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?