Proofreading Isn’t Enough: The E-Mail QA Lab

Traditional proofreading techniques help you spot typos in email. Spam content checkers also help. But email is a different medium and requires more extensive quality assurance than print, just as publishing a Web site does. In response to my recent proofreading column, David Baker, VP of email and analytical solutions at AGENCY.COM wrote the following:

Most companies wouldn’t publish a new Web site without extensively testing it in different versions of browsers and operating systems. So why would they send an email out to hundreds of thousands of people and not even know how they view it?

I couldn’t agree more. As Baker points out, email quality assurance has several aspects:

  • Functional: Is the email constructed properly? Do images render? Are links correct, and landing pages rendered and directed? Is it coded properly?

  • Reception: Does it render properly in all tested email environments? How does it look with image blocking? Does it represent a good mix of text and images in the preview pane?
  • Compliance: Does the email contain all CAN-SPAM elements and any other required functions (opt-out page, brand standards, corporate links/language)?

Most marketers spend a lot of time in the creation and design phases, according to Baker, but then send badly coded email that doesn’t function properly and renders poorly when ISPs block images. He said:

I’m continually amazed at the number of badly constructed emails, that so little thought was put into the receiver’s environment. I’m even more amazed to find out most marketers don’t even realize that 60 percent of recipients don’t see the intended view. If the creative director who created the piece only knew how an AOL user views the email [compared to how” a Yahoo [or” corporate [user views it”, he would be appalled.

That’s why Baker set up a “clean” testing lab that mirrors the domain breakdown of the email list in question. Every email is sent through this prior to delivery:

As an agency, we are required to protect our clients, and we’ve found this to be the best protection we can provide — giving us the last line of defense before all that hard work goes out the door. Whether clients deploy through a major ESP [email service provider”, through their house system, or through AGENCY.COM’s own system, I require that QA be performed not only to protect the brand but our agency and all involved.

With more companies trying to internalize email marketing and using ESPs as the “distributors,” reviewing an email message before sending is usually left to the marketer, where there is no formal process in place, according to Baker. He spoke of many occasions on which email with myriad errors was inadvertently sent to a huge list. A recent email from a very well-known email best practices source not only contained a bad link but also a misspelled word. A recent mailing from a major clothes manufacturer was deployed through a major ESP; the images wouldn’t render properly in two email clients.

A quality assurance (QA) lab can be the learning layer of an email program and be instrumental in educating you about your email audience and their ability to receive, react, and respond. If it’s set up correctly, you can really use this layer of review to improve your program’s delivery and reception optimization.

One important thing to consider is the cost of a QA Lab. Most email teams are small. They struggle to just get content out the door. There’s a cost threshold that must be taken into consideration. “E-mail QA should not add more than $500, or 4-5 hours to each campaign, depending on the level of complexity (creative, multiple subject lines, testing five environments), but it should be reported and archived much like Web Site QA is,” said Baker.

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

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