Why did my email marketing campaign fail?

January 3, 2023
What makes a fail a #FAIL?

This is all about the metrics and determination of a failure or success of an email campaign.

  • Low delivery rate
  • Low open rate
  • High unsubscribe rate
  • Low quality and quantity booking leads
  • No CTA follow through

Let’s first dive into how to identify a failure of your recent email campaign. No doubt you will want to add to this. These KPIs relate to all forms of email campaigns such as newsletters, sales cadence or transactional emails. You can use all or some, but these are the base line metrics.

Low delivery rates

This means that your emails are not getting into the inbox. Is it time to review those addresses that are not being delivered. Time to clean that list. Now if that list is something you bought or pulled from a reliable source for sales, then the email addresses are not good. In other words, you are not getting what you paid for.

Clean your newsletter lists and review what you are using for other mass mailings.

Recommended threshold for delivery: An average email deliverable rate for marketers is 80%, depending on the industry, so do some research on whom you are targeting.

Low open rates

This reflects the amount of emails that are actually being opened. Recipients may see that email come in and delete it right away. There are ways to rectify this and we will discuss that in the What to Do section below. Note however that newsletters might differ from cold call emails or warm sales emails in open rates, so adjust your KPI expectations accordingly.

Recommended threshold for open rate: Acceptable open rate should be between 17-28%, depending on the industry, so do some research on whom you are targeting (sound familiar?).

High unsubscribe rates

You should not have extremely high unsubscribe rates if everything else is working properly. Most will just delete and ignore. If your rates are high, then maybe you sent the same email more than once. Perhaps they found the email offensive. Make sure your email send cadence is not replicating and for sure, make that email relevant and have a business tone in terms of copy.

Recommended threshold for unsubscribes: Anything below 0.5% is a good unsubscribe rate for an email campaign.

Low quality and quantity booking leads

This is an important KPI to track for marketing so that your sales team is getting the work they need. Again is it the quality of your list? Negating your open and delivery rate issues will show that perhaps it is. Quality over quantity matters, but if your list is too small that may not give you a statistically confident number to evaluate either and might skew your decisions.

Recommended threshold for lead generation: This depends on what you are trying to achieve and as such something you will have to evaluate for yourself.

No CTA follow through

This will affect the efficacy of your campaign. The whole idea of a newsletter is to have them engage. With multiple topics, the newsletter should have multiple read more links (and tagged to track), while a sales email should have clear and concise calls to action, but with only one to two links (also tagged).

Recommended threshold for CTAs: Try A/B testing on call to actions to a small list before sending to the remainder (80%).

Why an email fail happens

The underlying reason the subscriber treated the email in a way that showed up in the campaign metrics as a failure.

  • Grammar and spelling errors
  • Long run-on email copy
  • Grandiose and unverified statements
  • Subject line not considered enough
  • No pre-header text
  • Irrelevant copy and irrelevant lists
  • Sent at a poor response rate time in the week
  • No A/B testing
  • Poor design/heavy or too many graphics
  • Bad links
  • Not conforming to spam laws
  • Poor conversion landing pages
  • No alt copy for images

Grammar and spelling errors

Need we stress the importance of good copy adhering to proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation? If you show a carefree attitude to the copy then that will shine through as a carefree attitude to the message and relationship you are building in your emails. Check and check again.

Asking for someone’s time in an email better start with great copy with no mistakes. And if you do slip a misspelling in there, correct it for next time. Do not resend the email with an apology for the error. Unless your error was about 30% off when in fact it was only for 10%!

It’s the simple stuff. Have someone always review your copy. Even if you think you are great at spelling, you need another set of eyes to catch any errors or omissions, or just suggestions on the copy overall.

Long run-on email copy

If you have a lot of information to send someone, you usually send an attachment, not write a long email. The same can be said for sales and prospecting emails. Even customer update emails should be concise and to the point.

Sentences can be split or made into a paragraph.

Grandiose and unverified statements

This has to be the best article ever written and I know you will have to agree! No? Of course not. Making statements such as best of the best (it actually should be best of better) or world leading etc. ring hollow as folks are not that stupid to think that what you are offering it so important that it will change their life. But be honest and let them know about the benefits and reasons why they should click, respond, or call.

Subject line not considered enough

Subject lines can be tricky. This is your first exposure to the recipients. It could be something as a ‘Special Sales’ if a product newsletter or sale announcement. Or, it could be an enticing line to get a cold call sales email opened. Two to three words at the most. Snappy and loud. Think about that when crafting your subject lines.

No preheader/preview text

Preheader (or preview) text shows in the inbox below the subject line. Think of it as a summary of the email body. This is usually the second thing after the subject line that will be noticed and goes a long way to support the email open rate. It can be the first line of the email, but if custom made it can be very supportive.

Irrelevant copy and irrelevant lists

Sending out emails to your lists should ensure that the list is relevant to your email campaign. Segment or split your list into manageable sections and send them and manage them to nurture those leads and orders that should start coming in when the right message is sent to the right list.

Sent at a poor time in the week

Sending on Friday evenings is less likely to be successful than sending on Monday mornings, as your email may get lost over the weekend. However, Monday mornings may not be the best time to send, as others may also be thinking that Monday mornings work to their advantage.

Try A/B testing on times. Middle of the day for your time zone or the time zone you are targeting works better. Likewise Tuesdays to Thursdays are also noted as better days for open rates.

Test out your theories. It will help you define your audience for good metric producing send times.

No A/B testing

If you are not doing split tests to a small segment of your list, how can you know what is the right choice? Test subject lines, copy, newsletter copy order, with and without graphics and other items you think might be holding back higher success rates. But do them one at a time. If you send out two completely different email copy and subject lines in a test you cannot discern if it was the copy or the subject line that worked.

Poor design/heavy or too many graphics

With so many template sites and templates within your email marketing platform, it’s more popular in newsletters and product sales emails than in cold prospecting emails, graphics can really enhance your email layout and add to the theme for profitable sales (think orange and black for Halloween specials).

Bad links

Sending out an email with links to webpages, blogs, product pages or landing pages is great. But what if that page was edited and the url is no longer valid or worse, the page is gone altogether. Check your links and advise the website manager that the urls you are using should be not changed, or at lease if unpublished, still accessible in some fashion. An email with bad links is basically an annoying email with no value to the recipients.

Not conforming to spam laws

Again. Know the laws of the regions you are sending emails too. Google for ‘spam law in [region you want to know about]. There is no excuse not to. The last thing you want to happen is contravening laws that can see your email account blacklisted or worse – having your account cancelled.

Poor conversion landing pages

The message on a landing page should match the message in the linked sales email. If there is a disconnect, it can be frustrating for the reader. Make sure to offer the same discount on the landing page as in the email and include a link to the discounted product.

No alt copy for images

Outlook is defaulted for not loading images. You may not be a fan of Outlook or even use it, but many, many do. Pay attention to graphics you are using. Provide an alt image description or in the case of sales emails, forego the idea of images all together.

And PLEASE make sure those images are a small file size. Nothing like chewing up someone’s mobile data plan with a 2MB image to have them sour on you right away.


Let’s face it. Marketing has a job to support sales. If you are not undertaking due diligence in your email campaigns, then you are setting sales up for failure. Hopefully this article will help you get back on track with great information to help your next email marketing campaign thrive.

Until next time, keep those emails rolling!

– Jim

Jim Gibbs

Jim Gibbs, Senior Account Executive at Critical Impact

Jim Gibbs is Critical Impact’s Growth Channel team lead and has been selling and closing for a long time. Jim is known to be able to sell bottled water to fish. You can find Jim on LinkedIn.