Six Ways To Mess Up A Customer Email

Working with email as much as I do, I’m encouraged to see so many people doing the right things:

  • Getting explicit permission
  • Providing valuable, relevant communications
  • Building trust; treating subscribers like people (and not like numbers)
  • (the list goes on)

So when I get a marketing email from someone who isn’t doing these things, someone who’s doing all sorts of harm to their brand by breaking some of the “rules” (intentionally or not) of good email marketing, it hurts. As an email marketer, I find messages like this frustrating and offensive.

But rather than fume or shake my head about it, I figured it’d be helpful to show what they’ve done wrong, and how you can do better.

The Offensive Email

Click the image below to see an email I received recently:

Bad Email

Note: the sender is a company that I purchased from on eBay last month. Names and other potentially identifying information have been blacked out to protect the… well, not the innocent, that’s for sure. Maybe the ill-advised?

Let’s Look At The Problems With This Email

  • They created and sent this email from their own computer, and simply added all of the recipients into the BCC field. While I did receive this message, sending out in this manner doesn’t bode well for their long-term email deliverability.
  • Typing the word “free” as F*R*E*E*. Again, this particular message happened to get to me, but you’re begging to get content filtered by putting unnecessary punctuation in your words (spammers do this). Plus it looks awful.
  • Order Now text is not a clickable link. How am I supposed to order? If you don’t want me to click that text, what do you want me to click? Don’t make me guess…
  • Gigantic whitespace after the sig file, clearly designed to hide the unsubscribe instructions.
  • Unsubscribe section starts out with “This is not spam. Our intent is not to spam.”Guess what? Even if I didn’t think they were spamming me before, you can bet I do now — why else would they put that? Seems clear that people have been calling them spammers. But instead of fixing their emails, they get defensive.

    Also worth noting here: they’re forcing me to unsubscribe by replying to the email. This is highly unreliable. What if my email back to them gets filtered? Or what if they just miss it?

  • No physical address.Aside from CAN-SPAM implications, this just makes me trust them even less. Are they afraid of me paying them a visit? (And if so, why? What does that say about how they do business?) They could easily put a P.O. Box.

You Can Do Better Than This

Don’t be like this company.

I can tell you that while I’m very happy with the product I bought from them, I won’t be doing business with them again. This email leaves such an awful taste in my mouth (especially the shady whitespace, lack of postal address and giant screaming F*R*E*E*) that I think they’d have been better off not emailing me at all.

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  1. Shari Smith

    10/17/2007 1:13 pm

    Very well said! I delete emails that have funky punctuation like they are the flu! They definitely demoted themselves. I really appreciate your evaluation because I never want to lose credibility with current clients through my email efforts.

  2. Jason Moffatt

    10/17/2007 1:21 pm

    To this day I still have never seen a Aweber email fall into the spam filter. NOT EVEN ONCE.

    Okay, occasionally I’ve seen the confirmation email hit the spam box, but not even once have I seen a email that was sent using Aweber land in the spam box.

    And I keep a close eye out. In fact, I’ve been waiting for the day to see one single email land in the spam box from dozens and dozens of marketers.

    To this day, I’ve never seen one!

    Thanks Aweber.

    You guys RULE!

  3. BillyWarhol

    10/17/2007 2:14 pm

    Some good Advice*

    Sadly when U try to Pump Up da Volume on yer Internet Marketing Emails they do tend to sound Spammy or MLMy*

    People love the word FREE too – i’m not sure how blathering on with other convoluted text is gonna get the Point across like it does?

    this is a little off Topic but i tried to get my First AWeber AutoResponder setup like U have pictured here but there was No Link for the FREE Report I wanted to provide?

  4. Murray

    10/17/2007 6:02 pm

    Re SPAM coming from your own website:

    This has been a problem for me, and I’ve found some things you can do that may help:

    1. If you get emails like FT%* coming to you (replace "FT%*L" with anything you like) it probably means you have a "catch-all" email address set up at your host. Go into your hosts site management, then to the email area. If there’s an email address set up as a catch-all then remove this option (not the address, if you need it, just the catch-all option). Then you should only receive emails using valid addresses on your site.

    2. Then you need to encode those valid email addresses on your site. A simple way that will work for all except the most sophisticated spammers is available here:

    Better, but more techie, solutions are here:

    3. Or just do what I’ve done on one of my sites: remove email contact altogether and send all contact requests via a "Contact" page that includes an anti-spam question, or "capcha"-type field (where a word is displayed as an image and you need to type it into a field before hitting the "send" button).

