No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts
There’s nothing worse than hitting send on an email campaign then realizing you made a mistake once it hits your inbox. Whether it’s a formating issue or one of your links is wrong—it’s a painful experience—one that can be easily avoided with the proper testing processes in place.
Email Testing is a crucial step yet even some of the biggest brands make blunders from time-to-time. We all make mistakes but it’s how you learn from those mistake that will ensure your email success.
This month, we asked email marketing experts from Email on Acid, Campaign Monitor, emailmonday, eFocus Marketing, Benchmark Email, AWeber as well as Dennis Dayman & our resident email geek Lauren Meyer to offer tips to help you create a fool-proof email testing procedure for stress-free sending—every time.
Here’s what they had to say…
Are You Still Manually Testing Emails?
Email on Acid recently ran a survey and only 43% of the participants indicated they use a state-of-the-art pre deployment tool to test their campaigns. The remaining 57% indicated they manually test emails prior to deployment, meaning they send an email to themselves or a colleague to check links and email client rendering.
Now is not the time to be manually testing campaigns. There is way too much at stake given our current environment (COVID-19 pandemic) to be sending emails that are riddled with mistakes. Budgets have been cut and subscribers are not going to engage in a campaign if it contains an error.
Top Tip: Use Automation.
Email preparation is complex with a plethora of scenarios to consider prior to deployment. Do all the links work correctly? Are any links blacklisted? Is the email ADA compliant? Are there any spelling or grammar mistakes? Does the email render correctly in every email client?
Automated pre deployment checklists take the guesswork out of the email preparation process to ensure you deliver email perfection to your subscribers. By using pre-send automation tools, you reduce the campaign preparation time while achieving better results.
Ease Anxiety With a Preflight Checklist
We’ve all felt the tingling sensation in our fingertips as we prepare to hit the send button. Even in a simple work update to colleagues, it’s not unnatural to proofread your email, check your links, and make sure all your attachments are there—at least two times.
Whether you have 100 subscribers or 100,000 subscribers, send anxiety is real, and it makes it difficult to send with total confidence.
To ease this tension, create a list of prerequisites you want to check off before hitting send. At Campaign Monitor, we created this Preflight Checklist for Email Campaigns to help manage all your to-dos before landing in inboxes.
Notice that the infographic also suggests a scheduled send. Remove the anxiety that’s associated with hitting the scary send button in real-time and instead, schedule your email to automatically go out at a future date or time.
Pro tip: Schedule a campaign with Send Time Optimization to hit your subscribers’ inboxes at the time they open your email most.
Create A Hard, Anti-Fragile Process
I worked at a marketing agency for many years. We had a lot of “good we caught that one, that would have been terrible” moments – and had some major Oopsies as well. Strangely, some brands had a lot more close calls than others. Why?
Set up an anti-fragile process
What you might not expect is that a lot of the problems originate from the way your process is set up. A process details the “How” of the job. So what we need to do is improve your process to be less prone to mistakes. And I am not talking about extra people involved or extra checks. That is extra work. Instead…
Adopting less changes as an operational goal
I like a simple approach: Make sure that you minimize the number of changes. A clunky or long winded process reflects badly on everyone. This is actually the chance for you to boost some serious project management skills.
Less changes = faster.
Less changes = less chance for mistakes.
The following can happen everywhere, but more often is seen in enterprise. You know, when you got one of that Forrester Wave type email marketing going on… You have an overhead of people that want to give feedback – or “need” to give an OK. Need is in quotes, because they don’t really need to. Also people you need to chase or that only want to give feedback at the very last moment. Can’t have that.
So be a badass and put your foot down. Be hard on the process, great with people. No need to negotiate on “why you can or can’t do it” – because that’s a discussion no one can win. Also “being too busy” is a cause and an outcome.
Another thing is to be very strict as to the type of feedback they can give. Some people like to give feedback on everything, even things they have nothing to directly do with. For instance a product manager talking about layout. Say thanks, re-iterate the feedback you expect from them now – at this time. Put the rest in a placeholder (like bi-monthly ideas / monthly review). That will gigantically reduce the number of changes as well.
