Why Your Marketing Emails Don’t Convert (and What to Do)

You have a healthy number of subscribers you’ve been sending marketing emails to. You’re careful with your timing, crafting irresistible offers, gently nudging them to take your offer so you can close.

You’re trying—really hard—and your subscribers should be converting. Only they’re not. Most of them don’t open your marketing emails. Those who do, don’t take action. This has gone on for a while. Now you’re wondering what’s wrong.

In this guide, we’ll highlight the 7 main reasons your emails don’t convert and discuss specific actions you can take to resolve each problem.

Let’s get started.

7 Reasons Your Email Campaigns Don’t Convert

  1. Your email copy is weak
  2. You’re not segmenting your list
  3. You don’t offer value
  4. You don’t close with a strong call to action
  5. You follow best practices instead of data
  6. Your emails have poor designs
  7. You have the wrong leads

1. Your email copy is weak

Your subject line is the first thing subscribers see when you email them. If it isn’t compelling, you’ll lose prospects before they get a chance to see what you’re offering in the body.

Say you have a killer subject line that moves recipients to open your marketing emails. You’ll lose them just as quickly if your body copy fails to sell them on why they should take what you’re offering.

How you frame an offer is just as important as the offer. That’s why even fantastic offers fall short when the copywriting underwhelms.

Improving your email copy

Several things can weaken your copy. Maybe it’s too generic and misses your audience’s pain points. Maybe your language lacks urgency or your copy follows a botched storytelling structure.

Regardless, you can only improve your email copy by learning how to write compelling copy or hiring someone who does. A/B testing also helps you measure copy performance and adjust accordingly.

Write better copy

Your copy should connect with your audience and the things they care about. To do this, you must have a solid grasp of who they are, their pain points, and what moves them. Otherwise, the copies you produce might be beautiful. But they won’t convert.

Beyond emotional resonance, your copy must also make logical sense. This is especially relevant when dealing with audiences unlikely to make impulse buys.

You’ve probably heard that you should discuss benefits, not features. But here’s the caveat: if you’re in a high-competition market, your competitors are probably promising prospects the same benefits as you.

To stand out, you need to talk about the features or approaches that differentiate you from your competitors and how these differentiators will create a better experience for your prospects.

Yes, sell an experience. But avoid meaningless abstractions when describing what prospects stand to gain. Use specific, concrete language.

While you might also benefit from hacks like using power words to create urgency and interest, shortening your sentences, and writing the way you speak, you’ll see better results if you understand the ‘why’ behind these techniques.

Consider taking a course to learn copywriting techniques and understand the psychological impact your words have. This knowledge will help you choose the right words and framing to drive the results you want.

Hire a copywriter

If you send many emails and your budget is large enough, hiring an in-house copywriter or a freelancer on a retainer contract can help keep your brand voice consistent. Using a copywriting style guide also keeps your copies consistent and helps new hires hit the ground running without friction.

A/B test

Send multiple versions of the same email with one different variable and track their performance to see which version does best. Your variable could be your subject line, CTA, or even parts of the body copy.

Improving your copies based on your audience’s preferences can boost conversions. According to Litmus’ study, businesses that A/B test generate double the ROI of businesses that don’t.

2. You’re not segmenting your list

Segmenting your list means dividing your subscribers into separate groups and targeting them based on their actions, shared interests, buyer personas, sales cycle position, etc.

Why list segmentation is important:

Not everyone on your list wants the same thing from your business. Even if they do, not everyone wants (or is ready for) the same thing at the same time.

With an unsegmented list, you’re either:

  • Sending generic marketing emails that are ineffective because they try hard to cater to everyone.
  • Sending subscribers irrelevant offers (which might annoy them and increase unsubscribes).

Segmentation offers you a more meaningful way to personalize your marketing emails beyond using first names. It helps you get every campaign in front of the audience most primed for it.

The impact of list segmentation on your business can be massive. List segmentation can boost your open and click-through rates and increase your revenue by up to 760%.

Segmenting your email list

Look for patterns among your subscribers that you can use to create segments. If you’re unsure where to start, ask:

  • Who are my subscribers?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What are their interests?
  • How much do they know about my product?
  • What are their buying habits?
  • How much influence do they have in the buying process?
  • What do they want out of my product?
  • What does success look like for them?
  • How far along are they in the buying process?
  • What reservations do they have about my product?
  • How much do they engage with my campaigns?
  • What campaigns do they engage with?

See if you can come up with different profiles for your subscribers based on the varying answers to these questions. The criteria you use to determine each profile can serve as triggers when creating segmentation rules in your email automation software.

