Email Design Checklists Save the Day: Avoiding Common Pitfalls

From the eec's Member RoundtablesHitting “send” on any email campaign always leaves us with a small feeling of dread in the pit of our stomachs. “Did I forget something? Did I double-check EVERYTHING? Will my message render properly? Will I have a job in two hours?” We feel your pain.

Ever wish you had a buddy to rely on—someone competent, steadfast and efficient who would remember to help you double-check all the key elements of design and QA success? Well, now you have one—in the form of two email checklists from the eec’s Email Design Roundtable.

The first is the Code QA Testing Checklist, which covers what to check to make sure your email looks and acts exactly how you intended. The second is the Email Design Checklist, which covers what to check to maximize your email creative’s performance.

Both checklists are available in the eec’s Whitepaper Room—and all this week you can download them for free.

As part of the creation of these checklists, the Roundtable members discussed their value, their own send-button “feelings of dread,” and even some mistakes they’ve made. Learn how their real-world experience contributed to the checklists and about some trouble spots to avoid:

Brent Shroyer of Listrak: When you put together a web page, you can always go back and fix it later. But in an email you only have one shot. You have to be perfect. The importance of a checklist is critical for email more so than any other online effort, since it is once and done.

Chad White of the Email Experience Council: Subject lines are so important. Subject lines are right up there for the most frequent spot for mistakes. We tend to put writing them off until the end.

Stephanie Miller of Return Path: Yes, and then the result is that messages go out with TBD or “subject line goes here” or misspelled words or missing words. Instead, view it as a critical part of the content and spend time making it relevant and engaging. Oh, and that there are no errors!

Raj Khera of MailerMailer: Test different subject line lengths to see what garners higher open rates. In studying our customer base, we found that subject lines with 35 characters or less had a significant boost in opens.

Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon: One essential that often gets missed is that the primary link shows up just below the preview pane, so it’s not visible without scrolling. Oh, I think to myself, ouch! If they had just looked at it and moved it up 30 pixels, it would improve response so much!

Joanne Carry of DMG World Media: Always check the rendering. Ignore Lotus Notes! It’s increasingly important with Outlook 2007 not supporting CSS and Gmail being a growing part of many marketers’ files.

Brent: Be sure that everything that can be HTML text is actually HTML text. Avoid unnecessary images so that your message is completely visible even when images are turned off.

Chad: Image suppression is like a philosophy—a new way of constructing the message and approaching design. This needs to be adopted by email marketers.

And here’s one that is so fixable, and yet happens all the time: I so often see dead links. I know it seems silly to say that we would double-check the links, and it’s tedious, but it must happen frequently that this step gets skipped. I know what I do, when the link doesn’t work—I just abandon it and go on with my life.

Lisa: Oh, yes! And then what happens is that follow-up and conversions are down and no one can figure out why. Well, it was because the links were not working. Another important step is making sure not just that the link works, but that it goes to a place that is logical. Optimize your landing page as part of the overall email experience.

Stephanie: Isn’t it true that whenever response is down, the first thing we do is blame the creative? But it’s often the case that deliverability was poor, the message was not mailed at the optimal time for subscribers or there were back-to-back messages from the same company, or even that the list was not segmented properly. So many things that are not a function of design.

Brent: Make sure the price in the alt tag text matches the pricing in product imagery. If the price changes during the production cycle, then you can get caught with an old alt tag. Also make sure that the landing page matches as well.

Lisa: I’ve seen renewed interest in text files because of mobile, thinking about its importance being slightly renewed. Although I confess that it’s easy to never look at your text files or to bother matching them to the current offer. How many times I see that the copyright is last year, or the copy is outdated or is last week’s promotion.

Share your own pre-send jitters or advice by commenting below.

—eec Email Design Roundtable co-chairs Lisa Harmon and Julie Montgomery of Smith-Harmon