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!

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.

Triggered emails – it’s never ‘set it and forget it’!

I’ve been reading the Litmus blog recently and there are some really interesting articles, all to do with email marketing. Analytics, triggered emails, display testing, subject line testing, designs of buttons, image blocking – if you can think of it, there’s probably a post about it!

I came across this article which is all about triggered emails and their reputation of being ‘set it and forget it’ programs. Some people have even gone so far as to say that once the emails are set up, just quietly run in the background, bringing in revenue and you don’t have to touch them again.

This just isn’t true.

Triggered emails should be called ‘review and renew’ programs, because you should always be keeping an inventory of your triggered email programs to regularly fine-tune them. Make sure you check your emails at least once every quarter to ensure images, links, display rendering and other functionality (such as the View Online link) remains intact.

The team at Litmus came up with two great reasons why you should constantly check your triggered emails: quality assurance and optimisation.

Quality assurance is such a big part of email marketing, because your emails connect your customers to your website, product or service, are an expression of your brand identity, tie into your other marketing strategies and are delivered to a variety of email clients across various browsers and devices. If you don’t check these programs on a regular basis, you could find that they have:

  • Broken links/redirects and old navigation links
  • Out-of-date branding or messaging
  • Faulty trigger logic
  • Broken rendering and functionality because of code support changes at ISPs

If you’re not sure how old the content of your email is, looking at copyright notices is a cheat’s way to confirm. There are ESPs available that let you make automatic updates to these programs, but it’s recommended that you do manual updates, as it forces you to physically view the email and to make other necessary updates.

Take the example below – a lot of subscribers missed the primary message from this cart abandonment email because data about the specific product didn’t populate correctly.

Cart abandonment issue

One major thing to test with all emails – I will do a blog post on this over the coming weeks – is rendering. This is how the eDM will display across multiple browsers and email clients. HTML and CSS is always changing for different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and there are no standards of support. The example below is a classic example – the alignment of the background is misaligned when the text was added:

Display rendering

Optimisation is key when it comes to reviewing triggered emails. With more businesses adopting a welcome triggered program (consisting of more than one email), there are so many more opportunities for things to be incorrect UNLESS you are constantly reviewing them. Think about that. If you have a triggered email program that has a welcome email with a sign-up link, a birthday email and a cart abandonment email, that is at least three emails to review, renew and retest. Things to consider include:

  • The conditions in which the next email in the series will be/won’t be sent
  • Timing of all emails
  • The messaging across the program and how they interact with one another

Do you have any tips or guidelines when it comes to reviewing your triggered email content? If you do, leave a comment below!