Of course, you need data to answer these questions. Some answers, you can get using the demographic and psychographic data you collect from subscribers via:

  • email signup forms
  • post-signup or thank-you page surveys
  • ongoing email surveys

Others are more implicit and can only be gleaned from analytics reports about how prospects interact with your emails, website, and product or service.

When surveying subscribers, focus on only a few of the most relevant data points at a time. Don’t overwhelm them by trying to collect everything at once. You can always collect more data later.

The data points you choose to prioritize will depend on your business. But you can create your first segments using what you currently know about your audiences’:

  • buyer personas
  • demographics
  • psychographics
  • buying habits
  • engagement levels
  • lifecycle stages

Always start with the data you have and refine your segments as you go.

It’s vital that you don’t get lost in creating segments just to target all your subscribers. Prioritize marketing to segments with viable prospects. You can also use segments to weed out unqualified leads.

Learn more about list segmentation.

3. You don’t offer value

Many businesses treat email purely as a lead conversion tool without putting their recipients’ needs first. If your business operates like this, most of the emails you send are likely geared towards converting prospects.

While focusing on conversion isn’t bad per se, you risk alienating recipients if you don’t match your marketing with value.

Offering value

Here are two ways to think about the value you’re offering recipients:

  • Value through your product or service
  • Value outside your product or service
Value through your product

Are you offering prospects good deals? This isn’t as much about price as it is about the benefits or future rewards of purchasing your product.

Is your product valuable? It’s important to recognize the possibility that your value proposition is weak or that your product is not as great as you think it is. If it’s either, improve your product or sharpen your value proposition using insights from user feedback and competitor analyses.

Also, offer incentives to subscribers: give them free trials, special discounts, early access to new products, etc.

Value outside your product

Many subscribers don’t sign up to your list hot and ready to go all the way (even if they need what you’re offering). Such people will be more resistant to offers that require commitments from them.

To overcome this, ensure you’re also providing value outside your product (i.e. value not dependent on using your product first). Deriving pre-purchase value from your brand might make them more receptive to your marketing.

Many businesses do this by providing useful educational content and free tools. You can do this via newsletters or by linking to resources on your website.

See how Sendinblue does this:

marketing email example

This newsletter features a free calendar its audience (marketers and business owners) can use to plan for the holidays, expert tips, and links to blog posts they might find useful.

Your newsletters don’t have to be this packed. But subscribers should feel they have gained something valuable after interacting with your brand. It lets them know you care and aren’t only after conversions.

Besides helping you build trust, providing them with useful resources relevant to their pain points reinforces your position as an authority in their eyes. 

Future conversions will thank you.

4. You don’t close with a strong call to action

Even if your copy is spell-binding and recipients find it valuable, it’ll be difficult to convert them if you don’t tell them what to do next—clearly.

Many marketing emails fail because they do too little or too much. Too little usually means having an unclear CTA or none at all. Too much is having so many CTAs that you overwhelm your leads.

Improving your call to action

Use only one call to action

It’s tempting to use more than one CTA to convert prospects (an alternative if the first doesn’t work). But more than one CTA in a marketing email can confuse your recipients. Every second they spend wondering which CTA to click increases the likelihood that they’ll do nothing.

Choose the single most important action you want your readers to take and focus on it.

Write better CTA copy

Avoid dry CTAs. Don’t make following your CTA feel like work.

Your CTA should:

  • Speak to your reader
  • Use active voice
  • Use verbs that evoke emotion
  • Hint at the value your reader will get from following your CTA

Here’s an example of a CTA that does all these well.

marketing email campaign cta example
Make your CTA attractive but accessible

Button CTAs are more eye-catching than hyperlinked texts. But mixing both can be fine if your CTA anchor text is part of the body copy and packs a punch. While you might be tempted to ditch one for the other, it’s best to experiment with both and see what works better for you.

Choose CTA buttons with solid colors and excellent contrast to ensure your CTA stands out from the rest of the text. Use HTML buttons instead of pictures. They are easier to control and more accessible to people using assistive technology.

Always include a CTA

If you’re not trying to close, send recipients to resources on your blog, tell them to share the value you’ve just given them, ask them to respond, tell them what to do to prepare for a coming offer, let them know when to check back for your next email…

Always tell them what to do next.

5. You follow best practices instead of data

There’s always a new best practice for boosting engagement and conversions. And honestly, it’s tempting to implement as many as you can when optimizing campaigns.

But while there’s nothing wrong with using expert advice or data-backed research to fine-tune your campaigns, problems arise when you implement every best practice without weighing how applicable each is to your business.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, increasing email frequency drove one insurance company’s revenue up by 45% but deflated an e-commerce store’s sales by 30%.

