15 Most Common Email Mistakes: How to Prevent Them and Apologize If They Happened

There’s no such thing as official email etiquette but there are email mistakes that make senders look awkward or plain rude. Be it a message to an office colleague or a campaign sent to many recipients, one mistake may do a lot of damage.

How to minimize the risk and what to do if mistakes were made? Read this guide to find out.

15 common email mistakes that recipients don’t like

  1. Bad spelling and grammar

According to an internet meme, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

This is obviously not true, even more so in email marketing. Typos and bad grammar give emails an unserious look and a spammy feel — as if the sender couldn’t care less to check before hitting “Send”. It’s also hard to read a text full of mistakes and misspellings.

A rare typo probably won’t hurt anyone’s feelings but many errors (and doing so repeatedly) reflect poorly on the sender.

  1. Late-night mailing

Let’s imagine you want to see what’s going to happen if you send a newsletter late in the evening rather than around noon. That’s a great idea because time is one of the factors affecting key email metrics. But it’s also important to know where the limits are.

The main issue around late-night emails is that they are rude — who’s going to buy from a brand that sends messages at 2:37 am, especially if the notification bleep wakes the recipient up? From this follows another issue — late-night emails are ineffective and studies prove it.

A more practical and respectful solution is to schedule emails.

how to schedule-send email
In Gmail, right-click next to the Send button to schedule an email for later

Or, if you send emails through your ESP of choice, you can schedule an entire campaign.

how to schedule a campaign in Selzy
In Selzy, scheduling is the final step before launching the campaign
  1. Writing walls of text

In 1997, “the guru of web page usability” Jakob Nielsen did a study and found out that people rarely read on the web. 20 years later, he reran the study only to come to the same conclusion: people rarely read on the web — they scan.

People scan web pages for words they recognize rather than read word by word. It’s hard to scan a page with plain text because the eye has nothing to pick out. Unless the recipients are super motivated to read such an email, they’ll skip it.

Most likely, you’re not reading this article word by word, preferring to skim over it instead and pick out things that are easy to recognize: subheads, pics, bullet points, bolded parts. Nothing wrong with it!

A scannable copy is an essential part of a good-looking email. It helps senders get their message across by saving readers time.

  1. Using the “Reply All” option

Imagine you want to tell your wife she looks beautiful today but you also tell it to your ex-wife and her new boyfriend John. That’s “Reply all” in real life.

Unless you mean it, blasting an email to everyone will be a huge distraction and a cause of annoyance for others.

meme with a kitten
  1. Writing in all caps

WRITING IN ALL CAPS LOOKS LIKE YELLING and no one likes being yelled at. Also, all caps retards the speed of reading.

But most importantly, the caps lock is useless. Writing SALES UP TO 25% instead of Sales up to 25% won’t increase sales. If it did, everyone would be doing that.

  1. Misusing emojis

Emojis are a tool, not a means to an end. When used properly, they make an email stand out and highlight a mood. What could go wrong? For starters, it’s easy to look unprofessional by adding too many emojis.

A recent study also shows that subject lines with an emoji do worse than subject lines without emojis. Another hurdle is that some emojis may be seen as offensive.

Use emojis with caution and only add them when they add value and don’t contain potentially offensive undertones.

list of offensive emojis
Some emojis have a double meaning that may be offensive. Source: Research Gate
  1. Trying too hard with a subject line

A subject line influences the open rate because it serves as a headline to an email. While it’s important to make it attention-grabbing, it’s also important not to overdo it.

It turns out that the best way to write a compelling subject line is to keep it simple. Straightforward subject lines that meaningfully preview email content work best.

On the contrary, excessive personalization, crazy punctuation and emoji overload don’t add meaning or increase opens.

  1. Using vague subject lines

A vague subject line risks telling only half a story or no story at all, leaving the recipient confused. Subscribers may decide not to waste even a second of their time on a baffling email.

But life would be boring with factual only subject lines, wouldn’t it?

