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Updated Oct 31, 2023

6 Email Marketing Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Email marketing is effective and affordable, but it presents challenges in earning new subscribers, increasing your open rates and more. Learn how to overcome these issues.

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Written By: Jennifer DublinoSenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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Table of Contents

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Email is an effective and affordable marketing tactic. Implementing email marketing is straightforward, thanks to the best email templates and platforms that allow you to segment your lists and track results. Notably, email helps you deliver personalized content based on customer purchase history and prospect engagement, and customers can respond directly to offers.

However, like all marketing channels, email marketing has its share of obstacles to overcome. We’ll take a closer look at the most significant issues plaguing marketers and how to use email marketing best practices to solve them.

Email marketing challenges and solutions

The six biggest email marketing challenges include earning new subscribers, increasing open rates, retaining subscribers, boosting click-through rates, and achieving measurable ROI. 

1. Earning new subscribers can be challenging.

To email people legally, they must opt into your email list. If you buy an email list and try to use it in a campaign, you’ll likely get kicked off the email platform and be flagged as a spammer. It’s critical to build an email list organically, even if that takes time.

Solution: The best way to earn new subscribers is to explain the benefits of opting into your list. Have a clear value proposition to answer people’s key concerns. For example, explain that you’re providing meaningful product updates or sending special offers that aren’t available anywhere else.

Let people know precisely why they should subscribe to your emails and how your emails will benefit them. Here are some ways to promote your list and boost subscriptions: 

  • Showcase a massive subscriber list. If you have an extensive subscriber list, showcase that in your email opt-in form to provide social proof that your content is valuable. For example, you can say, “Join over 12,000 subscribers!”
  • Make it easy to sign up on your website. Promote the email subscription on your website by launching a sidebar or pop-up opt-in box
  • Allow people to opt in from your blog. If you’re creating engaging blog content, include a sign-up button at the end of your posts. 
  • Have current subscribers promote your list. Encourage subscribers to share and forward your emails to grow your list by tapping into their friends and family. 
  • Offer incentives. Create a landing page offering an incentive like a free trial or sample in exchange for subscriptions.
TipBottom line
Other ways to grow your email list include adding a link to employee signatures, displaying gated offers on your website, and requiring an email address from your website visitors for them to access quotes and certain resources.

2. Increasing email open rates isn’t easy.

On average, email open rates are around 21%, according to Mailchimp, though this rate differs by industry. Since an unread email doesn’t do you any good, increasing your email open rates will improve your email marketing campaigns overall. 

Solution: You can increase your marketing emails’ open rates in several ways.

  • Use concise subject lines. Since subject lines are the first thing recipients notice, focus on writing eye-catching ones. Craft subject lines that are short and concise to grab recipients’ attention immediately. Use A/B testing to see which subject lines are most compelling.
  • Personalize your subject lines. According to Campaign Monitor data, recipients are 26% more likely to open emails with personalized subject lines, leading to a 760% increase in email revenue.
  • Use trigger events to send emails. Sending emails after specific trigger events can boost open rates. For example, when someone signs up for your email list or fills out a web form, send them a welcome email. According to GetResponse, welcome emails have an email open rate of more than 68%. Also, if someone abandons their online shopping cart on your e-commerce site, sending them multiple follow-up emails can improve your sales significantly. Moosend data says 45% of abandoned cart emails are opened, and nearly 11% of those finish the sale.
TipBottom line
To reduce abandoned e-commerce carts, offer discounts and incentives such as faster, cheaper shipping in your follow-up emails.

3. Low deliverability rates will doom your campaign.

A compelling email with an interesting subject line won’t matter if all your emails get sent straight to the spam box. Passing the spam filter has always been a massive email marketing challenge. Additionally, full inboxes and non-existent email addresses create deliverability issues. 

When your deliverability rate is exceptionally low, ISPs may block you. Poor deliverability is a sign of wasted time, money and effort.

Solution: You can take several steps to improve your email deliverability rates.

  • Avoid spammy words. Avoid spam filters by steering clear of common spam words in your subject lines. Spam triggers vary by industry, but typical spam filters look for words and phrases like “buy,” “cash,” “earn $,” “save $,” “sale,” “subscribe,” “make $,” “click,” “free,” “trial,” “cost,” “cheap,” “prize,” “as seen on,” “be your own boss” and “unlimited.”
  • Clean up your contact list. While there’s not much you can do about full inboxes, you can boost deliverability rates by cleaning up your email list. For example, remove inactive contacts. Use email analytics to find contacts who never open your emails or engage with your website, and delete them.
  • Confirm user emails. To improve email address accuracy, add an extra step to the opt-in process. For example, require subscribers to enter their email information twice or confirm their email address via a confirmation email.
  • Help users update their contact information. Subscribers may change an email address or lose access to an existing one. Make it easy for them to update their contact information via your website.

4. Retaining email subscribers is crucial.

It’s great to add subscribers, but keep a close eye on your unsubscribes. Are your subscribers hitting the unsubscribe link regularly? If so, there could be a problem with your content, frequency and relevance. If you have a bunch of active subscribers, it pays to make every effort to keep them.

