Why you should ALWAYS test your emails

One of the most important lessons I have learned while working in the digital media industry is test. Test, test and test again.

For example, say you are a busy marketer and a client has asked you to deploy an email using a brand new template. The template has been coded and initially tested. But then something more urgent crops up and you don’t have time to test it as thoroughly as you should have. The email is scheduled and it turns out one of the links goes to a 404 Error message page. Then the feedback from customers starts coming in and you wonder why this wasn’t picked up.

Every single email you work on should be 100% accurate and thoroughly tested, as even one broken link could affect opens and clickthrough rates, conversions, or even your reputation.

It is so important to test all features of any project, whether it be an email campaign, a brand new website or a video ad. This article on the Litmus.com blog gives some classic examples of why you should be continuously testing with eDMs.

Email clients drop support without notice
This is crucial especially when it comes to inbox testing. Sometimes different email clients can drop support for HTML and CSS. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful email in the world that will exponentially grow your database and clickthrough rate. If the HTML and CSS is not rendering correctly, it won’t matter in the slightest. Make sure you set up test accounts in different email clients and test them across different browsers – including earlier versions as some of your customers may not have upgraded their software.

Broken or incorrect links
Because most URLs are added to a CTA button or an image, from a design point of view, it’s hard to confirm whether the link is correct unless you test them first. Make sure every link goes to the correct page (whether it be to a new product, your About Us page or a mailto link for an RSVP list).

Spelling and grammar errors

Always check for spelling errors

Unfortunately, once you’ve hit the Send button on your campaign, there is no way to recall it if you suddenly spot a spelling mistake. You know the feeling – you’ve checked the copy and all the links, you send it out, and you immediately recognise that your subject line should say ‘Get it NOW!’ when it actually says ‘Get it NOT!’. If you find yourself in this position, the best thing to do is to send out – as quickly as possible – an apology email to your database.

BUT to make sure you don’t have to resend your email, you should always proof-read your email – multiple times! But then also get a colleague (or three) to check it as well. An extra pair of eyes could spot a spelling mistake that you may have overlooked because you’ve read the copy too many times. Also, how about putting your copy into Word which will detect if any words are incorrectly spelt?

Broken images and missing/incorrect alt text
The alt text is crucial for email marketing – it is the text that customers see before they download the images (this could be their email client’s default setting or just a personal preference), so this needs to make an impact. When you add in new images to replace placeholder images, make sure you insert alt text. When you get a colleague to check your email before it’s deployed, get them to check the alt text on their machine and amend if need be.

Missing or no plain text
Plain text is critical for email marketing, and you need to be aware of how many customers from your database have signed up to just receive this version, rather than the HTML email. This plain text version needs to always include a link to view the HTML online in a browser, so they can see and click on the links. With plain text, you need to ensure that any characters you have (including $, !, ‘ or ” etc…) are typed out, rather that copied and pasted from a secondary source – these will not be supported otherwise.

As with your HTML version, send yourself a copy of the plain text to check all the links and any personalisation you might have (like a first name).

Broken dynamic content
Dynamic content is a great tool to use as you are able to personalise your emails by segmenting your database and providing different pieces of content for various customers. For example, if you’re a pet store, you could send out an email to all your customers, but include an additional section to all customers who have dogs, to let them know dog food is on special. Make sure you do multiple tests with different blocks to check the right customer gets the right section. There is nothing worse than finding out once your email has gone out that some criteria has changed and you didn’t test it properly.

These are just some of the things you should look for when you are testing your emails, but there are, of course, so many more. What specific things do you test for? Do you have a checklist of things to tick off before the email can be scheduled to deploy? I would love to hear from you!

Media queries in email – what they are and the benefits of them

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a massive project for one of my clients, which requires a lot of technical assistance around an email and offers that are specific to each customer. We have been testing both the email and the respective landing page where these offers will be housed and one thing I’ve noticed is this: there are such a vast variety of mobile devices that we can test on, but not of all them show the email in its full form.

The reason behind this? Media queries – the all important piece of code that helps make things easier. But what is a media query? This post from Litmus.com will help dissect this and explain some of the benefits of using them.

Media queries are a component of cascading styles sheets (CSS) – the language that is used to style websites and eDM campaigns. Essentially, these queries act as rules to trigger certain styles on different devices.

The query itself is broken down into three different parts:

  1. Media Type: this allows us to confirm what type of media the rules should be applied to (all, print, screen, speech). Emails will use the screen type.
  2. Expression: you use this to target devices based on specific conditions. Expressions test media features, which describe different features of a device (such as width, height and colour).
  3. Style rules within the query: these CSS rules can be toggled when the email is opened on a devices that satisfies both the media type and expressions

Especially with more and more emails being mobile responsive, it is very important to include these media queries at the top of your email within the CSS, so the rules can be applied to mobile devices. Front-end developers are constantly looking at different ways to apply these to non-standard devices, such as Windows phones.