Have a list of scars
It is good to have a checklist. It makes sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Here is my pre-launch email checklist. People are still people, they make mistakes – and they make more mistakes when they are tired.
So for one, always schedule your emails, never hit send just after you made the changes. What I’d propose is to make a custom checklist you go through. Add all the things that went wrong in earlier campaigns there as a reminder. It isn’t even funny, it’s terrible to make the same mistake twice.
Be hard on the Process, easy on people. Adopt less changes as a goal. Divert non-essential feedback to the right time and make your own custom checklist. This way you will be off to a great and anti-fragile process which is a lot faster and less prone to mistakes.
4 Tips for Problem-Free Sending
After spending hours building the perfect email and refining the message, nothing hurts more than taking a peek at it later and noticing mistakes like glaring typos, missing images, or incorrect copy. Even worse, if the link for your Call-to-Action is broken, recipients can’t take your requested action (to purchase something, confirm their account, etc), even if they wanted to.
A few tips to help reduce the chance of sending emails with mistakes:
1. Send a TEST for every campaign. This can be done very simply (and for free!) by sending your test to your own email address. You can also take advantage of paid services like Email on Acid (or the Kickbox Deliverability Suite). These tools allow you to see how your email will look across various browsers and devices, identify issues with your code, run your email through common spam filters, and look for broken and/or blocklisted links within your content.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to check everything, from your sender address and subject line, to the copy and images. Also click through all of the links, even ones within your headers and footers, to be sure they are working and leading recipients to the correct destination.
Lastly, check the contact list you’re going to be sending to. You don’t want to be “that person” who sent your campaign to the suppression list. Hello, spam complaints!
2. Have someone else review the email for typos you likely won’t catch yourself. This won’t always be possible, especially if you have a role requiring you to send multiple campaigns per day or week, but if you only send a few campaigns a month, you’ll want them to be flawless!
Having a second set of eyes on your campaigns will not only allow you to spot typos and obvious mistakes quickly and easily, but it can help identify grammar issues or confusing copy that made sense in your head, but won’t translate for others.
3. Review recipient data in advance to spot formatting issues. If you’re using personalization in your campaigns, this step can help you reduce the chance of sending one of those ever-so-common ‘Hello [First Name]’ emails.
Be on the lookout for misaligned data entries, missing information and obviously fake names entered by customers like the ever-so-creative “I hate you” or “go to hell” (or worse). Reviewing your recipient data from time to time can also help you identify issues with data collection or management that can have a larger impact on the quality of your database and your deliverability, so look for patterns such as a high presence of disposable email addresses or role addresses within your new sign ups, or evidence that you have spam traps on your list.
4. Don’t wait until the last minute. Last, but certainly not of least importance: Setting your email campaign calendar in advance will give you time to create your campaigns days (or at least a few hours) before your email is sent to subscribers. This allows you to take your time, spot-check for errors, run some tests, follow all of your links, and make adjustments as needed.
Particularly if you’re not able to take my suggestion about having a colleague review your email before it goes out, planning will be your best friend. Having the time to send your test, grab a coffee or shift gears to a new project, then come back to QA your email campaign with fresh eyes will improve your ability to spot your own mistakes. It may also lead to more creative copy, since most people tend to be less creative when under a stressful deadline.
If you’ve been sending campaigns for a while, the testing process can get tedious. But using these tips, in addition to running A/B testing and reviewing your delivery and engagement stats to see how your audience reacts to your content will ensure your email program is problem-free and running like a well-oiled machine! With any luck, you’ll also be able to avoid ever having to send one of those dreaded apology emails.
Adopt a Test-And-Test-Again Approach
Email Thought Leader
Knowing what to test and why you are testing is key. After working with a company for a few years in this field, I found it interesting that marketers would go nuts over testing something new and shiny for the sake of testing, but they never understood what results were needed or what their end goal was.
They hoped that a testing solution would solve all their issues in one fell swoop, but then get the results and not know what to do with it and or how it fit into their overall strategy. When it comes to testing your emails, you need to have a test-and-test-again approach because many factors can influence your results, from who’s on it, to the time of year like holidays, and (believe it or not) things like the weather.