That’s why some companies occasionally try a different thing and being vague is one of those. The key thing is to know what you do it for.

If you’re a big brand whose emails people wait for — you have more room to experiment. If you’re only starting, perhaps a better idea is to be more precise with your growing audience.

vague subject lines
Morning Brew sends quite a few emails with cryptic subject lines but they’re one of the best newsletters out there and can afford it. The main thing is that subscribers know they get value from the newsletter
  1. Going overboard with punctuation

Too many exclamation or question marks look unnatural! Surely? Surely!?

In real life, we don’t often speak in exclamations or rhetorical questions because too much of it sounds like trying too hard. Even when we are excited, the emotion won’t translate well into the text, no matter how many !s are added.

Only one thing is worse than adding lots of misplaced !s to a text — it’s ramping up the hysteria by adding multiple !s to one sentence!!!!!!!!

the law of exclamation in a pic
The Law of Exclamation is an internet axiom that argues that a statement's validity is called into question by the number of exclamation marks used
  1. Misusing To/Cc and Bcc fields

When choosing the recipient, you have three options: To, Cc and Bcc. The default option is To but what about the other two?

To, Cc and Bcc fields

Cc stands for carbon copy — a copy of this email will be sent to a Cc address and all the recipients can see each other. Use Cc when you want to add meaningful contributors to a conversation or keep those people in the loop.

Bcc stands for blind carbon copy — a copy will be sent to a Bcc address but no recipient from the To and Cc fields can see it. Bcc is like the incognito mode. If the Bcc address replies though, it gets found out.

how Bcc works
I’m sending an email to Ana and a copy to Kay. However, neither of them knows that Colin will also receive it
  1. “To whom it may concern”

“To whom it may concern” is a way to start a conversation when the recipient’s name is unknown. For example, to provide a recommendation or complain to a company. What’s the problem with it?

Well, it’s mostly a formality that eats up space rather than brings value to a conversation. When you send an email to someone you don’t know by name, there are stronger moves to make it sound more professional and persuasive.

If you know your recipient by name or can Google it, it’s better to use the name and then explain why you’re writing. This will make an email more personal and meaningful.

  1. Emotional emailing

A lot of things can cause strong emotions: personal problems, stress from work, etc. For what it’s worth, it can just be a bad day. We’re all human and can easily get upset. But think about this: problems come and go, so should we allow them to dictate our normal selves?

Think about it when writing emails in a panic state. Should you let emotions show through? Won’t the emotional spillover cause you instant regret? After all, you can’t delete emails after they’re sent. You can unsend but Gmail gives senders 30 seconds max to do that.

A good idea is to draft an email for an hour to see if the strong feeling still possesses you — most likely it doesn’t.

If you’re under too much stress and don’t have the luxury of time, try a physiological sigh: two shorter inhales and then a long extended exhale. This will immediately offload carbon dioxide that triggers fast breathing and prevents you from being calm.

  1. Sending sensitive information

Email isn’t the best medium to send sensitive information. You can’t delete an email after the short unsend period expires and your recipient can forward it to anyone else.

But much worse than trusting someone’s conscience are phishing attacks by hackers. As much as mailbox providers care about security, hackers are still out to steal sensitive info from users: credit card numbers, passwords, tax forms, medical records, etc.

Think about potential consequences before sending sensitive data via email.

  1. Adding wrong attachments

This mistake may happen when you’re in a rush. It’s understandable: similar document names, the same pics in different formats, a misclick. A double-check should be enough to prevent this mistake.

  1. Adding the wrong address from the suggested drop-down

When you add a recipient, the mailbox provider suggests matching addresses. It saves time: instead of typing the whole address, you type the first letters and choose the needed recipient. What could go wrong?

When in haste, it’s not that hard to choose the wrong person — someone with a similar address.

Even if you select the correct person, make sure you send it to the right address. Some people use one account for work, the other for personal use.

