Datos Blog

Learn about business automation and operations

How to correct an email marketing mistake (and turn it into a win)

Even with a great quality assurance system, email marketing mistakes will happen. You’ll send the wrong link, include typos, or send a totally confusing email.

When this happens, don’t panic! See this as an opportunity to learn, to brand yourself, and to potentially get even more attention on your call-to-action.

Why should you listen to me? Because I’ve made dozens of email marketing mistakes, and I’ve sent correction emails that made up 10% of our monthly revenue for the email channel ($400k+).

Here’s how.

Evaluate the “damage”

As embarrassing as some mistakes may be, you need to keep things in perspective. Here are a few things to remind yourself:

  1. People don’t pay as much attention to you as you do
  2. Most people don’t open emails, let alone read them (~30% open on an average list, and very few of those read through)
  3. People who do see the mistake might not even notice
  4. Few mistakes will ever hit the bottom line
  5. If people do notice the mistake, they’ll forget within a few minutes

In my estimation, here are the levels of email marketing mistakes from most minimal to worst.

  1. Any mistake where only an employee would know it’s wrong. Sending the first draft, for example. If there’s nothing wrong from a customer point of view, then it’s not a big deal.
  2. Good ol’ typos. One or two aren’t going to ruin you. If this is your first impression on a user or you commonly have several typos, then it can affect your trustworthiness.
  3. Email merge tags or code showing. Sometimes you write syntax wrong and the user sees something like %FIRSTNAME%. Obviously not great to give a peek behind the curtain, but people realize it was a mistake and move on. The only time this may cause an issue is if the email was meant to pass off as personal, and it becomes clear it was templated.
  4. Bad link (404 error page). This affects the user experience and needs to be addressed.
  5. Bad link (sends to the wrong page). If the page is confusing in context with the email, this can be much worse than a 404 error which users immediately recognize as a mistake. For example, sending to a paid product when promising something free can erode user trust.
  6. Targeted message sent to the wrong audience. For example, sending an email meant for pastors to a group of people who aren’t pastors. Generally these will just be ignored, but if they’re transactional emails they can be confusing. Sending an order receipt to the wrong person creates chaos!
  7. Wrong offer. Examples include putting in the wrong percentage off, or sending an offer the user doesn’t actually qualify for. These are the most damaging and can have serious consequences. Customer service calls, and potentially being forced to honor an offer that was never meant to send. Although I wasn’t involved, a company I worked for accidentally sold an expensive product for free for a few hours, racking up tens of thousands of dollars of losses.

Even if you send an email with several of these mistakes, the impact will likely not be that large. Short of accidentally sending a rant about how you hate all your customers, there’s not that much that can likely happen. Take a deep breath, and figure out a way forward.

When to send a correction email

It’s hard to generalize this because there are so many factors that go into this decision.

But, here’s something to keep in mind: the decision for what to correct or apologize for is the same one you’d make if you were talking to someone in real life. Think about it: you wouldn’t stop a conversation just to clarify you meant “whom” rather than “who”. Unless, that is, you’re talking to a grammarian who will definitely think less of you.

I’m not even kidding, though. What you do will definitely depend on your audience and what kind of mistake it was.

If someone asked you directions and you sent them in the wrong way, you’d correct yourself if given the chance. It’s the same with a broken or incorrect link.

If email marketing is a conversation, then use the same rules you’d apply to a conversation. Plus, do consider how large of an audience you’re dealing with. For a company with 1,000,000 email subscribers, the wrong offer in an email to 10 is not worth spending a moment’s notice on.

Resist the urge to correct every mistake. It’s often the process of correcting the mistake that sheds light on its very existence!