At the same time, it’s important to not over-complicate your tests. You don’t need to begin with 10-20 variants, but a simpler set like 2-5 will be sufficient. Don’t prolong the initial test by thinking this is the time to prepare and understand every scenario you could run a test on. You should take time during your initial planning meetings to clarify exactly what needs to be tested. Don’t just relegate this process to a specific tool or think you can pull it out of thin air when it is time to test.
Also, setting checkpoints to take the time to analyze results is the best way to achieve the larger goals that you and your organization have set e.g. if you are testing the subject line, what aspect of it are you testing? Length? Open rates? Offers? Don’t be afraid to put time and diligence into testing, and be sure to test as much as you can until you reach your goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Always Look for Opportunities to Test
Pre-send testing is an often overlooked but vital part of getting any email marketing campaign out the door. You should always have a documented, personalized QA process in place, that checks all of the elements that are unique to your business as well as all the standard elements we would expect to see (you can find a starting point QA checklist here and a podcast episode here about this very topic!).
Also consider getting a good piece of tech to help you speed up and optimize the process – companies such as Email on Acid and Litmus both offer a suite of pre send testing tools that can help to optimize and speed up your testing process.
And don’t forget, running strategic live a/b split tests on your sends is a form of pre-testing too; every test you run should inform future campaigns. Always look for opportunities to test your emails and improve your results.
But remember, the best tests are those that you truly understand and CAN use on an ongoing basis. You need to understand what you’re testing, why and how you’ll measure success. Forming a hypothesis can help you to pinpoint each of those elements.
For example, ‘we think that shorter subject lines (under 35 characters) will achieve a higher open and click rate than long subject lines because 75% of our audience open our emails on mobile devices and 35 characters is where they commonly wrap’.
Conduct Regular A/B Testing
Even the most skilled marketer can make simple mistakes when sending email campaigns. It’s true that if you’re using a marketing automation tool, you can significantly reduce human error and create efficiencies. However, there are still things you need to be doing to hit “send” with confidence.
I highly recommend implementing regular A/B tests to determine what methods and messaging resonate best with your audience. You can test various pieces of content, language choices, and even send times to gather key insights that will help improve your campaign performance over time.
The most crucial elements of email marketing are the ones that affect your open-rate, click-through rate, and conversions. It makes sense to test these regularly so you can make the necessary improvements. Try different subject lines to see which yields a higher open-rate. And play with your CTA language to determine which encourages more clicks and conversions. Try sending your emails on different days or at different times of day to grasp how timing contributes to your email success, and which time frame you should focus on in the future.
Don’t Leave Anything to Chance
Do you make a checklist every time you travel? Me too. I don’t want to leave anything to chance. Or risk my chaotic travel brain forgetting anything important, only to remember it when I’m already in the air with no way to stop the plane’s ascent. Can’t you feel the panic?
That’s why a preflight checklist comes in handy.
Email marketers need a preflight checklist, too. The best way to avoid mistakes is to establish a consistent, proven process for checking — and double checking — your email sends.
Include both copywriting checks and display checks in your preflight checklist. In addition to the obvious copywriting checks — like proofreading for typos, missing words, incorrect spelling, grammar, and punctuation — make sure that all the links work and take subscribers to the web page you intended. You’ll also want to double check that you’ve included alt-text for your images, which is critical for those who only receive plain-text emails.
Plus, think about how your emails are displayed across multiple email clients. Emails display differently on Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc. Some subscribers also only see plain text messages while others can receive HTML or AMP for Email messages. In order to make sure your emails are displaying correctly, it can be helpful to use third-party tools like Email on Acid to verify your emails look good — no matter what email client and device recipients view it on.
The preflight email checklist is invaluable; but that doesn’t mean mistakes are totally inevitable. We’re only human, and if you find you make a mistake, all is not lost. Send an apology email if the situation requires a sincere apology.
More No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts Coming Soon
And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
Keep your list healthy and boost campaign performance by regularly cleaning your email list. We’ll let you know which email addresses are good, bad and risky, before you hit send.
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