Your Emails Back To Life

How to increase your email click-through rates

3. There is one “best” day or time to send emails.

You’ve probably read that Tuesday mornings are the best times to send emails. Or wait, maybe it was Thursday or Wednesday?

Every year, GetResponse analyzes this in their Email Marketing Benchmarks report, by looking at over 7 billion emails sent by their customers. Similar studies have been conducted by other companies, which you can read more about in this CoSchedule article.

They all came to that three-day conclusion:

email marketing myths

However, the truth is: best practices will only get you so far.

The right days and times to send emails change dramatically according to your industry and audience. Far better than just applying what works across the board is optimizing and testing your own campaigns. While you can certainly do this manually, you can also use a feature like Perfect Timing that drips out emails based directly on each subscriber’s personal history.

4. Don’t send the same email twice.

Want to hear something that sucks? Your subscribers do not read every email you send.

They could have skipped your first email, or maybe just didn’t check their email for a while and decided to delete all their unread emails in frustration. You worked long and hard to craft an enjoyable message for your subscribers. You deserve to have more people read them, right?

So what do you do?

Resend the exact same email directly to the people who didn’t open it the first time (and this is where segmentation and “trigger-based” automation helps out immensely). GetResponse team’s experience shows that you can get between “5% to 40%” more opens per email simply by resending it. Don’t leave money on the table with a one-and-done approach.

5. Unsubscribes are bad.

It hurts when someone chooses to click on the Unsubscribe button. But unsubscribes aren’t always bad. Sometimes they’re a blessing in disguise.

Why? Because it costs money to manage an email list. And you don’t want to waste your hard-earned bucks on those who are not interested in your brand.

Email marketing isn’t a pursuit of vanity. It’s never about how many subscribers are on your list — see Myth 1 — but always about whether you are helping the right people.

When a few people unsubscribe, they’re making space for others who are eager and willing to hear from you. Say a prayer of thanks, continue serving the ones who do love you, and even consider getting proactive about list hygiene.

6. Inactive users are dead weight.

Some people sign up for free goodies and then promptly forget you exist. It’s terrible, I know … but that’s the reality.

Worse yet, they don’t unsubscribe; they just lurk in the shadows without a peep. Your first impulse may be to delete them because, after all, maintaining a list is expensive.

But what if some of these inactive subscribers just need a nudge from you to wake up?

Approach inactive subscribers in two ways. One, try sending what email mastermind Dean Jackson calls the “magic, nine-word email”:

Hi [Name],

Are you still interested in [niche product]?

Or two, incentivize their reactivation, like Susan Su did for 500 Startups:

email marketing myths

Why would you want to pay to reactivate an inactive subscriber? Because as Susan explains, “Based on an estimate of your subscriber acquisition costs … for many businesses, paying $10 for a reasonably engaged subscriber is not a bad deal.”

Editor’s note

The best practice is to try and reengage your contacts, but after a few failed attempts, it’s best to remove or suppress them. Spam filters are primarily engaged-based, and holding onto large numbers of inactive contacts can affect your inbox placement and the bottom line. You can learn more about email list management best practices on our blog.

7. Short emails are better than long emails.

Given our shrinking attention spans, short emails sound like common sense. People lack the patience and time to read through novellas.

However, we’ve all found ourselves engrossed by an email far longer than the norm. Why did you keep reading?

Because the secret to an effective email is not its length. It’s the pace, the phrasing, the pattern, and the passion.

In short (pun intended), it’s how you connect with readers that matters, and not some unproven formula that favors 100 words over 500. So say it in as many words as you need – not one more, and definitely not one less.

8. Subject lines must always be short.

Right on the heels of short emails … comes short subject lines.

You would think that since more than half the emails checked are on mobiles with smaller screens, shorter subject lines would be preferred But research throws some surprises.

A 2023 study by GetResponse indicates that although 18.23% of messages have subject lines between 31-40 characters long, messages with subject lines with 61-70 characters observed the highest open rates.

Email subject lines length vs. open rates – Email Marketing Benchmarks by GetResponse

This tells you that longer subject lines work too – and might, in fact, prove more effective. By studying what kind of emails are being opened, you will be able to fashion appropriately long subject lines that speak to a subscriber’s challenges, desires, and personalities.

9. Automated emails are impersonal.

Let’s get this one straight once and for all: “automation” is not the same as “robots doing your work.”

Marketing automation is — to phrase it quite simply — systemizing customized emails (and the emphasis there is on “customized”).

Naturally, customizing your emails means adding personal touches like names and the exact product or offer that generated their interest in the first place. But even more than that, overcoming impersonal barriers demands composing your emails like one human talking to another. In fact, all the emails I included in Why Response Rate Is The New Click-Through Rate were autoresponders, but each one smacked of personality … and that’s why subscribers wrote back.

10. Too many emails will lead to unsubscribes.

Finally … the ultimate email marketing myth.

While I’ve already addressed why unsubscribes aren’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s still unwise to bombard your list with spam. Unfortunately, many marketers let this fear hold them back from getting aggressive and getting results.

For instance, back in 2012, the Obama campaign broke every fund-raising record there was and did much of it via email … insanely regular email. As Toby Fallsgraff, Director of Email at Obama for America, explained: “[We] tested and sent a national email almost every day. This increased to multiple times a day as Election Day drew nearer.”

Politics is one thing. But what about regular old ecommerce?

To test this, last month I signed up for Loot Crates’ email list — Inc.’s fastest-growing company of 2016. Over the last 20 days, I’ve received no less than 23 separate emails. Sound like a lot, I know.

But does that kind of regularity work? Well, if a 66,789% three-year growth rate proves anything … absolutely.

Beware the email marketing myths

Every business is distinctive, so how can there be only one right way of doing email marketing? Simply put: there can’t. Your strategy should be based on your audience, your message, your personality, and your past successes.

Does this mean that you should never follow best practices?

Absolutely not.

But the only way to really separate the beneficial and the bogus is to test them out for yourself.

Now it’s your turn. What are some email marketing myths that you think should finally be put to rest?

Aaron Orendorff
Aaron Orendorff
Aaron Orendorff is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger & more. Grab his Ultimate Content Creation Checklist at Follow him on Twitter @iconiContent.