Oops! Email Mistakes Happen

Let’s face it: humans aren’t perfect. And there is definitely a human element to email marketing. From the designer who creates the graphics, to the front-line associate that clicks “Send,” there is a risk of something going wrong. So, on occasion, an email makes it to the inbox that isn’t 100% right.

Unfortunately, it can be a highly visible mistake. After all, most executives of a brand receive their own emails, not to mention the thousands or millions of subscribers. And unlike a webpage that can be replaced with new code relatively quickly or a Facebook post that can be deleted and re-posted (or at least commented on to correct a mistake), once an email is sent, it’s sent. Like a print ad in a magazine, it’s there for everyone to see.

What Can Be Fixed

Once it’s sent, it’s sent. Or at least, that’s what most people think. In reality, there are a few things that can be fixed after an email has been deployed.

The most obvious is an image. Have a graphic with spelling error? Simply replace the image on the server with a corrected version that has the same filename. Anyone who opens the email (even if he/she already opened the email in the past) will see the corrected image. Keep in mind that it can take time for the corrected image to propagate across servers, so subscribers could see a cached version for a while, but generally speaking your issue is resolved.

Some links can also be corrected after the fact. If you are linking to an incorrect product, or perhaps the URL you were given of where “it should be live” wasn’t accurate — that link can be modified (via your email service provider) after the email has been deployed. Again, anyone opening the email after it’s been corrected will be directed to the right webpage.

Last, if you are utilizing a feature that takes advantage of live content that renders at time of open (not time of send), then you can also modify any content, even if it is HTML text. In this scenario, content is pulled from an external webpage, and you would modify the inaccurate content on the webpage to resolve the issue. If the content is pulled at time of send, however, this will not work to resolve your issue.

What Can’t Be Fixed

Unfortunately, the most visible part of any email, the subject line, cannot be changed once it’s sent. Even if you spell-checked your content, some mistakes can be overlooked. In this email from Blue Fly, I received a subject line of “See it. Love it. Not get it.”


While I didn’t work on this email, I’m pretty sure this subject line was supposed to read “See it. Love it. Now get it.” (That being said, I did open it, because I wanted to know, “Why do they want me to not get it?”)

In addition to subject lines, HTML text is another item that cannot be modified after an email is deployed (unless you are using a live content feature that renders at time of open, as mentioned above). This is copy-specific, so the most common issues have to do with spelling and grammar. Providing text that can be copied and then pasted in the transition from an email concept-to-build eliminates the need to retype content — removing a step where errors are commonly introduced.

When to Send an “Oops” Email

A mistake does not necessarily warrant an “Oops” email.

There are very few instances in which I would recommend sending a correction email. First, if there was a significant issue with the promotion itself — for instance, if a discount code didn’t work on the site, or the percentage off number was incorrect.

Another acceptable instance for sending a follow-up email is if the website was down, or the shopping experience didn’t work. This can happen to a website that isn’t prepared for high traffic or when something is out of your control like a DNS issue. Following is an example from Red Envelope, which extended their Cyber Monday sale last year due to site issues for customers.

Red Envelope Cyber Monday Oops

Sometimes, I receive an “Oops” email when I didn’t even realize there was an issue. In most cases, you should only send the email to those subscribers who were affected. You know exactly who opened your email and saw the mistake and exactly who clicked on the link that didn’t work, so reach out to them directly. Isolate the message to those who were affected.

In this example from Lee (a client of my employer, DEG) the wrong end date of the sale was displayed on the mobile version of the women’s email. The end date read “5/9″ instead of “5/19″ and was coded in HTML text.

An oops email was sent to only those subscribers who opened the email on a mobile device, with an updated subject line reading, “Oops! Our shorts sale isn’t THAT short…” Human nature spikes our curiosity to want to know what was wrong and also allows us to empathize when a mistake occurs.

Lee Emails

This works if you can correct the issue (image, link, site performance) and then follow up to those that were affected, allowing for closure.

However, if the mistake cannot be corrected and is severe enough (incorrect promo code in HTML text, for example), it may be appropriate to send a correction email to everyone. Still, the better solution (if possible) would be to set up the erroneous promotion code to be valid, allowing you to isolate the “Oops” email to only go to those affected.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t draw more attention to the error than you have to. Yes, “Oops” emails perform very well, and it can be tempting to send one for even the slightest mistake — but mistakes should be few and far between, or your brand’s credibility will suffer.

Of course, zero mistakes is always the goal, and successful performance should be rewarded. Preventing mistakes comes from thorough quality assurance processes as well as testing tools for rendering and link validation. Adhering to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) both internally and with any external resources is also critical. In my experience, issues are frequently the result of rushing or not following established processes.

The Threshold For Errors Is (Rightfully) Low

As an email marketer, one of the worst things we can do is send an email to someone who shouldn’t get it, or not send an email to someone who should. As an agency, in terms of campaign management, our clients pay us to get it right. And, quite simply put, if we don’t, they will take the business to someone else who will. When it comes to getting the job done, focus on accuracy and efficiency. Accuracy first and foremost, but of course, the email must still deploy on time.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Email Marketing | Email Marketing | Email Marketing Column


About The Author: is Director of Digital Direct/eCRM at DEG, a full-service digital consultancy based in Kansas City. Leveraging her 14 years of experience and thought leadership in digital direct marketing, she and her team lead email and SMS strategy, integrations, and campaign execution for flagship brands like Crocs, Helzberg Diamonds, MathWorks, Cabela's, Life is Good, and TITLE Boxing. In her spare time she runs half marathons, cheers on her beloved Royals, and drinks copious amounts of coffee while trying to exhaust her eight year-old daughter, five year-old boy, and one year-old golden retriever.

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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I’ve had emails pass through a dozen and one hands and no one picked up on that one spelling error. Obviously we want to be as perfect as possible because it’s our brand and reputation on the line but mistakes can and do happen. It’s important to minimize those mistakes though, because too many can damage your brand in the eyes of your audience.

  • Tom Ehart

    See it. Love it. Not get it…Mistake or not…you opened the email which could mean that the subject line was not a mistake but stroke of brilliance. Maybe it’s just my marketing head that thinks that’s a possibility, but as an email recipient, I had the same curiosity you did and wanted to find out what it was.

  • Brian Hansford

    Great post! Mistakes happen. The best way to prevent these types of errors is a solid QA process. The fewer sets of eyeballs looking at content, the greater the risk for a mistake. But even so mistakes still slip through. UGH!

    It’s OK to acknowledge a mistake, and necessary in my opinion, when the overall customer experience is at risk. I think it shows a human side of a business to accept responsibility.

    I also agree that not all mistakes call for an ‘oops’ email. It’s a judgement call.


  • JimAtGoolara

    Good article, Cara. A couple features that can help minimize the effects of these mistakes are the ability to pause emails to change content before continuing to send, and the ability to fix links after the fact. I’m not sure which email marketing systems offer this. Ours does (Goolara Symphonie), but I’m sure there are others that do as well.

  • Cara Olson

    Thank you for your comment. That pause feature sounds interesting!

  • Cara Olson

    Yes, perhaps this mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise for them :)


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