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10 Ways to (Not) Suck at Email Marketing

  |   Business Tips, Classy Marketing, Email Marketing   |   26 Comments

How (NOT) to suck at email marketing: learn how to build your email list and send amazing newsletters that your subscribers LOVE to open.


A guest post by Kirsten Thompson, blogger & e-newsletter extraordinaire


Hey fellow creatives! I’m honored to be here with you today, and so grateful to Erika for allowing me to share my love of all things “newsletter” with you!


First, let’s be honest with one another.


If you’re like a lot of bloggers and online business people, you fall into one of these two categories regarding newsletters:


1. You know you need a newsletter, you just don’t know where to start.


2. You have a newsletter, but you know you need to kick it up a notch.


Today, I want to share with you 10 ways to absolutely suck at email marketing, and how to make sure you don’t.




#1 - Don’t keep a newsletter schedule


One sure-fire way to suck at newsletter marketing is to never send a newsletter, or send one so infrequently that people think it’s spam when they do get one.


Just as you (should) schedule your blog posts, you should schedule your newsletters, even if it’s monthly or quarterly.  Create an editorial calendar for your newsletter and stick to it.  


Loyal subscribers will be looking for your newsletter, so don’t disappoint!


#2 - Keep your newsletter looking “builder beige”


You know those cookie-cutter neighborhoods where all the homes look the same, and every wall is painted that same boring builder beige? Newsletters can begin to look like that, too, if you are not careful.


*ahem* FeedBurner *ahem*


Chances are, your newsletter is not the only one that arrives in your subscribers’ inbox, so you have to make it stand out. Just as homes with more character typically are more appealing to buyers, newsletters with character are more appealing to subscribers.


If you create a newsletter that is aesthetically pleasing, your subscriber is more likely to linger longer and click through the links you include in the newsletter.


Branding in Newsletter


You can add character with imagery and carefully chosen graphics, but also with your wording.


Be sure to be authentic and use your voice, keeping it consistent with the branding readers see on your blog or website.


Is your newsletter consistent with your branding?


#3 - Throw a rave in someone’s inbox (and they’re not invited)


If you really want to encourage a high rate of unsubscribe notifications, make your newsletter “loud” by including neon colors, crazy animated graphics, loud music or sound effects, and BIG BOLD WORDING LIKE YOU’RE YELLING AT THEM!!!!


Unless you are Bruce Buffer announcing a UFC fight, you do NOT need to yell at your subscribers. Adding character, as we talked about in #2, is important, but of equal importance is the need for an inviting newsletter, not one that makes people want to click away immediately.


Be selective, and only add graphics and wording that add value or serve a purpose. 


The takeaway: don’t overdo the flair.


#4 - Hide behind your computer screen


Newsletters are the perfect outlet for being a little more personal with your readership. Sure, you may have an “About” page on your blog, and heck! You might even have a headshot included in your newsletter.


But if you write each newsletter’s content as if you are writing a letter to a friend, you’ll make a connection that no blog post can match.


There’s a reason why reality TV is so popular - people want an inside look at the life of other people.


Regardless of your niche, there are ways to be more relatable. You can share a behind-the-scenes glimpse on an upcoming project, a funny story about your kids, or maybe an epic craft fail that made you laugh to keep from crying.


Show your human side, and you’ll instantly have more credibility with your readers.


#5 - Be a rebel without a clue


Here’s the truth: Every newsletter service provider from MailChimp to Aweber to Constant Contact, etc, has a Terms of Use policy. But even beyond that, there’s a little something known as “common courtesy.”


Erika talks about this all the time, in an effort to help you “Be Delightful Online.” Nobody wants filth in their inbox, so don’t send filth.


Don’t drop profanity, don’t share nudity, don’t be gross, or make any comments intended to “stir the pot”. Just be nice, helpful, polite, and wonderfully you.


As my momma always said, “You catch more flies with honey.” So turn on the charm and turn OFF the vulgarity.


#6 - SELL! SELL!! SELL!!!


You’ve got an awesome product or service to sell, and by golly you want your customers to know about it right now!


It’s perfectly acceptable to use your newsletter as a marketing tool for selling your products or services, but don’t be a selling machine. You’re not a used car salesman, so don’t constantly pitch your subscribers for a sale.


You're not a used car salesman, so don't constantly pitch your subscribers for a sale.


Try incorporating free tips and tricks in your marketing strategy, then link to the product or service page allowing them to get more information.




A lot of bloggers are affiliates for various companies, and love to let their readers know about sales and special deals. That’s fine, too, as long as you do it organically.


Abby from Just A Girl and Her Blog does a great job of utilizing her newsletter for Ultimate Bundle ebook sales. She shares personal stories that relate to the subject of the ebook bundle, then mentions how some of the books in the bundle helped her with her issues.


* NOTE: While you can use affiliate links in your newsletter with proper disclosure, you CANNOT use Amazon affiliate links at all. This is an Amazon policy and applies to regular and RSS-driven newsletter campaigns.


#7 - Don’t worry about what your audience wants. It’s all about YOU!


