E-mail Marketing (ESP)
by dolan
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Oops! How to Deal with Email Marketing Mistakes

Oops! How to Deal with Email Marketing Mistakes

Oops Emails

I’m sure you know the feeling. You’ve fine-tooth-combed your HTML. Tested it, looking for spelling mistakes, broken links, and coding hacking fixes for those darned Outlook rendering anomalies. You’ve proofread the copy. You’ve sent tests to the client and your boss and your co-workers. Your upper lip starts to sweat a little bit; you close your eyes, and click “send.”

It can be quite nerve-wracking to send a communication to a million people, no matter how thoroughly you’ve tested it. You can do everything you can to avoid them, but mistakes do occasionally happen in such a wild medium. There’s even a Pinterest board dedicated to Oops emails

Now matter how much QA diligence you put in, email mistakes are almost inevitable (we’re human). The finality of hitting that send button is not like simply publishing to the web, where you can fix a mistake on the fly. That mistake just landed in your users’ inboxes, as is (in most cases, keep reading for some after-you’ve-sent fixes).


It’s what you do after the mistake that matters most.

Even MailChimp, the giant of the email marketing industry, can screw up. A few weeks ago, MailChimp’s What’s In Store newsletter mistakenly sent out an incomplete rough draft of their latest issue.

In a follow-up newsletter , the author, Meg Lindsay, takes us through the nightmarish moment she discovered she had sent the embarrassing email. Her honest and very humorous take on the whole incident was a pleasure to read; and touched a lot of recipients, including me, in both the funny bone and the heart.

Whoops screen shot

Her apology email solicited responses like:

  • “It’s happened to me, too!”
  • “You know, I’m actually really glad that this happened to you because it happens to us all the time!”
  • “I love how we have been able to see your process, warts and all. Keeping it real, that is so refreshing.”
  • “I’m just glad I’m not alone…been there.”

We all make mistakes, but we’re usually quite easily forgiven when we own them and admit to them with grace. Meg Lindsay turned an email marketing nightmare into an endearing and personable story to which we can all relate. By screwing up, she recovered and did great service to the MailChimp brand.


What can go wrong?

Aside from the occasional spelling or grammatical error, there are number of things that can go wrong when sending bulk email. Here are but a few:

Oops 1. Broken links.

We all test, test and retest the links in our emails. Still, things can go wrong. Links are easily broken, and even more so if you’re manually using UTM(?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=test) data to track clicks. (What's UTM? More on that here .)

Pro-tip: Test from both within a webmail view AND from an email client.

Oops 2. Botched segmentation.

Here’s a good example of an easy mistake to make. Links London sent a message to their UK subscribers (whose currency is, of course, the pound) with euro prices.

Links of London Ooops Email

Oops 3. Wrong version of the email.

This is the ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ of the email marketing world. http://images.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/files/dewey-truman_5.jpg

We know; you had such good intentions. You prepared two emails that highlighted the outcome of an upcoming event. But you sent the wrong one!

The California Golden Bears suffered this one recently when they hit that send button a little too soon; just before Arizona scored 36 fourth-quarter points (including a spectacular Hail Mary) to win the game



Oops 4. Website technical problems

Now, there’s not much as an email marketer can do if the campaign they just sent was so powerful and popular as to crash your site!

All kidding aside, websites do occasionally go down, shopping carts do malfunction. Owning this mistake with a follow up apology not only gives you a chance to make good with your customer, it also gives you another opportunity for an earnest touchpoint.

Pro-tip: If you think you’re sending an email that is going to get an unusually high response rate; give your IT department a heads up!



What to do when you’ve messed up

First, take a deep breath and relax. Of course, we’re doing important business, but as Meg Lindsay learned, “it’s just an email”:

“The major lesson for me was: It's just an email. No one was hurt, nothing was lost (except my pride), and perspective is everything. Be human and bounce back. It's all I could really do, and I think people enjoyed that.”

1. Assess the impact

How many emails went out? Is there time to stop it and spare half your list the Oops email? Just how big was the mistake? What is just a simple typo, or did you mistakenly promote a 99% off sale. Consider letting the small stuff slide; there’s no need to apologize for a silly mistake and a follow-up email could very well cause annoyance. But if your mistake has rendered your campaign useless or causes customer dissatisfaction, you’ve got to act. And you’ve got to act quickly.

2. Can you intervene? Are you able to quickly correct the mistake?

While most email errors are written in stone once you hit send, there are a couple of emergency techniques you might be able to employ remotely (if you’ve made the right kind of error).

Pro-tip: Be prepared. Check with your ESP in advance to see if they are able to apply these techniques for you.

Images: HTML emails don’t carry images with them like attachments. Your email client fetches the image from your server when the email is opened and viewed. If your mistake is in an image, you may be able to immediately replace it with a corrected image. Make sure to upload the image with the same name and in the same directory as the original. Depending on how your ESP handles images; you might have to get a tech involved.

Note: You still should reach out and send apologies to those early birds who opened your email before you could fix it.

Broken Links: It might be possible to set up a redirect of an incorrectly sent link. If your Oops link sends the customer to a broken page (404), like www.yoursite.com/thislinkdoesntwork.html, your website administrator can make a quick redirect at the incorrect URL to send the user to where they expected to be taken.

As well, depending on your ESP’s system, this method can also be accomplished at your ESP. If you’re using Dirigo’s new Konvey; our techs will be able to set up a link redirect for you.

3. Respond

Pro-tip: Consider having an apology template ready to go.

1. Respond quickly; don’t delay. You just might be able head your user off at the pass and get them to read your replacement email first!

2. Make sure you write a clear subject line that includes, “Oops,” “Sorry about that last email,” or “My cat walked across my keyboard” so your user knows why they’ve received a second email.

3. Apologize and own the mistake. Stay on brand, but use humor if you can. You’re showing your brand’s human side, the side that can make mistakes sometimes.

4. Include the corrected information, obviously; but consider adding a special offer as a make-good.

5. Use your social media channels to announce the correction. Here again, is a great place to use humor and humanize your brand’s voice.

4. Assess the impact

Now that your heart rate is back to normal, go home and hug your kids. Tomorrow morning when you get back to the office, compare your click and open rates of the Oops email with those of a normal campaign using the same subscriber segment. Check the unsubscribe rate. Compare the Oops email with the follow up email.

How to avoid mistakes:

1. Never use placeholder text in the subject line or preheader text (what’s preheader text?) in your templates. “Lorem Ipsum” in the preheader text is a very common mistake.

2. Proofread. Twice. Read it aloud. Print it out. Whichever method works best for you.

3. Use spellcheck. Every time.

4. Get more eyeballs on your work. Choose a few coworkers to help you out. Send them tests from within your ESP.

5. Click through all of the links in your email one at a time to make sure they resolve.


Everyone makes mistakes; and in the email marketing world, they happen often. I probably receive a couple Oops emails every month. They’re embarrassing and frustrating; but if handled correctly, they can really soften your brand’s voice and endear you to a customer.

Think of it as an opportunity to share a funny embarrassing memory with your subscribers.

Let’s talk email marketing! Reach out to us at hello@dirigodev.com or contact us here .



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