Gmail auto-suggests email addresses
Gmail auto-suggests addresses. In haste, it’s possible to choose wrongly. The issue is worse on mobile devices because of smaller screens and butterfingers

Tips to help you avoid email mistakes

  • Proofread before sending. A second look will help you spot mistakes. A useful habit is to read a text aloud — this helps you hear any unnatural sentences. To sharpen your writing, install Grammarly — a browser extension that highlights typos.
  • Check for readability. Use Hemingway Editor, a free resource that rates your text in terms of how easy it is to read.
  • Don’t rush. Writing an email when in a hurry is an invitation to disaster: typos, wrong attachments, excessive emotions, etc.
  • Add recipients last. This will prevent you from accidentally sending an incomplete and unchecked email.
  • Double-check attachments. Make sure you’ve added the right files in the correct formats. Pay special attention to GIFs to make sure they’re playable.
  • Write useful emails. Last but not least — no amount of exclamations, capital letters and emojis will save an email that recipients don’t find helpful. Make value your priority.

How to apologize for email errors the right way

If you’ve made a mistake, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. Take a psychological sigh immediately, then follow these steps to put things right.

Step 1: Assess the gravity of the error

If you placed a comma wrong or made an innocent typo, there’s no point bothering subscribers with an apology email. Consider an apology if it’s really messed up for one of these reasons:

  • Misinformation
  • Misnaming
  • Technical error
  • Inappropriate sending time
  • Data leak

Step 2: Write a contrasting subject line

The subject line should be different from the email with a mistake, otherwise, no one will know what’s inside until they open it. Pick a subject line that makes it clear it’s not a usual email:

  • Our mistake.
  • We messed up.
  • We made a mistake. Let us make it up to you.
  • *Retraction* On our last email.

Add a bit of humor if you’re sure your subscribers understand it and the situation permits:

  • Whoops!
  • Oops, we got a bit excited.
  • Oops: someone hadn’t had their coffee yet this morning.

Step 3: Sincerely apologize without making (up) excuses

A sincere apology is all it takes to own up to a mistake. Don’t try to blame the intern or bad weather — blame-shifting is escaping responsibility.

Apologize by using simple language. It doesn’t mean being too informal — it means using simple words and calling a spade a spade. An excessively formal apology will sound forced, as if the sender wants to look great rather than admit a mistake.

an apology email
A coffee company apologized for naming Colombia a Central American country. Total acceptance of the mistake without excuses makes it sound honest. Source: Really Good Emails

Step 4: Give a reward

If the mistake is bad enough, you probably need an extra something to make up for it. Give your subscribers a little discount or a promo code along with your most sincere apologies.

If the four steps are done correctly, an apology will most likely work — even if the mistake is really grave, as was the case with British retailer Made.com. They congratulated subscribers on Scottish independence — hours after Scotland voted not to leave the UK.

an email with a big mistake
Source: The Telegraph

Realizing they botched it up, they sent an updated email within two hours with the subject line that goes “Oops. Please ignore our last email”. Although they have a mild excuse, it doesn’t look like they’re shifting the blame.

an apology email after a big mistake
The gaffe was embarrassing but Made.com found a way out. The situation would've been much worse if they had pretended nothing had happened and hadn't apologized. Source: The Telegraph

The bottom line

  • Email mistakes can spring from all sorts of places. Some are technical and have to do with spelling, punctuation and misclicks. Others are behavioral and have to do with the sender’s approach to writing emails and current mood.
  • The best way to minimize mistakes is to spot them before they happen. Proofread, double-check for spelling and readability, check attachments, and add recipients last. Try not to rush, especially if time permits.
  • If you made a mistake, sincerely apologize. Write an apology email if the error was grave. Give it a different subject line from the email with a mistake. Most importantly, sincerely apologize without shifting the blame. If possible, reward subscribers with a little benefit.

What’s the biggest email mistake you had to apologize for and what was the reaction?

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unisender

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