top of page

How to Deal With Your Email Screwups

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

fallen ice cream
What it feels like after you've sent an email with a mistake to your list.

When I first decided to start sharing lessons learned from my more than 20 years of copywriting and marketing experiences, I came up with a list of potential topics I thought might be of interest to readers.

One of those ideas was dealing with mistakes that survived the proofing process and made it in front of your target audience or client.

I didn’t want to write anything that made me look like I rode a unicorn through flowery alpine meadows of Marketing Mountain.

I also wanted to share my screwups.

I think those provide far more valuable lessons than the success stories.

I was going to tackle this subject later, but I screwed something up last week, so the timing is close enough.

My mistake?

I did not catch an error in an email that went out to my list.

The gaff was not a little one like an extra space after a period that most people will miss. Nope. My mistake was pretty obvious because it was right at the beginning of the email.

“Hello {{Fname}}!”

Yes, my readers actually {{Fname}} in lieu of their real first name. Oof.

The { } are used to indicate a field where the mailing system pulls out a matching bit of data -- in this case, the first name -- and automagically inserts it between the brackets.

Personalization is a fantastic way of creating engagement in your emails...if you don’t screw it up.

You see, I write these emails in Google Docs and then copy and paste them into Constant Contact (the email platform). Different email platforms have different characters to denote the field and Constant Contact uses {{Fname}}, not {Fname}.

Easy to overlook, but I should have caught it.


Because after years of making mistakes with emails, I’ve created a system that pretty much guarantees no email will go out that showcases my idiocy.

But, because I was in a rush, I didn’t use the full checklist. I skipped a couple of steps, and it bit me in the ass.

What do you do when you’ve screwed up, and your email is out the door?

Take ownership.

The best way I’ve seen it handled is with a sense of humor. “Hey, we screwed up…”

If your corporate culture dictates humorless communications, then a simple fix is to re-use the original subject line with [CORRECTION] at the beginning. You can highlight (underline, change the font color, italicize, etc.) the correction if it’s significant.

For example, a frequent mistake is using the correct date with the wrong day of the week. Or vice versa.

“Join us Thursday, October 18,” when it should be “Join us Friday, October 18.” Because that error will cause confusion on which date is the real one, definitely highlight the corrected information when you resend the email.

However, you choose to handle it, own up to it.

“Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.” - Jocko Willink, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Your readers like to see that real people are sending them emails.

And in true Jocko fashion, come up with procedures that minimize the chances for mistakes to happen again.

Here’s a step-by-step system I’ve developed over the years that has eliminated mistakes in my copy...when I use it.

John’s Semi-Foolproof Way to Not Eff Up Your Copy in 9 Steps

  1. Don’t write and send the email in one sitting. Give yourself time to clear your mind. Our brains have a fantastic way of filling in words that we think are there, but our fingers didn’t type. That’s why mistakes hide in plain sight. Ideally, let your words sit cold for 24 hours before reviewing them.

  2. Run your copy through You may not agree with everything it tells you to do, but it is awesome at bringing your grammar and punctuation up to a professional level. Yes, I’m talking to you folks who love run-on sentences and multiple exclamation points!!

  3. Once you’ve set up the text in your email platform, run the email through the software’s spelling & link checker. These are far from foolproof but can catch some low hanging fruit on the Tree of Errors.

  4. Triple check your subject lines, headlines, and To & From fields. People, including copywriters and mediocre proofreaders, will assume headlines and subject lines have already been proofed and won’t check them for mistakes. Triple check these because they will be the first things your readers see.

  5. Check your email using the preview feature. This will let you get a quick look to see what your email should look like in your recipient’s inbox. This is also far from foolproof, but it’s still a quick and easy check.

  6. Send yourself a test email. This is what your email really looks like in the wild. You may see an extra paragraph return or broken field that is not populating with the correct data...or populating at all. This was the step I skipped on my email, and it came back to bite me.

  7. Get another pair of eyes on your copy. Again, because our brains fill in the gaps, we will miss obvious typos. Someone who had not read your text should be able to catch them. The proofreader should also check every link, even the tiny ones, about your privacy policy in the boilerplate. Your browser cache will work against you, so make sure your proofreader clears their browser history before reviewing your work.

  8. Read your copy backward. This was a trick taught to me by my first boss...the one I pissed off in step 9 (below). You may not catch missing words this way, but you will catch typos. Reading backward forces your brain to process the individual letters as one word, not a sentence, stripping out the context.

  9. If you make an edit, go back to step 1 and repeat the entire sequence. I’m not kidding about this. Science has shown that 98.597204 percent of all of my mistakes that made it out the door came from neglecting this step. When you think, “Oh, it’s just a little tweak or edit,” you’re going to miss the new mistake you’ve just introduced.

You’ll make errors. Some innocent. Some epic. Just remember it’s part of life and part of being a communicator.

Take ownership.

Correct the mistake.

Take another look at your review process.

Appreciate the mistake is in the past, and it’s over.

Move on and continue to write great emails.


Want articles like this in your inbox each week?


bottom of page