E-Mail Quality Assurance — Without Investing in Your Own Lab

Now that you’re sold on the benefits of email quality assurance (QA), you may now be wondering, “How do we go about working with an email QA lab? Can we do it in-house?.”

Kennis Wong, Ticketmaster’s associate email campaign manager, discussed why she chose to outsource her email QA to EnhanceRate when her email template got a “facelift” in response to a Web site makeover.

“We wanted to make sure that the template looked great on the screens of all our users. However most of our programmers use one platform, while our designers use another –and nobody uses AOL. While our programmers test in-house as much as possible for Gmail and Hotmail, we found it more cost-effective to outsource testing and allow our programmers to focus on other work.”

EnhanceRate offers a number of different testing “bundles,” including B2B, B2C, Mac, and a new Firefox/Netscape bundle, reflecting the fact the open source Firefox browser now has an impressive 5 percent market share.

Despite the fact Ticketmaster has a primarily B2C audience, many consumers receive messages through their work email address, so the company chose the B2B bundle as well. Wong says, “It was important to look good not only in AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo, but also in Lotus Notes.”

Bart Narter, EnhanceRate’s general manager, comments, “Lotus Notes has 40 percent market share with large companies. Anyone who uses Lotus Notes knows from experience that emails often do not render well, and so it is especially important to run a QA test for this corporate platform.”

How did Ticketmaster’s new email template perform? “All our emails ‘passed’ the test, but we made a point to review each environment,” says Wong. “When we did, we saw that some of the Mac emails looked funky. So we evaluated what was worth fixing vs. how many of our users actually use Macs.” The emails just went through a second round of testing and are ready to roll out this week. (Check your in-boxes, Mac users!)

So how long does all this testing take? Wong says, “The turnaround is great. I sent out the email in the morning and got results back the next day. That’s important for us since our changes have to go through our template team and we can’t afford for the process to slow down.”

EnhanceRate’s Narter offered two tips on how to assure your email looks good across multiple platforms:

  • Don’t create 100 percent graphic image messages. Increasingly, email clients and Web-based email including AOL 9, MSN 8, Outlook 8 and Gmail, suppress images. (Bart showed me an email “postcard” that appeared completely blank in one environment — a huge embarrassment to the sending company.) Lotus Notes is famous for messing up images. Make sure the email can stand alone without images, and text “above the fold” shows who the email is from and what it’s about.

  • Code email templates by hand. “You can’t build emails with HTML software for Web pages — it’s too complex and convoluted,” says Narter. Wong concurs. “We do our coding by hand and minimize the number of images to make the email as small as possible. Spam blockers look at the size of the email and will block out large emails.” EnhanceRate’s engineers will look at the HTML and fix it if a client doesn’t have that capability (Ticketmaster does.) They will also run the email through spam filters, revise it for you, and let you know if it’s worth changing content to enhance deliverability.

With falling email deliverability rates, a small investment in email QA seems worth it to make sure your messages that do make it into your readers’ inboxes show up in a way that enhances your brand, rather than detract from it.

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