Solution: The best way to keep your current subscribers is by sending relevant emails to the right audience. Try these tips to keep subscribers engaged: 

  • Segment your email list. Use email segmentation to segment your list by customer type and address the unique pain points of various buyer personas. For example, you might have one list of customers enrolled in your customer loyalty program, another for occasional buyers, and another for prospects. Or, segment subscribers based on the products they buy or the amount they spend. 
  • Target emails to various segments. After organizing subscribers into segmented lists, send each list emails that specifically address their needs and desires. You might send an email to a prospect with a one-time discount to lure them into buying, whereas an established customer might get an email inviting them to an in-store event.
  • Reengage inactive customers. Reinvigorate your list with a reengagement email marketing strategy to entice your least active subscribers. If they don’t respond, consider purging them. Their email addresses may be obsolete, or they may not be interested in your content anymore.
  • Evaluate your content. Most of the content you send should be informational (“we are opening a new location” or “spring fashions have arrived”) and social (“happy birthday,” “happy holidays”), while some should be promotional, with and without discounts. If you overwhelm subscribers with hard-sell emails, they are sure to unsubscribe in record numbers. 
  • Optimize your email timing. Send enough emails to stay top of mind, but not so many that you clog up subscribers’ inboxes. You can also allow subscribers to tell you how often they would like to receive emails when they opt in. Give them an opportunity to reduce the number they receive if they consider unsubscribing.

5. Low click-through rates can sink your campaign.

Another top email marketing challenge is improving email click-through rates (CTRs) and maintaining a consistent number. Even if recipients open your emails, it doesn’t mean they’ll read your content and click on the links inside. If they’re not clicking, you don’t have a good chance of converting them into paying customers.

Solution: Your low CTRs may be a result of disinterested subscribers. Try these methods to capture their interest enough for them to click your links: 

  • Use video content in your email. Video content is more engaging. Campaign Monitor says that adding videos to your marketing materials can boost your CTRs by 65%. 
  • Boost subscriber engagement. Use images and include polls, social share links, and subscriber bonuses to improve engagement. 
  • Optimize your emails for mobile. You need to use a mobile-responsive design for your emails. If your emails aren’t properly optimized for mobile, they may take too long to load or become unreadable with small fonts. This can result in disinterested recipients and lower CTRs.

6. Measurable ROI is hard to achieve.

Measuring digital marketing ROI isn’t easy. Maybe you saw a 4% increase in CTR for your latest email blast, but did you experience any increase in conversions or leads?

Solution: Closed-loop marketing can help achieve measurable ROI to resolve email marketing challenges. With closed-loop marketing, you’ll follow a subscriber from the first point of contact (visiting your website) to their final conversion into a paying customer via website cookies and internal communications.

TipBottom line
Set up your email marketing campaign for success with the right tools and advice. Read our reviews of the best email marketing services to find a feature-rich and affordable partner.

Email marketing do’s and don’ts

Do take these actions when planning and launching an email marketing campaign:

  • Include sign-up links. In your email signature, on social media channels, at the end of posted and live videos, and in website pop-ups, you should give readers a link to subscribe to your emails.
  • Offer subscription bonuses. Come up with a compelling bonus to give people when they subscribe to your list. This could take the form of a one-time discount or a free ebook.
  • Be clear about what you’re sending. On your email sign-up form, tell potential subscribers exactly what they can expect to receive from you via email.
  • Test subject lines. Use A/B testing to see which subject lines work best.
  • Position your call to action. Place your CTA on the right side of the email for best results.
  • Resend campaigns. If a recipient didn’t open the email the first time, try sending it again. Experiment with a different subject line or different send time.

Here’s what not to do in email marketing: 

  • Neglect to send new subscribers a welcome email. A welcome email sets the tone for the relationship, tells subscribers what to expect from you, and reminds them that they signed up so they don’t immediately unsubscribe.
  • Forget to include a CTA. All promotional emails should have links to shopping pages or web forms. Even informational emails should link to a blog post or form to get more information.
  • Have multiple goals for each email. Focus on one thing you want subscribers to do per email so they don’t get confused or overwhelmed.
  • Send random content. Avoid sending irrelevant content, or content subscribers don’t expect.
  • Attach files to bulk emails. Attachments are OK if you send a one-to-one email on a specific topic and the recipient expects an attachment. Otherwise, avoid attachments at all costs.

Maximizing your email campaign’s potential for success

New challenges will arise with email marketing, of course, just as they will with any other marketing channel. But don’t give up: You can overcome these problems by making the right moves and observing your performance. Use the tips here to handle the current biggest email marketing challenges, and watch your efforts pay off in conversions.

Shane Barker contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

author image
Written By: Jennifer DublinoSenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
Jennifer Dublino is an experienced entrepreneur and astute marketing strategist. With over three decades of industry experience, she has been a guiding force for many businesses, offering invaluable expertise in market research, strategic planning, budget allocation, lead generation and beyond. Earlier in her career, Dublino established, nurtured and successfully sold her own marketing firm. Dublino, who has a bachelor's degree in business administration and an MBA in marketing and finance, also served as the chief operating officer of the Scent Marketing Institute, showcasing her ability to navigate diverse sectors within the marketing landscape. Over the years, Dublino has amassed a comprehensive understanding of business operations across a wide array of areas, ranging from credit card processing to compensation management. Her insights and expertise have earned her recognition, with her contributions quoted in reputable publications such as Reuters, Adweek, AdAge and others.
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