Marketing is unlike many other functions in one very important way – if you make a mistake, it’s hard to hide. If you’re in email marketing, your errors are seen by every customer and prospect that opens your emails, which is why few things are scarier than approving a send to an extremely large audience (except, perhaps, my unwashed face in the morning). I have nightmares in which I find out, the morning after a big send, that I’ve spelled every customer’s name wrong.
My fear of sending out a bad email has caused me to create something that I don’t share with a lot of people. In fact, I’ve never shared this with anyone – not even my parents. But among other marketers I feel safe revealing my creation: my secret email checklist.
Every marketer has a checklist, whether or not we make them public. The checklist is your final quality assurance before you hit “send”. It helps you ensure that you’ve caught every error, and double-checked every step. For many marketers (like myself) the checklist helps you sleep at night. If you have a secret checklist, feel free to compare it against mine. If you don’t have a checklist, it’s time to make one.
The Anatomy of an Email Send
A good checklist depends on a solid understanding of your email send’s moving parts. When you make edits to one section of an email, it often influences another component. For example: if you change the recipient of your email, you also need to change the email’s messaging and subject line to reflect the new audience.
So what are the basic components of an email send?
- Audience: Who you are sending the email to
- Content: What you are saying
- Creative: How the email will look
- Campaign: The vehicle (program or campaign) that is sending out your email
The above list may seem obvious, but when you create your checklist, you’ll want to group your safe guards around each component.
Start with Company Practices
Make a list of any company-wide best practices/style guides that fall under one of those four components (Audience, Content, Creative, and Campaign). Iterate these best practices, and their applications, continually in meetings. This step helps to create consistency across all communications, especially if you have a large team, and different roles are responsible for sending emails to different audiences.
Below are just a few examples of Marketo’s best practices/style guides for each component. We actually use a much longer list, but I wanted to give examples of every type of guidance:
- When you upload a list of recipients for your email send, are all names properly capitalized?
- Have you excluded bad email values from your list?
- Are you referencing only the most up-to-date field created by marketing operations?
- Is your language inclusive of all of your audience’s business types?
- Are you adhering to company-wide spelling/capitalization guides?
- Does all dynamic content appear correctly across devices/email servers?
- Do image borders adhere to your style guide?
- Have you written custom descriptions for all uploaded images?
- Is your send’s scheduled time in the correct time zone?
- Have you left, at minimum, an hour between completion and schedule time, allowing for last-minute changes?
- Are tokens correct?
- Is the proper email and list referenced?
Account for Your Biases and Mistakes
As humans, we are incredibly prone to errors, and we tend to make the same errors over and over again. That’s why, once you have your basic checklist down, you need to account for biases you have in your writing, or mistakes you’ve made in the past. This is also why we encourage our co-workers to give us feedback in an open way – your colleagues might pick up on these patterns more easily than you can.
At Marketo, we present one another with our “Fail of the Week”. Each week, someone presents on a common pitfall, and explains how that pitfall can be avoided. Because I am primarily an email marketer, most of my mistakes fall under the content category.
I actually break down content-related pitfalls into three categories: content, editing, and formatting. Here are some of the items on my checklist.
- Cut, cut, cut. My first few drafts are usually too long — is my final email short and sweet?
- Pain points. Does my email call out customer pain points, and explain how our product addresses them?
- Summarize. Have I let my readers know, at the gate, what the asset or event I’m promoting is about?
- Narrate. Am I telling a cohesive story?
- Tone. Does the tone of my email match the tone of the asset or event?
- Are my punctuation and bullet points consistent?
- Are there any comma splices?
- Is my capitalization consistent?
- Are there any run-on sentences?
- Is the Marketo logo properly linked?
- Are the HTML and text versions of my email both clean?
- Are any paragraphs too long, when I look at the email all at once?
- Is my top header in all-caps?
As marketers, the more we share our checklists, the better. Now that I’ve shared my secret checklist, what’s on yours?