How to write a great correction email

  1. Use an eye-catching subject line like “Oops, wrong link” or “[Correction] 24 hours left”.
  2. In the preview text, explain what is being corrected so users can get a quick glimpse.
  3. Inject your brand’s personality into the email. If you’re a quirky, modern brand, there’s plenty of room for humor here. If you’re a mature, professional brand for lawyers or something then maybe act a little more cold. Side note: I hate working with hoity-toity brands. Loosen up, man.
  4. If you’re up for it and it works for your brand, include your own name in the email and write it in first person for particularly bad mistakes. Be honest about what happened. Show the humanity behind the machine. People are more gracious if they are reminded you’re just human.
  5. Reinforce your call-to-action in this email. Never make your prospect go hunting for a link. In fact, I’ve found that correction emails get opened so much that they usually outperform the original email.
  6. Include context about which email was incorrect, eg. (“the email we sent 30 minutes ago”).
  7. Include all relevant information from the original email so that they don’t have to go looking for it. Remember that many of these people did not even see or open the first email.

Two sample correction emails

Situation: Incorrect link to a sale page sent to 2,000 people. The brand is a small company where the founder writes and sends all emails themselves.

Subject line: Oops! Here’s the correct link.
Preview text: I wish I could blame this on an intern…

Hi [name],

I sent you an email a couple of hours ago with a killer deal! Only one little problem.

Well, it had the wrong link.

So, here’s the link to get $30 off our new [course name].

As I mentioned before, we’ve never set the price so low. I think I just got a little ahead of myself, you know?

Next time, I’ll have an intern send it so I have a scapegoat!

[Sign off]

Situation: Large brand sends email to 300,000 people claiming a sale ends tomorrow when it actually ends tonight. A few options: extend the sale to the next day and don’t say anything, stick to your guns and send a correction email, or extend the sale and make some noise about it. Of those options, I’d prefer the 3rd whenever possible. It’s good customer service AND gives you the chance to bring more attention to the sale.

Subject line: [Black Friday extended] Did we say tomorrow?
Preview text: The sale was supposed to end tonight, but we’re extending it!

Black Friday is now Saturday, too

The Black Friday sale was supposed to end tonight, but we just sent an email saying it ends tomorrow. So, we’ve decided to extend the sale!

A little spontaneity never hurt anyone, right? Right?

Click here to check out the deals. Wait 23 hours if you want to. We won’t judge.

[Button CTA]

How to reduce email marketing mistakes (suggested quality assurance process)

While mistakes will happen, every mistake is an opportunity to evaluate whether your process is letting you down. Even people with great attention to detail can miss things with the wrong process or circumstances.

Here are a few ideas for reducing mistakes in your organization:

  • Evaluate whether you’re moving too quickly. Overworked employees who are sending several emails a day will not catch as many mistakes, even if they are generally good at doing so. There’s only so much attention you can give the process when you have too many things to do.
  • Avoid the temptation to make many people responsible for QA. The more people responsible, the less likely any one of them will be careful. This is due to the “Bystander Effect” in psychology. In short, your brain tells you “This isn’t a big deal, so many people check over these emails so it must be ok!”
  • Provide a checklist of every major thing that may go wrong in an email. Have people go over that checklist before sending an email. This will only work if you’re not moving too quickly. If you have too many emails to send, the checklist will naturally fade away from usage because it gets in the way.
  • Depending on the size of your organization and amount of emails you send, assign one person to review each email before it sends. That may be the founder in a 1-10 person company. But eventually someone separate will need to be a copywriter/proofreader. At 100+ employees, you should probably have two people looking over emails before they send.
  • Pro-tip: if you have multiple QA people, try to make them in charge of separate aspects of the email. For example, one person checks copy/grammar, another checks overall strategy and cohesion, and the last person checks user experience through the landing page as well as offer details. There are other ways to split it up as well. Perhaps you’ll have a copy person and design person, for example.
  • If you send a lot of emails (3-4 a day to various segments), focus on getting certain key emails right. Mistakes will happen, but shining a spotlight on the emails that are critical to user experience or revenue can help.
  • Consider a “read-aloud” policy for your copy reviewer. It’s so easy to glance at a paragraph or skim through a sentence. Our brains autocorrect mistakes to help us read more easily. Reading something aloud slows us down and forces us to process what we’re reading.
  • The buck doesn’t stop with the email. Make sure the landing page matches the email and the context in which the link is presented. Don’t link “Learn more” to a cart checkout experience, or send someone to a large page in which the relevant information is halfway down.

Do you have any email mistake horror or success stories? Leave a comment below!

Skip forward

Never miss a post from Datos