Prufread Those E-Mail Messages!

Don’t worry. I’m not going to name any names or embarrass anyone. But I’ve noticed an amazing amount of typos in the business-to-business (B2B) email messages in my inbox lately. Sometimes they’re right in the subject line (as with this column’s title)!

You’d never let a print ad appear with a typo in the headline. Yet an email subject line is more likely to be read by prospects, who scan their inboxes as a part of their daily work, than is a print ad buried deep in a business magazine they may never get around to reading.

And if prospects read your email, what opinion will they have of you or your message if it has glaring typos? Don’t forget, email is often forwarded and printed out for future reference or to be passed along to colleagues. Consequences of those mistakes may linger longer, and be more far-reaching, than anticipated.

To keep email error-free:

  • Ask the copywriter to review the initial design. Sometimes a designer will lay out copy in a manner contrary to what the copywriter intended. Other times, headlines and copy that look great in a Word document don’t look as good in an email client. Adjustments may be needed.

  • Put email through the same proofreading process as print collateral. Jim Levendos, general manager of editorial services at Wunderman, a leading marketing communications agency, recounts how when interactive marketing was new, email messages bypassed the usual production process. Now, they’re subject to the same oversight, and errors have been dramatically reduced. Levendos said it was important to educate his proofreading staff on their responsibilities regarding email. They leave HTML coding to the interactive department, checking only the text itself.

    If you don’t have a proofreading department, consider lining up an outside proofreading service. These days, most can handle everything online (including payment). Or, hire an on-call freelance proofreader. Though it adds costs to your email budget, it’s a good investment in the long run. (Do you really want your CEO to receive an email with the company’s name misspelled?)

  • Send a test email to yourself and all parties involved in the approval process. Build a testing (and proofreading) process into the schedule. Let people on your distribution list know when to expect the test email. Give them adequate time to reply with revisions.
  • Proofread online in different formats. Check how the email looks on different platforms (Mac, PC) and with different email clients (AOL, Outlook, etc.). Check that all the most important elements are above the fold and all links work properly.
  • Print out the email. I recently read an email with a Flash banner. When I printed the message, vital information was missing. Also, make certain light colors print legibly in black and white.
  • Create a proofreading checklist with all must-have information. With email written fast and furiously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the most basic information, such as an event’s date and time, omitted.
  • Pretend you’re the prospect. Make sure you can actually do the desired action. If you want people to fill out a registration page, try completing it yourself. Click all the links. Call the toll-free number.
  • Use a spell checker, but don’t rely on it. Once you spell check (a 10-second action many people forget), look for common errors such as “your” instead of “you’re” and “there” instead of “their.” The worst error is when a typo results in correctly spelled, but incorrect, words, such as “bath” instead of “both.” Read carefully, and get others to look at the copy with fresh eyes.
  • Read once for meaning and once for typos. First, read your email to ensure it makes sense. You’ll catch glaring errors that way. Then, focus on each word, character, and space. Delilah McKavish, a freelance proofreader, recommends reading each sentence right to left as a good way to spot mistakes. Another tip: Proofread away from your desk. Sometimes, just being in a different place, under a different light, can help you pick up things you wouldn’t otherwise catch. And you won’t be distracted by the beep of incoming email and a ringing phone.
  • Pay special attention to subject lines. They’re the most important part of any email messages.

Caveat: Most advertising copy, including this column, isn’t written in the Queen’s English. To write compelling copy, most writers take licenses with the language, writing incomplete sentences, using lots of dashes and ellipses, starting sentences with “and,” and so on. Don’t go overboard trying to be grammatically correct!

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

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