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Before You Hit "Send," Consult Your E-mail Checklist

  |  November 14, 2007   |  Comments

Does every e-mail campaign include the date, a call to action, and other essentials?

In the fast and furious world of e-mail marketing, important things fall through the cracks all the time, creating embarrassment and lost revenue opportunities for the sender.

In a near-miss a few weeks ago, an event marketing client of mine almost forgot to put the date and location of the event on the e-mail, an all-too-frequent industry mistake. In another e-mail, the business almost left off the "Register Now" button.

Another client left the call-to-action links out of the copy -- leaving readers with no clue as to what to do after reading the very compelling copy.

The antidote for this marketing amnesia is the e-mail checklist. I've been creating them as a service to my clients (and myself -- since I want the e-mail I write to perform well!).

It only takes a few minutes to get started on yours. Look at a current e-mail and jot down all the components included (or that should have been included!). Consider this checklist a work in progress, since you'll likely add key lessons as you go along. I'm on e-mail checklist version 4.0 for one client, and it's only been a month.

Here are some things to consider for inclusion on your checklist.

Subject Line

  • Do the first 15 characters contain the main hook to draw readers in ? How does the subject line appear on a BlackBerry? On the desktop? Send yourself a test e-mail to see.

  • Is it urgent? Would a deadline motivate readers to act faster?

  • Are there any spam-filter words in your subject line that could hurt deliverability? Go through the top 100 words not to use in your subject lines listed in SubscriberMail's top-100-words-to-not-use list, and add the words to your checklist that you might be most tempted to use. For example, for my clients, I might use:
    • "Act now"

    • "Click here"

    • "Get"

    • "Only"

    • "Stop"

    • "Ad"

    • "Avoid"
    Reviewing subject lines across this short list is a good way to catch myself and substitute another word. However, I'm unlikely to use the other 95 words or phrases, such as "mortgage," "eliminate debt," or "online pharmacy," so there's no need to slow down the review process by scanning the entire list of words every time.

E-mail Message

  • Call to action:
    • Where the heck is it? If you have to search for it, that's your first sign of trouble. It should be among the first things readers see when they click on your page.

    • Does it go to the right landing page? It's scary how often links go to the wrong places -- and how many sales are lost in the process.

    • Is it repeated throughout the e-mail? Once is not enough; the call to action should be strategically placed at any spot the reader's eye naturally goes to, including the sidebar, hot boxes, and the end of the e-mail.
  • Mandatories. Create a list of mandatories for every e-mail, and make sure they are there! Mandatories for an event marketing e-mail would be the date and location of the event and a "register" link. What are your must-have copy and design requirements?

  • Design. There are many design parameters your designers should incorporate in your e-mail. On the marketing and copywriting review side, important things you should look for include:
    • Check how your e-mail appears in the different inbox environments your readers use. Are the images blocked? If so, can readers understand the message without downloading pictures? Remember, less than half of recipients who open your e-mail will bother to download your wonderful image. Provide alt-text tags for all images, including photos, banners, and take-action buttons.

  • Text e-mail. Make sure your text e-mail is readable by checking to see:
    • Is the copy written in short paragraphs for easy readability?

    • Are the links, which are full URLs in text e-mail, in the initial screen?

    • Are key messages highlighted by selective use of capitalizing for short phrases; text banners or Johnson boxes; or set off in asterisks or other typographic symbols?


    When you review copy in its final design, it may read differently than how it was originally written in a Word document. Copy points to watch for:

    • Is the first sentence short (less than two lines), compelling, and urgent?

    • Is there a call-to-action link in the second paragraph?

    • Is everything important to the buying decision in the initial screen?

    • Is the copy easy to read and scan? See if you can replace some paragraphs with bullet points.

    • Can you remove long paragraphs of copy altogether and put them in a sidebar or hotbox?

    • Are there extraneous links that take readers off the page for more information -- and distracting them from taking the desired action?

    • Have you answered the main questions every e-mail should answer:
      • Why should I open this e-mail?

      • What do you want me to buy and why?

      • Why should I buy it from you?

      • Why should I do it now?

    Of course, your own e-mail checklist may differ greatly from what I've outlined here depending on your own product, company, e-mail objectives, and so on, but this should give you a baseline for getting started.

    Three Things to Remember

    • Get started on that e-mail checklist now before you're embarrassed into creating one after some awful e-mail snafu. Send it to everyone on your e-mail review distribution list.

    • Be sure to review your checklist before you send out any e-mail.

    • Update it regularly.

    What do you have on your e-mail checklist? How do you handle your internal review process? Let Karen know for future columns.

    Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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