Email Marketing: You’re Doing it Wrong

12 tips to supercharge your highest performing channel



our website is a gold mine of customer data that can increase your digital reach across all devices, social media, email, and the web. If you’re carrying out email-based campaigns, you’re probably collecting even more valuable data.

Email retargeting connects rich customer data to email addresses in order to nudge customers back to your website. Collecting more email addresses on your brand’s site will help expand the reach of an email retargeting campaign and your existing email marketing strategy.

On both desktop and mobile devices, working adults report spending over six hours a day checking email. There are three times as many email addresses as there are social media accounts, and email users bring 17% more value per conversion. For the past 10 years, email has produced higher returns on investment than all other marketing channels—with an average ROI of 3,800%.

Email marketing not only drives higher returns than other marketing channels, but it’s also 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers when compared to Facebook or Twitter. Yet while it’s continuing to lead as a high performing channel for marketers, it’s admittedly a channel of confusion that marketers are working to constantly optimize and improve.

Email requires thoughtful attention to detail in order to drive sales. After speaking with dozens of marketers about their email marketing performance and analyzing our own data, AdRoll has pinpointed 12 reasons your emails might not be converting customers. In order to improve your email retargeting strategy, we compiled these oversights to help you understand where to spend most of your time and resources.

With email marketing making a comeback in the age of programmatic, it’s especially important that marketers take advantage now and optimize the best they can as more and more companies continue the march towards automation.

What You’re Doing Wrong with Email Retargeting

1. Your emails aren’t from a person, they’re from your company

The identity of the sender is among the first things your customers see when an email hits their inbox. We are 15–35% more likely to read emails from a person than a company.

Set your next email up for success by changing your sender details to follow this format: [First Name] [Last Name], [Company].

We test sender names all the time at AdRoll. Our tests show that female names have higher open rates than male names, and names with two syllables perform better than names with one. Try testing different names from employees at your company, and see which ones generate more opens.

2. Your subject lines don’t grab attention

With 35% of email recipients opening email based solely on the subject line, it’s an important asset in the email marketing process. The average American adult receives 90 business emails each day, so it’s easy to miss a message—especially if the subject line is ho-hum. Subject lines should grab your recipients’ attention and give them a preview of what to expect.

In general, subject lines should be short (i.e., no longer than six to 10 words), action oriented, and urgent. Studies show that subject lines posed as questions perform better than those that are not.

We recently ran an email campaign to let some of our customers know that we could convert their Facebook ads into beautiful emails in AdRoll Email. Instead of using a generic subject line like “Announcing a new AdRoll Email feature,” we chose one that would pique our customers’ curiosity: “AdRoll Email: Your Email is Ready to Review.” Our call to action (CTA) brought them back to the AdRoll Email dashboard to check out the emails we’d populated in their campaigns.

And it worked. Our email achieved a 54% open rate.

3. Your copy isn’t concrete

Email copy should be concise. Think of what you’re trying to say in as few words as possible.

Janet Choi, from email automation provider, has found that concrete language makes you appear more credible and helps readers make better decisions more easily. Abstract language, on the other hand, confuses readers and discourages them from acting.

In her blog post, Choi discusses the research on linguistic concreteness, including the following examples of concrete and abstract language:

  • Concrete: In Hamburg, one can count the highest number of bridges in Europe.
  • Abstract: Hamburg is the European record holder concerning the number of bridges.

Concrete sentences are also quicker to read, cutting the time it takes for your customers to get to your CTA.

If you want help condensing your copy, download the Hemingway App. Paste in your copy, and the text editor will highlight sentences that are too long or confusing.

4. Your CTA doesn’t set expectations

How often do you get a promotional email and find yourself totally confused about what you’re supposed to do with it? It’s likely that the CTA was not clear.

The CTA is the reason you’re sending your email. It should tell your reader explicitly which step to take next and give them a heads-up as to where they’ll be directed.

We see marketers make these two common CTA mistakes:

  • Using a vague CTA (e.g., “Check it out” instead of “Browse new arrivals”)
  • Including too many CTAs (e.g., “You can read more about it in our whitepaper here, or start a free trial”)

For example, let’s say you’re an event marketer, and you’re creating an email campaign to bring back shoppers who didn’t complete their ticket purchases. A weak CTA would read “Come back.” A stronger CTA would say “Finish buying tickets.”

Improve click-through rates by using buttons for your CTA. If you can, keep CTAs above the fold so recipients don’t have to scroll.

5. Your images are distracting

Adding images can dramatically improve your click rates. However, each image should support your email message by providing a visual counterpart to the text or a preview of what the reader will experience after clicking the CTA. Images can also boost email deliverability, which means your email is less likely to go straight to the spam folder.

Kevin Gao, founder of the email marketing and live chat service Comm100, has some great best practices for email images. These are our three favorites:

  • Keep image files small, compressed, and optimized to ensure that your email can load quickly.
  • Be sure that images do not make up more than 30% of an email—otherwise, your message may land in the spam folder.
  • Share important messages and CTAs in text as well as images. You’d hate for your customers to miss out on what you’re sharing if the images don’t load.