The most common benefit of using media queries is so they can be used to fine-tune email designs so they will look good on a wide range of devices. Take this scenario as an example:

An email marketing company is designing a brand new template for a client, but they have designed it for the desktop first, so the eDM looks great on desktop and webmail clients, but breaks down when viewed on mobile devices. The email zooms in to fit the screen, making the copy and CTA buttons unreadable, the layout is broken and sometimes horizontal scrolling is required. Not a very good user experience at all! But these media queries have now put an end to that, so we can target mobile devices and adjust the email styles to suit.

However – and this comes back to my first point above – media queries unfortunately don’t work everywhere. The number 1 spot for lack of support of media queries goes to Gmail (both online in a browser and in the native email apps on Android and iOS devices). The third party Gmail app on most phones will actually strip out some of the media queries within the CSS, making it very hard for mobile responsive emails to look 100% accurate. Below are some example of email clients (both phone and browser clients) that do/don’t support media queries:

SUPPORT OF MEDIA QUERIES:

  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Android 4.x native client
  • Android Outlook.com app
  • Outlook.com (iOS)
  • Windows Phone 7.5
  • BlackBerry OS 6
  • BlackBerry OS 7
  • BlackBerry Z10
  • Kindle Fire native client

DEVICES THAT DON’T SUPPORT MEDIA QUERIES:

  • Gmail app (iOS + Android)
  • Inbox by Gmail app (iOS + Android)
  • Android Outlook Exchange via native client
  • Android Yahoo! Mail app
  • Gmail (Android Browser)
  • Mailbox (iOS + Android)
  • Outlook.com (Android Browser)
  • Yahoo! Mail (Android Browser)
  • Windows Phone 7
  • Windows Phone 8

When you’re creating a mobile responsive template, it’s important to remember that when it’s being coded for different devices, you should use a solid foundation of HTML and inline CSS. If you use media queries to create a masterpiece of an eDM campaign but your customer database has, for example, a Windows Phone 8 or they use the native Gmail app on iOS, the email is not going to render as nicely as it would on an iPhone or an Android phone.

Have you experienced testing your email on a device that doesn’t support media queries? How did you work around that?

Plain text in emails – some best practice tips

Creating HTML emails is somewhat of an art form – and these emails can be heavily creative, with fantastic call-to-action (CTA) buttons and loads of links to interesting articles or to new and exciting products. I know for me, looking at the engagement levels for a particular campaign is quite exhilarating to see how this campaign has increased in unique opens and clickthroughs from the last one!

But what about the equally-as-important-yet-often-forgotten-about plain text version of the email? This is just as important (Source) as the HTML version of the email.

Plain text emails are exactly that – just plain text. They are the equivalent to a letter written on a typewriter (very old school) – with no images, links or images. And while they visually may not look as pretty or attractive as HTML-based emails, they play a vital role in the overall email marketing strategy.

So why should you use plain text versions alongside your HTML email? Email clients use what people in the know term ‘Multi-part MIME’ (or Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions) – essentially this bundles the text and HTML version of your email together when an eDM is deployed and there are three main reasons to have both versions:

1) Spam filters
Spam filters (like Litmus.com for example) need to see a plain-text alternative; if it’s not present, it is a major red flag.

2) Different email clients and apps
Some email clients and apps may not be able to handle HTML as well as plain text versions. So if your email is sent out without a plain text version and your subscriber’s email client doesn’t render the email as it should, you might have some frustrated customers calling, so always include the plain text!

3) Some people prefer it!
Simply put, some customers prefer to receive the plain text version. When people sign up to receive your newsletters, you should give them the option of signing up for the HTML or plain text version. If you don’t give them a choice and they are unable to view HTML emails, they might end up with something like this raw code below, which is definitely not the ideal experience you want for your customers!

Raw code

Optimise your plain text emails as you would your HTML version. Most ESPs will send in multi-part MIME automatically, but some email platforms will give you the option to manually update your plain text version. ALWAYS include a link to the online version, so customers can view the HTML message in a browser and if you’re able to, include some personalisation, like a first name. You should also test both versions at the same time, to ensure everything looks accurate. Amend, test and re-test.

Because the plain text is focused solely on the copy that you’ve included and you don’t have any of the HTML design elements to fall back on, you need to ensure your plain text is readable and customers don’t just dismiss it. Create a positive email experience – all the time, every time! Use things like headlines to break up the content and focus on the important aspects. But just like with your HTML version, you should always include some form of CTA and these need to be defined and stand out. Take the example below – this company has one major CTA which includes two angled brackets (>>) to draw attention to it. It is also well above the fold so your customers won’t have to scroll to find it.

