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Community Contest: Learning from Email Mistakes


We’ve held a few contests over in the Litmus Community. While previous contests asked people to put their design and coding skills to work, the most recent contest asked them to do something far more challenging: share their email mistakes with the world.

Email is a fast-moving, easily-broken medium. From bad links to wrong lists, there is a lot that can go wrong. And, while mistakes are not uncommon in email marketing, the speed at which most of us work means that we largely ignore mistakes when they happen and—more importantly—the lessons we can learn from them.

So, we asked Community members to share their biggest, scariest email marketing mistakes, along with their hard-won lessons. Here’s our favorite.

Becs and the Day from Hell

I’ll let Becs Rivett Kemm set the scene:

I was reasonably new in my role at a mail order clothing company, using a new-to-me ESP and with a list of about 700k. We pulled in data from two places…one from existing purchasers and one from website signups. I did the email design, someone else set up all the data.

To help drum up sales and mark the launch of their latest catalog, the company decided to send out a voucher for £10 to their existing customers. Each customer received a unique code to redeem the voucher. After testing that everything worked, the email was sent… to existing customers and website signups.

To make matters worse, a segment of subscribers that was never supposed to get an email now received one with an offer that was blank.

The website signup people also got the email….but their voucher code box was blank.

Like any email marketer worth her salt, Becs immediately started preparing a follow up campaign with voucher codes for the website signups who received the blank emails. However, a simple mixup made an already bad day even worse. Instead of using the 600,000 existing customers as the suppression list, Becs accidently marked them as the recipients.

600k emailed twice, with the voucher code…

And the remaining 100,000 from the website signups still didn’t have an offer code. After much hand-wringing and what is sure to be one of the world’s most memorable bouts of “The Fear” before pressing send, Becs sent the remaining voucherless subscribers the proper email.

So overall, I sent over a million emails in one day. I went home, had wine, and was relieved that I somehow kept my job. That said, it was one of the most successful campaigns that we’d ever done, people really wanted that code!

Lessons Learned

Despite an epically bad day, Becs discovered one of the more important lessons in email marketing: subscribers have a very short memory. They understand that email is a quick and largely disposable medium. A fact which email marketers in similar situations can take advantage of. It’s relatively easy to set up a new campaign, put your heart on your sleeve, make amends with your subscribers, and move on. And, if you’re giving them a good deal—they’ll be happy about it, too!

On a more practical level, Becs came away with some valuable tips for anyone involved in email marketing:

  • Check, check, check your data!
  • Check for irregularities
  • Check your merge fields
  • Get four sets of eyes on your work

And, most importantly, Becs reminds everyone that email marketing is a team effort. In her words:

No email marketer is an island!

Care to share?

Although the Community Contest has ended, we’d love to hear your email marketing horror stories. Head over to the Community Discussion and check out what other people have said before sharing your own lessons.


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Jason Rodriguez

Jason Rodriguez

Jason Rodriguez was the Community & Product Evangelist at Litmus