    4. Finally, especially if you’re just setting up a new site, it may be worth checking whether your domain name (URL) provider offers the option of a private WHOIS listing as spam-bots (see below) also use WHOIS to get email addresses.

    Serious spammers use spam-bots (like google-bot, but with nastier intent!) to trawl the internet looking for valid email addresses. If they find one on your site, they then check if you have a "catch-all" email address set up. If you do, then they’ve really struck gold!

    I hope the above helps a bit!

  5. Leonie

    10/17/2007 8:13 pm

    GMT: 01.58am 18/10/07

    Hi there

    I just want to know what to I typed at the end of my email to give some one the option to unsubscribe from my list.
    As I am new to this and would like very much to start the correct way without making any errors.

    I myself would like the "at no cost to you". This sounds much better than "free" which means gratis and I for one do not like to use gratis drummed down any one’s throat.

  6. Brian Hawkins

    10/17/2007 8:47 pm

    I would love to know what’s considered average or good as far as open rates and click throughs. What should we be shooting for as far as a goal?

  7. April Eriel

    10/17/2007 11:23 pm

    re. physical address vs. PO box, here’s what CAN-SPAM says about the address: "It also must include your valid physical postal address."

    I think a PO box qualifies as a physical postal address.

    I live in a small town in Lake Tahoe and we don’t have postal service, my only ‘physical POSTAL address’ IS my PO box. If you send mail to my physical address, it gets sent back.. so the only postal address I can give is a PO box.

    I don’t think CAN-SPAM would include a rule that some citizens can’t possibly follow.

  8. Christopher Rees

    10/18/2007 1:23 am

    Another great tool for automatically creating whitelists that you can use on your own sites, can be found here:

    Smashing Magazine ( has an article today on SPAM e-mail and creating bulletproof e-mails, might be worth a read. It’s a great site from a designer’s perspective (don’t know if it’s been covered before, but it’s a good site to put on the frequent visit list).

    Thanks for the great info!

  9. Projektet II » Blog arkiv » Hur man skickar nyhetsbrev framgångsrikt

    10/18/2007 3:02 am

    […] Här är en bra site att läsa mer på. Justin Premick skriver om “Six ways to screw up a customer email“. Justin arbetar på Aweber som är ett företag som enbart arbetar med email utskick. […]

  10. Justin Premick

    10/18/2007 8:19 am


    I have mixed feelings about ditching the catch-all, simply because of the possibility of someone emailing you a question and either incorrectly guessing your address (i.e. support@ yourdomain when your actual address is help@ yourdomain) or just mis-typing it.

    I definitely agree that the contact form is a good option. There are numerous form mail scripts (free as well as paid) online. Your web host may even offer one!


    We automatically include the unsubscribe link/text for you at the end of your messages.


    Ultimately, we should all be shooting for the same goal: better than we’re getting now. That said, we have some previous benchmark data here – I’ll look into compiling some more recent figures.


    That’s a useful tool, thanks!

  11. Brian Hawkins

    10/18/2007 7:55 pm

    Thanks Justin,
    That’s very helpful

  12. B Right

    10/29/2007 6:58 pm

    All the comments are helpful in their own way, and the sum of value enough that I will mark this for further study and to check all the links

    Thank you all for taking time to comment. It has taken me a long time to read it all, so I hope I will have time to put it to use.

    Is it advisable to use an email address I connect with my domain name but don’t yet have a website for?

    There is SO MUCH to learn, I wonder if I will ever get anything actual up and going.

    Troubled Head
    Lost In The Woods

  13. Justin Premick

    10/30/2007 8:13 am


    I’d recommend using an address @ your domain as soon as you are able, yes… and getting your website up! 🙂

  14. Jenny

    11/15/2007 7:08 am

    Thanks Justin.Thanks for the great tips.Cheers.

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  17. Ash

    6/6/2009 10:46 am

    Great post! Lots to learn from this. I get these e-mails often from well meaning businesses people like local restaurants and other brick-and-mortar stores. I know they mean well but they just do it so badly. Every once in a while, I tell them they need to get on Aweber and do it right.

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  19. H E

    8/4/2010 6:50 am

    Wow, as a fairly new marketer, I’m glad to say that we haven’t made these mistakes. We wanted to do it right in the beginning so we can keep our subscribers and not lose any.

    Actually, we haven’t lost one to date (hope we can stay on that track!)

    Another thing I hate is when these companies sign you up without asking if you want the newsletter, even if you have done business with them. Like you, I unsubscribe and don’t do business with them again.