CTAs in plain text
The other great thing about this example is that the company hasn’t overdone the use of links. With too many links, the customer can get overwhelmed, not knowing which link is more important than another. This could be devastating to your bottom line. The minimalistic approach of this example below shows how this should be done:

Minimal links in plain text version

Although having a beautifully designed and laid-out HTML is a great way to showcase your company and the services/products you offer, make sure the next time you send out an email campaign to your customer database that you spend some extra time and attention perfecting your plain text version.

5 skills a Marketing Manager needs to master

This article came across my Inbox this week, posted on the Marketing Association blog. The reason I wanted to post and share about it is I get asked a particular question quite often:

What is your dream job?

That is the million dollar question, isn’t it?! I’ve often thought about what I would absolutely love to do every day for the rest of my life, and there are several factors that contribute to this. I would love to be hands-on with anything to do with digital marketing, but I would also love to be a senior manager and lead/mentor a small team to be the best that they can be.

Which is why this post, the 5 skills a marketing manager needs to master, is crucial for success in upper management.

1. Project Management
Mastering a management role is probably one of the hardest parts of being a Marketing Manager. You need to be an integral part of every marketing manager job you have. You also need to have a team who are reliable and who you can count on, so you have an overview of their day-to-day tasks to ensure everything they are doing lines up with the project brief you’ve been handed.

As well as internal relationships, you also need to manage the client. Ask yourself – what would I want to know if I was the client? If there are any issues, queries, anomalies or other potential pitfalls, you need to constantly be in contact with them to keep them updated as to how everything is going. If you go more than a few days without contact, especially if it is on a massive, technical brief, you could risk having an upset client.

2. Strategic thinking
As the Marketing Manager of any business, it is vital to be able to think about and approach problems with a completely unique perspective – this is the strategic viewpoint that you need to master. You need to be able to think about things a little bit differently to everyone else. After all, you are the senior manager!

When you’re making decisions, these can’t be done hastily or on short-term thinking, if you’re going into a meeting about the 5 or 10-year vision of the company. You need to understand how to manage the unique needs of every individual involved in the project. Will this help the client achieve their internal goals and deliver on budget?

How can you think about things in a way that will excite and motivate your team, so they – and your client – can succeed with this project? You need to be able to execute the strategy you have put forward – if you can’t, rethink it.

I love this quote I found by Albert Einstein:

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

3. Problem solving and critical thinking
No doubt your job will be riddled with issues and challenges – but it’s how you handle these and push forward that will really test you as the Marketing Manager. Remember this: your team will need you. Your clients will need you. And your direct manager (perhaps the CEO or Marketing Director) needs you to show results – and more often than not, the needs of these people will clash and you’ll need to find an answer for them all, while keeping them happy with the direction of the project.

To achieve this, you must have strong decision-making skills and the conviction to stand by that decision. Don’t ever sweep issues under the rug – it will come back to bite you if you do.

4. Technical and analytical skills
I know from many years of experience working with SEO and CMS systems that I have more of a technical and analytical mind that a creative mind. I am much happier working behind the scenes and with HTML than designing outstanding creative. This goes for Marketing Managers too – they have an analytical mind and are capable of understanding and sorting through the incredible amounts of data available today. But all this goes far beyond simply knowing how data can affect things like consumer behaviour and segmentation – this is what will lead to far more effective marketing strategies for your clients. 

As well as this, Marketing Managers needs to be savvy when it comes to technology – this will greatly influence a marketer’s role. This means you constantly need to be aware of new tools, apps, widgets, programmes and software that can help you build and sustain client relationships and to deliver effective information and services.

5. Interpersonal Communication
I did a paper on Interpersonal Communication while I was studying at AUT and I found in fascinating how you’re able to hone in and develop your communication skills. This is key to being a Marketing Manager – how you listen to, embrace, understand, empathise and respond to your team, your bosses and your clients.

You must become an expert communicator on both an internal and external level: this will be tested on a regular basis! But it is your job to make communication is open, honest and operating at all times, for the benefit of everyone involved.

Just take one step at a time

One of the most important things I have learned while working in this industry is this.

There will always be big projects that can spiral out of your control. There will always be clients who need something yesterday and you need to work through certain processes to deliver. There will always be something more important that crops up and you have to work your tail off in order to deliver.

But remember this:

Your speed doesn't matter - forward is forward!

Slow and steady progress – with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of testing – is more important, than rushing through a project to find there are many holes along the way.

Your speed doesn’t matter: forward is forward. One day you might be the hare, racing through jobs like nobody’s business. Other days you might be the tortoise, slowly and methodically working through your tasks.

Keep thinking about the next step. Keep testing. Keep clients informed of your progress and the horizon will be ever-so-slightly closer.