It’s doubtful that strategy will be effective long-term. As a blogger or business-owner, your subscribers come to you because you are an expert in your field.


Your newsletter should reflect that.


A great way to encourage interaction through newsletter marketing is to survey your subscribers. Come up with a few ideas for things you can include in your newsletter, then ask your subscribers what they would like to see next.


Think about what your readers ask of you most often - either through email, social media, or blog post comments. Take into account any recurring or similar questions and create exclusive newsletter content based on your findings.


Define your target audience and determine what their struggles may be, then use your newsletter to help with those struggles. Regina of has an epic post about finding your ideal reader that may help you come up with a few ideas for quality newsletter content.


#8 - Regurgitate your blog content and nothing more


RSS-driven newsletters are great, and serve a purpose. Some readers only want that much from you. But have you asked them if they want more?


If you are only sending an RSS-driven email, you may be missing out on a great opportunity to engage with your readers and grow your brand loyalty.


Treat your subscribers like VIPs and give them some serious SWAG.


Subscribers are giving you precious space in their inbox and even more precious time in their lives, so make the most of it and treat them accordingly.


Newsflash: If someone likes you enough to sign up for your newsletter, they really, really like you. They are investing in you. It’s like they high-five you through the computer and shout, “Love ya! Mean it!”


Give them free printables, free mini-courses, exclusive content, special discounts on items in your shop, advanced notice of upcoming events, the opportunity for early registration, extra entries in a giveaway….


Spoil them rotten and they’ll remain loyal!


#9 - Make it hard to find your sign-up form


The average Joe isn’t going to go searching for ways to subscribe, no matter how much they love you and your blog. Make it easy for them.


You should have a subscribe option in at least 3 locations - sidebar, post footer, and home page (if you have a static home page), or about/contact page. You can also install simple pop-ups or plug-ins to grab email subscribers.


#10 - Don’t optimize your list


I bet you set up your email list, then never gave it a second thought. Readers subscribe, they all get dumped into one list, and they all receive the same newsletter every week.


That’s not always a bad thing, but there’s so much more you can do with a simple email list!


Optimizing your list means using the tools provided by your newsletter provider to give your email marketing a boost. In MailChimp, you can segment your list a thousand different ways and send newsletters to those segments.


Don’t just dump everyone in one bucket. Use segments and groups within your list to fine tune your email marketing based on your blog categories, subscriber activity, or anything else you can think of!


Pin these tips!

If you want to build your email list and be a newsletter marketing extraordinaire, definitely DON'T follow these tips! (Infographic)





I recently launched a brand new e-course called “An Inbox of Opportunity,” an in-depth e-course guiding bloggers and creative business owners through the MailChimp platform, demonstrating how (and why) to create killer newsletters and opt-in offers that readers will want in their inbox.


I’ve put everything I know about email marketing, and specifically the MailChimp platform, into this course, and I’d like to invite you to join me in class.


An Inbox of Opportunity 800


What will you learn?


- Why you should newsletters to your marketing plan
- How to keep your newsletters legal and spam-free
- How to set up your account
- Get an insider’s tour of the design tools and account tools inside MailChimp
- Import your subscribers from FeedBurner and other sources
- Customize your thank-you forms & pages
- Utilizing various plug-ins and popups for effictive email gathering
- Creating unique, branded, and customized RSS-driven & regular campaigns
- How to use autoresponders
- How to track where your subscribers are coming from
- And TONS more!


You can choose from 3 course options, ranging from a self-paced ebook to a start-anytime structured course, to the instructor-led course with limited class size.



An Inbox of Opportunity Pricing Options



Find all the details and register for the course right HERE.


And as a special treat just for Olyvia readers, sign up for any of the course options by Sunday, May 10th and enter code OLYVIA to receive 10% off!



Kirsten Thompson of Sweet Tea Saving GraceKirsten Thompson is the Southern drawl behind the blog Sweet Tea & Saving Grace.  Since 2012 she has created hundreds of email newsletter campaigns for both herself and clients like Yellow Bliss Road, Clean and Scentsible, Ella Claire, Domestically Speaking, Run to Radiance, and more.


When she’s not monkeying around in Mailchimp, you can find her enjoying a big ol’ mason jar of sweet tea with her husband and daughter in Georgia.



Erika here. It’s time to dish. What is your biggest newsletter pet peeve? What do you see in bloggers’ + entrepreneurs’ emails that send you sprinting for the hills?


Let’s learn from one another and make inboxes a more delightful place.


This post contains affiliate links.


Blog post image © WavebreakmediaMicro (fotolia)



  • Erika thank you so much for allowing me this space to share my weird passion for newsletters! I always love visiting with your readers and I sincerely hope they realize the marketing potential of newsletters and the value of digging deeper through this course. You absolutely rock!

    • Kirsten it is ALL my pleasure! I love all your knowledge and willingness to tell it like it is — I didn’t even know about the Amazon affiliate links! Whew, I’m glad you pointed that out. This is why it’s so helpful to have a course that teaches all this material in depth. I’ve been researching email marketing for over a year now and still feel I don’t know the half of it!