At the end of the day, expert advice is just that: expert advice. It’s generic because the expert doesn’t have the data you have about your business.

Follow your data

What is the data you have about your subscribers and your previous campaigns telling you?

Modify best practices to fit your business situation before implementing. Take cues from what experts in your niche are doing for good results. But don’t force new strategies into your campaigns if they don’t fit the data you have.

When testing new strategies, examine the implications on your performance and adjust accordingly. Cut out what doesn’t work, even if everyone’s touting it.

Find out why a best practice is a best practice.

What makes it work? Are similar factors at play in your business? This knowledge can help you decide whether to follow or discard it.

6. Your emails have poor designs

People like emails that look good. A poor design distracts recipients from your message, increasing the likelihood that they’ll bounce after opening.

Some mistakes you might be making include:

  • Not using a mobile-responsive design
  • Using too many images
  • Sending cluttered content
  • Using colors that don’t complement each other
  • Sending poorly formatted text

Improving your email design

Get a professional to design a template for you or choose from hundreds of tested templates online.

Avoid overly quirky designs

Being fun and friendly is fine if it aligns with your brand. But you still want recipients to take you seriously.

Use a responsive mobile-first design

Two-thirds of your millennial and Gen Z subscribers read newsletters on their phones, and using a mobile-responsive design can boost your click rates by up to 15%.

Use images, but sparingly

And ensure the images you use are accessible. Put descriptive alt-text in your images so people who use screen readers or image blockers can still get the gist.

You should also avoid background images because some email clients block them. Plus, they’ll make your newsletters clunky when they don’t render well.

Format your text properly

Avoid large text blocks. Use white space and graphics to break up your text. If you must send long newsletters, break them up with clear headings to make scanning easy. 

Use readable font types and sizes. Sans-serif fonts are easier to read than serif fonts, so they’re excellent for the body text.

Be consistent 

Changing your design too frequently can throw subscribers off and make them suspicious of the authenticity of your messages.

7. You have the wrong leads

If the vast majority of your subscribers don’t engage with your campaigns at all, it could be a sign that you have the wrong leads.

Leads are wrong for various reasons:

  • They don’t need your product.
  • They belong to the wrong demographic.
  • They don’t have the budget.

It’s hard to convert recipients that aren’t the right fit for your business, even if you do everything right in your marketing. And you should be willing to let go of such people.

Lists bloated with the wrong leads are costly to manage and skew your analysis of your email marketing efforts. Worse, unsubscribes and spam reports from uninterested recipients can hurt your deliverability rates.

Keeping your list clean

Routinely identify and remove inactive recipients

Filter inactive subscribers from those disengaged because your marketing emails don’t resonate with them. 

For example, you can choose to classify those who used to open your emails but haven’t interacted with them for a few months as disengaged.

People who have never read your emails, never engaged with your campaigns beyond the first freebie you enticed them with, or who used dubious email addresses when signing up might qualify as inactive.

It’s up to you to choose how to classify stone-cold subscribers.

But you should try retargeting disengaged customers with personalized messages and offers before removing them from your database. If they still don’t respond, take them off your list.

Don’t buy email lists

The thought of starting your campaign with three or so subscribers can feel daunting. But you should never try to deal with this by buying email addresses.

Not only will you likely get poor leads, but it also damages your credibility and can get you in legal trouble. Even good leads will be upset that you didn’t seek their consent first.

Don’t use misleading offers

Be plain about what you’re offering and only use lead magnets relevant to your business. If you have to deceive someone to get their email address, they aren’t right for you. They’ll simply take up real estate and never convert.

Provide an “opt-down” option

Giving subscribers an opt-down option allows them to regulate email frequency and remove themselves from lists they don’t want. Besides reducing unsubscribes, it improves your email marketing efforts by letting you know what your recipients are interested in.

Sometimes, it’s not the email

You could do everything right in your marketing emails—excellent copy, strong CTA, perfect design, right audience, great value, etc—but still fail to convert leads.

When this happens, it might be time to look beyond your emails. You can usually tell the problem is elsewhere if leads click on your CTA but don’t convert on your site.

Maybe you’re sending them to unoptimized sales pages. Maybe your branding is off or your services don’t align with the fantastic image you’ve been selling to prospects in their inbox.

Your prospects must remain confident in your ability to deliver on your promises every step of the way. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.

Ensure your sales pages have compelling copies and are well-optimized. Check your website, social media accounts, and other outreach channels. Ensure there are no irregularities in your brand image causing prospects to doubt you.

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