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#NoFailMail: 5 Copywriting Fails You Should Avoid


Good copywriting helps you build your brand, connect with your customers, and persuade more of them to click through on your offer. But too often, marketers don’t take full advantage of the power of great copy. After years in the email business, we’ve seen every copywriting fail: typos, “blah” writing, “meh” calls to action, and other misfires that turn email potential into missed opportunity.

Most marketers pay lots of attention to email design, coding and testing, but the words that go into your message are just as important to nail down if you want to achieve #NoFailMail.

Fixing your copywriting fails takes some of the same tactics we outlined in our previous blog post on how to use email testing to avoid email errors. But you also have to pay attention to the creative process and your workflow to identify errors or weaknesses.

Which of these fails is your biggest problem?

Email Fail #1: Sending without proofreading

Is it just us, or are more emails going out with typos? We found this subject line filled with typos in just one pass through the inbox today:

This mistake is the scariest one of all. Why? Because it’s in an automated email, not a one-off campaign message. That error is baked into that big brand’s template. Every time a subscription triggers a confirmation, every new subscriber will see it. Not the best way to introduce the brand and set expectations.

What’s even more frustrating about this fail? It’s so easy to fix! Try these tactics:

  1. Write copy in a different medium first. Use a text editor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs to write and polish your message copy and subject lines, even if your email editor has a spellchecker. (These tools aren’t foolproof!) Then, copy and paste into your email editor. Going old-school like this can highlight spelling, grammar and usage problems. It takes just a couple of extra moments, but it also makes errors stand out, especially if the font is more readable than the one in your email program.
  2. Step up your proofreading game. Typos are like Pokémon: You gotta catch ’em all! Adjust your email workflow to allow enough time to proofread without rushing. Read the copy backwards, starting from the last word in the message and reading back to the first. This makes spelling and punctuation errors pop out.
    Leave no words unchecked in the subject line, sender name, preheader, image captions, message body, or footer.
  3. Read with fresh eyes. Your brain will autocorrect errors in your own work. That’s why no email copy should go out without being approved by a second reviewer. Ask someone else to read your copy for errors and misfires in meaning and message–preferably, someone who didn’t work on the original versions.   
  4. Review your templates regularly. Remember the typos in that subscription confirmation above? They show why you must proofread your templates as well as your live campaigns and revisit those templates every so often to update copy, images, coding, and targeting.

Email Fail #2: Reader-unfriendly writing

Many emails fail to answer the reader’s question: “What’s in it for me?”

Is the message in your email all about you, or your reader? If you see a lot of “we,” “our” and “us” words in your copy, it’s a sign that your message focuses too much on your brand, and too little on your subscribers’ needs. Reframe the message so it uses “you” and “your” more than “we” and “us.”

Focus your writing on your subscribers, whether they are customers, prospects, long-term readers, newbies, or the rarest of all birds–the subscriber who seldom opens your email but is looking at your message now.

What does she need to know? What would he want to know to stay tuned into your brand?

Email Fail #3: Selling, not telling

Remember that old writing maxim, “Sell, don’t tell?” Set that aside for a minute.

Now, we understand that you send email to persuade people to do something–to buy, download, sign up, or whatever’s on offer. But, people will tune out a steady stream of sales pitches until they get good and ready to buy. So, give them a reason to open your email more often beyond just selling.

Clothe your sales pitch in an informational outfit.

Look at the Nordstrom’s email below. It’s a sales pitch from start to finish, but it’s written to feel like editorial copy in a fashion magazine. Click on any image, copy block or call to action, and it will take you to a product page. But instead of the standard pitch, the email aims to intrigue the reader by offering information first.

Email Fail #4: The “click here” call to action.

Also awful: “Submit” and “download.”

We’re not sure what’s harder to write: subject lines or call-to-action copy. Both need to convey meaning and invite action in just a few words.

One school of conversion copywriting holds that CTA copy should always complete the thought “I want to …”. That’s a great place to start, but try to be precise, to let readers know exactly what you want them to do.

Do you want them to “check it out,” “shop now” or “learn more?” Maybe. But we loved this CTA in a tech email: “Grade my stack.” That’s irresistible.

Testing can help you figure out what works in different situations and for different audiences. But, don’t just test the same format over and over. Try going a little offbeat, as with the CTAs in great email from InVision:

Email fail #5: Subject line errors

Oh, subject lines. We suffer over them, rewrite them, measure them, rewrite them again. Nearly all of us test them, too, as we learned in Litmus’ 2017 State of Email Creative: 94.5% of marketers told us they regularly A/B test subject lines, compared with 60.6% who test calls-to-action, and 34.3% who test preview text.

With all that effort, we still see subject-line fails like these:

  • Not overwriting placeholder text
  • Typographical errors
  • Broken personalization
  • Unsupported emojis and special characters
  • Awkward truncation

Previewing your subject lines helps you avoid awkward truncation like this

Haste, carelessness, failing to proofread before hitting “send”–all of these can lead to failures. As we noted in the second post of our #NoFailMail blog series, you can turn a potential fail into #NoFailMail by adding time to your email creative and approval processes. We’re repeating ourselves here because it is such an important part of your email experience.

Avoid subject line fails with Litmus Subject Line Checker

Litmus’ Subject Line Checker

Litmus’ Subject Line Checker helps you optimize your subject line and preview text. View real-time previews of your envelope content in 17+ email clients before sending so you can avoid potential problems.

Optimize your subject lines →

‘People don’t think before they put out the ink’

That’s one of our favorite quotes about copywriting from Ann Handley, the copywriter’s copywriter who understands how good copywriting contributes to an email’s success. She said that–and much more–in an interview that kicked off Litmus’ four-part Email Copywriting Series. (Definitely check it out, whether you need a copywriting refresher or a skill-building mini-course.)

When you take the time to think about what you’re writing and to review it carefully before you send, you’ll hit the email sweet spot and avoid committing email fails like those listed here.


For more tips and resources to help you send error-free email check out these resources:

Bettina Specht

Bettina Specht

Bettina Specht was the Senior Content & Lifecycle Campaigns Manager at Litmus