    • You are not the only one with this weird obsession Kirsten! Thank you for writing this post and telling it like it is.

    • Meredith

      I love all of these tips! Thanks Kirsten and Erika!!!

  • Kirsten and Erika, you know how much I love email marketing. It’s the foundation of my business and where the majority of my clients come form.

    I would love to say that I loved one particular piece of this post. BUT it was all spot on and this will be a resource that I send all of my clients too! Gone are the days of spammy email and sending the same blog posts that your subscribers can get on your blog.

    I think it’s about creating an experience and making your email list the “it” place to be. 🙂

    Loved it!

    • Awesome!! Thank you so much Latrisha - I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I would most definitely appreciate the referrals. I think too many bloggers and business owners underestimate the power of a GOOD newsletter so they just ignore it completely. When you realize all that’s possible, it opens new doors and creates new opportunities!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Latrisha. 🙂 I couldn’t agree more — the whole post has major value! I love that Kirsten shared it in a memorable way.

  • I loved this and really want to ramp up my newsletter efforts. Does the ebook go into specifics regarding segmenting best practices, etc? Also the OLYVIA code didn’t seem to work? Thank you! 🙂

    • Oh no Megan! We’ll get that worked out right away.

    • Hi Megan! Thank you so much for your sweet comment! Forgive me for the discount issue - it is now fixed. I forgot to add it! And yes, the ebook does cover segments and groups within MailChimp. While it was impossible to cover every detail in the book, the instructor-led course will go a little deeper in that area.

      I also wanted to share that I just added a referral bonus for the instructor-led course that will allow you to refer your friends and earn up to $100! All the details are on the landing page for the course. Thank you!!

  • Thanks so much for this post-I love how you broke down each point. I have to admit I started off with sending out newsletters that basically were the same thing I had talked about on my blog. (oops) I’ve more recently created a content calendar specifically for my newsletter which has helped so much. Have a great day!

    • I love that Jennie! I’m glad you see the potential of a newsletter, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Hahaha Jennie I did the same until just recently. I do know a lot of “big” business marketing names that just repeat the same content, which in one way is helpful if you don’t use a Feed to keep up with new blog posts (like me…I usually depend on the email to notify me) — but it doesn’t help build a thriving relationship and add value to people’s inbox. And that can lead to a lot of unsubscribes. So yes, I am trying to follow Kirsten’s advice of making my emails more helpful than just “here’s a new post.” 🙂

  • Oh my some of these are just absolute no-no’s! But I will sheepishly admit that a few of them, I was or am guilty of. Thank heavens for Kirsten’s ebook because even though I’m not done with it (it’s QUITE extensive!) I have already begun to make changes for the better to my newsletter. I never had a schedule or structure before. Now I have a monthly, weekly and daily send, I’ve enhanced the design template and I’ve only just begun! Can’t wait to finish the book and keep improving!

    Anyway I just wanted to say that I agree 100% with all these points even though I’m still struggling with #4!

    • Oh dear, I struggle with #4 myself, Marianne. That’s a great insight from Kirsten and something I plan on working on in the upcoming months as well!

    • Marianne that’s awesome!! I love that you are really working through the book, rather than just reading and moving on. That’s why I set it up the way I did, with assignments and worksheets and all the screenshots. I hope people will print it out and mark all in it and truly USE IT. Thank you so much!

  • Heather Blanchard

    This was a great read during my lunch break and you definitely hit on the things that I really dislike in newsletters Kirsten! My biggest pet peeve with newsletters are ines that are dull. They give you a few sentences describing what they posted on their blog. There just seems to be nothing there. For me if it’s not informative and piquing my interest I don’t even read the whole email.

    • Thank you so much Heather! I agree - nobody likes a dull newsletter. It’s a waste of time to send and won’t accomplish anything for the reader or the blogger. I appreciate you taking the time to check out this post today!

  • Bethany

    GREAT post! All these tips are spot-on!

  • Great post as usual Erika! I’ve been ignoring my e-mail list for about a year now (at least I STARTED one last year right?! lol!) and have just recently made it a point to shower my e-mail subscribers with free goodies and … you know … the OCCASIONAL e-mail, haha. Good points!


  • Such a great post. The next step I need to do with my blog is build my list. I’d love to sign up for Kirsten’s course but I’m still waiting for the right time and, erm, the right funding. Love the tips here though and will try to carry them out soonest!

  • Kristen/Erika, thanks so much for such a insightful and helpful post. There are some really good tips, especially for someone like me who has recently delved into up their email newsletter game. I’ve always had an RSS-driven campaign going that gets sent out weekly at the least and a monthly newsletter as well, but I’m just now really utilizing it. I’ll definitely be implementing some of these tips going forward.

  • So I just discovered this little gem, and it’s amazing! I’m getting my newsletter set up tonight 🙂 Thank you!

  • This is a hilarious look at email newsletters with super tips on what to do instead. I’m guilty of just letting the auto-rss do its thing. Personally I like the pretty newsletters with personal stories so why am I not providing this to my people? Thanks Kirsten.