6. You didn’t capture emails early enough

Most e-commerce retailers collect customer emails at checkout, but what about capturing them earlier in the shopper’s purchase journey? Capturing emails earlier gives you more influence over customer decision making by sending targeted emails based on where shoppers are in the funnel.

There are many ways to gather emails early in the purchase funnel:

  • Add an opt-in form on a Facebook page.
  • Create a retargeting ad campaign with a sign-up CTA.
  • Embed a newsletter sign-up form at the end of blog posts.
  • Design an email newsletter landing page that can be linked to in emails and on social media.

If marketers are using a pixel-based retargeting solution, they can match the cookie assigned to a website visitor with an email address, making it possible to retarget them later with an email if they never make it to checkout.

7. You aren’t using a pop-up contact form

AdRoll uses contact pop-up forms to capture email addresses for our newsletter.

Many marketers use them to encourage users to fill out a contact form in exchange for a newsletter membership, draw their attention to a promo code, or to discourage users from leaving before making a purchase.

Pop-up Contact Form


Pop-ups work because they’re hard to miss. When done well, marketers can capture a shopper’s interest early, and entice them to continue shopping.


When executed poorly, they’re intrusive and interrupt the site experience.

Add pop-ups to pages a step or two away from the homepage, like a category or product page. That way, you present a coupon or offer after you know they’re interested—once they’ve had a chance to explore. Check out Privy’s free pop-up widget to get started.

8. Your subscription box isn’t in a prominent spot

Keeping subscription boxes in prominent places might seem like a no-brainer, but countless sites have a subscription button near—or in—the footer, without any prompts or CTAs. Visitors won’t subscribe if you don’t call their attention. Move your subscription box to the navigation bar or sidebar.

Prominent Subscription Box


They don’t disrupt your on-site experience, and you know that people who subscribe are doing so because they genuinely want to hear from you again.


This requires some development work.

If you’re using an A/B testing platform you can test your subscription box placement before making the permanent switch. Optimizely is a website analytics and testing platform that can help you determine the best placement for elements on your site.

9. You didn’t create a landing page for each campaign

Splash pages are popular in business-to-business marketing, and they work well for e-commerce, too. Landing pages manage and track campaigns with different goals, such as sales, conversions, subscriptions, or sign-ups.

Landing Page


Landing pages remove distractions so that your audience can focus on one thing—in this case, giving you their email address.


Expect a lower conversion rate from your landing page, since you’re adding an extra step in your sales funnel.

Create a separate social media campaign that drives to your new special landing page. Use your ad copy to offer a special promo and a CTA to encourage visitors to click through. Instapage, Squarespace and Wix offer collections of landing page templates with integrations to a number of email providers that organize your subscription list.

10. You don’t understand your customer decision making process

The more marketers learn to understand how potential buyers shop through their site, the more they can engage customers through email. Tools like Google Analytics and Kissmetrics give marketers more insight into how customers make decisions. If a customer is taking a long time with an item, scheduling an email as soon as one hour after they’ve visited the site can help nurture shoppers that would have otherwise never come back.

Other questions to consider:

  • How long do customers take to make their buying decisions?
  • How many times do they return to your website before finally checking out?
  • How long do customers leave things in their cart?

Answering these can give marketers insight into how potential customers make choices and will help shape effective email flow and content.

11. You didn’t create individualized email plans

Marketing automation services can help organize your email marketing efforts. Once there’s an understanding of a customer’s buying journey, create a map of an email automation plan. Sites like Hubspot have a great step-by-step guide to creating an email marketing plan that will help marketers get organized and strategic about their campaigns. When building out a plan, marketers should include which points were most successful in engaging buyers and which messages should be sent at each point.

Also, whether you’re launching an email marketing, email retargeting, or customer relationship management (CRM) retargeting campaign, email addresses unlock a wealth of potential—provided you have clean email lists. To learn how to best maintain a clean email list, check out HubSpot’s article on email data hygiene.

12. You didn’t segment for each campaign goal.

An often overlooked technique to drive higher open and click rates is segmenting your email lists. By targeting specific groups with tailored messages, your campaign becomes more relevant to recipients. Segmented campaigns see 14% more opens and 59% more clicks than non-segmented campaigns.

Here are some popular ways to segment your email marketing:

  • Subscriber activity (e.g., opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribers)
  • Signup date. (i.e., target an audience by whether they signed up recently or long ago)
  • Customer data field (e.g., job title, ZIP code, industry)

For campaigns with different conversion points, it’s important to create a segment for each campaign goal. With products like AdRoll Email, marketers can import conversion segments by setting up tracking.

Email marketing should grow your businesses faster, without leaving marketers feeling like they’re flying blind. By mastering email marketing in the age of programmatic, marketers can effectively convert prospects into customers.

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